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An Honest Note to All the Sucky Managers

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If you’re a manager, you’ve probably experienced the sensation of people not liking you — but does that mean you suck? Not necessarily.

Your goal, after all, is to implement the company’s vision on the front-lines of the battle. If you’re going to be, as one famous manager once quipped, “The Decider,” people will resent you, no doubt. But you also have to do your job, and we all know that sometimes means doing things your subordinates don’t like.

So let us help you out. Here are 13 ways of knowing whether you’re a sucky manager:

1. People are afraid of you. In some workplaces, managers are feared even by employees who don’t know them — because their reputations precede them. If this is you, there’s a high probability that you suck: no ifs, ands, or buts about it.

2. You micro-manage. Good managers manage, bad managers micro-manage. If you’re not able to persuade or convince people of a vision and instead regularly have to crack a whip to achieve results, either the team is rotten to the core or you have failed to properly motivate (these ideas are not necessarily mutually-exclusive).

True discipline, as the saying goes, must come through liberty. If you fear your team doesn’t function without you looking over their shoulder, the problem may not be them: maybe it’s you.

3. Stress controls you; you don’t control stress. There is some truth to the saying that there are no stressful situations, only stressful reactions to situations. Nevertheless, it’s normal for all of us to react somehow to stress and for our emotions to manifest themselves.

The difference between a good manager and a bad manager, however, is that a bad manager sends signals that the stressful circumstances are controlling him or her and not the inverse. This isn’t to say that a good manager need exude the emotional output of a Scandinavian Fisherman; instead, good managers maintain control and don’t allow stress to dictate their behavior. Bad managers do the opposite.

4. You create real and perceived distance between yourself and your team. Humans detest hierarchies and those at the bottom resent being reminded of their place within them. The best managers sit with their teams in a symbolic gesture of solidarity and their behavior demonstrates genuine solidarity. The worst managers sit in solitary offices, usually with doors closed, and behave accordingly.

5. You’re unavailable. A celebrated CEO once told me, “A good manager does his work at home. (S)he should never bring his/her work to the office.” What he was getting at was that good managers are available to their reports at a moment’s notice. If you’re unavailable and inaccessible to your reports then you suck, regardless of how much you are appreciated by your superiors.

6. You don’t know your reports. A good proxy question to ask yourself about a report is, “if he/she could have any job in the world, what would it be?” Knowing this answer means you understand the person’s passions, dreams, and ambitions. If you can’t answer that, in England they’d call you a “hoover.”

7. You have no investment your reports’ futures. Even if your report isn’t working out and you have to remove him/her from the position, your primary concern should be for the person’s well being.  If someone is unhappy, it’s usually bad for the team and bad for the individual; letting the individual go is likely in his or her best interest.

If you find yourself simply wishing someone off your team because they’re an obstacle to achieve your goals, you should probably question whether or not what the problem is a result of a skill-set mismatch, personality conflict or proper motivation. Only two of those three are solve-able.

8. You manage down more than you manage up. Front-line managers often have the unfortunate task of mediating the tension between senior management’s wishes and the demands of the front-line employees. Senior level managers operate on the assumption that they know better because they have access to more information. Front-line employees often feel they know better because they deal with the products and clients on a regular basis and receive feedback in real-time.

Average managers simply take what’s passed down to them and implement at all cost. Good managers collect data, build arguments and attempt to influence the decision makers. In addition, good managers find clever means by which to represent their team’s interests as the best interests of the senior managers. If you find yourself as a facilitator of one-way communication, it may be that you’re not stepping up to the challenge.

9. You don’t deliver tough messages. One way to avoid sucking is to try to be loved, but being loved is not the same as being respected. Good managers deliver tough messages — but they do so within the context of a relationship built on trust.

Without trust, tough messages are in the worst case misinterpreted as open hostility and in the best case, simply ignored. When delivered with trust, tough messages have a higher likelihood of hitting the mark.

10. You throw others under the bus. If you’re a manager, the buck must stop with you. Whether you’re explaining why your sales team didn’t hit its targets, or you’re justifying a decision by upper-management to change an incentive plan, the best managers accept responsibility for what happens on their watch.

In the short term, it may bring relief to blame people or circumstances for your short-comings,  but in the long run, avoiding responsibility will hurt your credibility on both ends of the totem poll. If the idea of accepting responsibility terrifies you, remember that how you react to a crisis is often more telling than the fact that the crisis occurred. Reacting to mishaps is the good manager’s chance to shine.

11. You don’t read about management. Your MBA is not a black-belt, and your education is never finished. Good management is an art where a teacher never stops being a student. No matter how long you’ve been in the game, your skill set still needs to be constantly refined and your assumptions need to be questioned.

12. You don’t seek feedback. And you fail to create a culture where giving that feedback to you is acceptable, even encouraged. A senior Google executive once said, “Feedback is a gift: sometimes it is a gift we’re fortunate to give, and other times it’s a gift we’re fortunate to receive.”

You don’t have to accept all feedback at face value, but if you haven’t been made to feel uncomfortable through introspection lately, you may be a Hootie and The Blowfish Album away from being pure suckage.

13. You eschew vulnerability. Managers send signals about how willing they are to connect, and they are most open when they allow themselves to be vulnerable. Vulnerability, it should be noted, does not equate self-doubt or a lack of confidence. Instead, vulnerability is exposing the most basic elements of the human condition.

If you’re not allowing yourself to be vulnerable, then you’re preventing the formation of connections with those who work closest to you. Bad managers abhor vulnerability for fear of appearing weak, while good managers use vulnerability as a tool to build trust and meaningful relationships.

Managing a sales team is not the same as managing a boiler room; good management is necessarily context dependent. Nevertheless, one final truism is that bad managers (enforcers) have reports who work for them, while good managers (enablers) work for their reports.

The question now becomes what type of manager are you?

Matthew Carpenter-Arévalo works for an international organization in Geneva, Switzerland. He blogs at carpenterarevalo.com.

Brazen powers real-time, online events for leading organizations around the world. Our lifestyle and career blog, Brazen Life, offers fun and edgy ideas for ambitious professionals navigating the changing world of work.

  • http://www.endgamebusiness.com/blog Steve Borek

    All good sucky observations. I’ll address Suck #6.

    Mangers or leaders, for some reason, don’t want to know too much about their people. I don’t know why. As an executive and leadership coach, for me it comes naturally.

    If this is a challenge, and you want to make it easier, have your team take a high quality scientifically backed behavioral assessment. Quality means it’s going to cost you more. My tool of choice is TriMetrix HD which is three assessments in one.

    TMHD measures behaviors, values, and personal talents and skills, as well as EI.

    The key is WHAT you do with the report. The magic is not in the wand it’s the wizard.

    This post didn’t suck. Grazie.

  • http://kontrary.com Rebecca Thorman

    Some good points in here I can definitely relate to. I think an important lesson with managers is that being likeable (which is what makes you a great employee) does not also make you a good manager. I’ve had very likeable managers that did a horrible job actually managing- they were road blocks, never gave feedback, and generally didn’t seem interested in the work I was doing (and yet, would always give me raises and positive reviews when during performance review times rolled around). If you’re checked out, it’s no fun to work for you, even if you are nice.

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  • Vitra

    Good points! I had the misfortune to have a manager who had never done what his staff did. So when we had legit issues or criticism, he didn’t get it and it was soooo frustrating.

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