A while ago I saw a neighbour rushing back to his house looking queasy and a bit distressed. It was 7.15am. A bit unusual, I thought, so I paused to ask if he was okay. At that point, his wife emerged and confided: “He hates his job (or rather his boss); it makes him nauseous sometimes.” He was a solicitor.
As L&D professionals, we are often involved in working with poorly performing managers. Be it at selection, through initial or ongoing training or through rectification of problems via performance management, development or coaching. Given the misery they can cause, it’s an important responsibility to both the organisation and to our colleagues.
A meta study of 27 of the most reliable pieces of research by Dr. Kuoppala Jaana of Siinto, Kiiskilampi, Finland found moderately strong evidence that good leadership led to 27% reduction in occasional absence and a 46% reduction in long-term absence. Other studies have found increased incidence of anxiety disorders, depression, strokes and heart attacks where managers and leaders are considered bad.
As a reason for absence, bad management is top of the list with bad backs.
Obviously, the best way to reduce the problem is through effective screening at recruitment and at promotion. However, if you do find yourself with dysfunctional managers, here are some thoughts on diagnosing them:
1. The Bully
This manager uses anger or fear to manage individuals or teams. Colleagues dread when they enter the workspace and feel relieved when they are on holiday or otherwise absent. They have the most directly corrosive impact on colleagues, particularly their favourite victims.
Dealing with this type depends on whether they are conscious of their behaviour or not – whether it is a deliberate set of tactics or whether it is an aspect of their personality.
2. The Climber
Excessive self-orientation is the hallmark of the climber. They invest heavily in looking good to those above with little attention to those below. They use every opportunity to present themselves in a good light and this often means diminishing or claiming the deeds of others. They are intensely political and see peers as competitors, their team as promotion fodder.
3. The Incompetent
Out of their depth on the content of the job, indecisive, weak, lazy, not as good as some of the team members, chaotic, lacking managerial skills. Incompetence comes in many forms.
If they are liked, often the team will cover for or tolerate an incompetent manager. If they are disliked, discontent will mount quickly, particularly if they are weak.
4. The Micromanager
Micromanagers exhaust, deskill and undermine their team. They kill discretionary effort and they massively reduce job satisfaction. They contribute to stress by removing the locus of control from the individual.
As we can see, problem managers are indeed a problem. They are hard to rectify and it is not always possible to develop them out of negative behaviours. However, you will find it invaluable to be able to base conversations on well-collected feedback, coupled with clear guidance on what is and is not acceptable in terms of relating to colleagues. Google has a “no jerks” policy. More colourfully, you could adopt what Dr Robert Sutton of Stanford University calls A No Asshole Policy in a book of the same name. One of the greatest services we can do to a business and to our colleagues is to help refuse entry or otherwise sort out these individuals when we see them. It will certainly be life-enhancing and it could be life-saving!
PS. Look out for my follow up article, Dysfunction Managers Part Two, where I give some tips on how to deal with such managers!