Ten Things That Bad Managers Do

Ten Things That Bad Managers Do
by Cyndi Maxey, CSP

Managers are busy people. Every day brings new challenges and not enough hours to accomplish what they need to do. But no matter how busy they are, the best make time for their people. Indeed, a manager’s style figures more heavily than anything else in keeping employees productive and loyal. According to management researcher Chandra Louise, 80% of the employees who quit their jobs do so because of problems with their bosses. While they may give the human resources staff other reasons for quitting, they will tell their friends, “I’d still be there even for that pittance of a salary if it weren’t for that awful boss.”
The following list of ten actions will clarify what awful bosses do. This list of “don’t do’s” is anchored in employees’ actual workplace experiences. Proceed with caution. If you manage your employees with consistent use of these ten actions, you’ll eventually find yourself in a very peaceful, quiet workplace. Why? You’ll be alone!

1. Embarrass employees in public.
At some point, nearly everyone has observed someone being ridiculed in public at work. Yet, public humiliation is an old, outdated habit of the classic authoritarian management style. Unfortunately, it is still commonly used, as employees’ stories attest. Jim, a new IT engineer for a large financial services firm, recalls being chastised almost daily in front of his team members for not understanding new code instructions. Susan, a clerk at Walgreen’s left her job because her manager would yell criticisms at her in front of long lines of people at the check-out.

2. Don’t follow up on employee ideas.

Employees thrive on providing ideas and feedback, but if mistrust is part of the set-up, they won’t commit to results. Joe, a manager in the advertising field, was once invited to an offsite lunch with a group of other managers by the company’s elite directors. The managers were told in advance that, at the luncheon, they would have a part in planning initiatives for the future of the company. However, once there, they discovered that the directors had already put together a list of twenty initiatives and were really just asking them to volunteer to work on them. What resulted was the assignment of initiatives to unprepared, uninterested managers. Due to lack of interest, no actions were taken and the initiatives were never mentioned again.

Sometimes, even the best managers fall prey to the lack of appropriate follow up. Speaker Christine Corelli tells such a story in her book, Wake up and Smell the Competition: Tim, a well-liked sales manager, would conduct extensive “Blue Skies” meetings with his field sales force. He would listen carefully during the two-day meetings, which elicited countless ideas for beating the competition. Everyone left feeling energized. However, when the CFO analyzed the funds needed to implement the ideas, they were dropped. Tim couldn’t provide the follow up needed and it took a long time for the sales force to get enthused about meetings again.

3. Withhold praise.

A 1998 Gallup Study asked thousands of employees to cite indicators of a good workplace. Among the responses, one of the most frequently mentioned comments was, “I have received praise during the last seven days at work.” Giving employees sincere praise is a deceptively simple action that many managers are unable to perform.
Richard, now a VP with a security services firm, recalls a manager who had few interpersonal skills, was a stickler for rules, and reserved opinions only for other supervisors. One day, though, without plan, the manager approached him saying, “How’s it going? ” Waiting for the inevitable reprimand, Richard was surprised when he said, “I just want to let you know you’re doing a great job.” Stunned, Richard was also surprised by what followed, “They told me to say that at supervisor school.” With that comment, he left. Richard never trusted him again.

Even when employees take the initiative, praise is impossible for some managers. Mary, a former Chicago television news producer, recalls, “I had a news director who refused to acknowledge my winning an Emmy. I had to confront him about it, saying, “Did you know I won an Emmy Saturday night?” His response was, “Oh, that’s nice when that happens,” and walked away.

4. Ignore professional growth needs.

When employees take steps for self-development, it’s important for managers to be their biggest cheerleaders. Adult learning research repeatedly shows that management reinforcement of training is what makes it stick, yet too often trainers have heard managers’ last minute excuses to not attend a training initiative. How many of you reading this article have been denied a professional development opportunity because your own manager said that it would take too much time away from work?

5. Demand unrealistic rules of order.

Managers enforce rules and regulations. Poor managers enforce unrealistic rules that cause employees to feel like children. Jennifer, a former senior editor with a national magazine, recalls working for a manager who stormed out of her office one day to proclaim that thenceforth there was to be no laughter in the office. She said it was unprofessional.
Meg, a marketing director, describes a former boss in an executive search firm who was upset that employees took too long to come to his office and say, “Good morning.” He called a special staff meeting to explain that this was to be done the minute staff members walked in the door, before taking off their coats. This same boss also strongly discouraged co-workers from going to lunch together. Perhaps this boss was unaware that workplace friendships are a leading factor in keeping employees on the job.

6. Be vague and indirect.

Poor managers communicate with assumptions, generalities, lack of direction, and impatience. One manager recalls a director who gave projects without clearly specifying desired outcomes. When employees attempted to turn in results, she would say, “No that’s not it. I’ll know it when I see it.” She was unwilling to tell her staff what she wanted or even what she didn’t want. Needless to say, turnover was high in her area, and nobody mourned her final departure to another department.

A staff development manager for a major airline, Donald shares an instance when a department director, who needed some numbers for the CEO, gave the assignment to a new hire with few instructions and a quick due date. Unfortunately, the numbers were held in a seldom-used database, and the new employee, who had never been trained in that database, was not able to get the numbers on time. He failed in the director’s eyes and, to this day, is flustered with even the simplest of inquiries.

Douglas, a former news production assistant, recalls a similar example working with a manager who wanted certain stories in a show, but gave no resource help. His response to her questions was, “Just do it.” How many employees can function well with instructions like that?

7. Show you don’t care.

The bulk of horror stories reported by employees on websites that bemoan bad management describe uncaring bosses. One example is a tale from an employee who counseled his manager not to interfere with an intricate computer program during the time he would be out for nasal surgery. Unfortunately, the manager did not heed the advice, tampered with the data, and then called the employee in to fix it. The employee, still in outpatient recovery, drug-laden and eyes swollen, arrived at work to fix the program and fell asleep at his desk during the process. The manager saw this and chastised him on the spot for sleeping on the job.

In another sad tale, an employee who had lost three friends to a devastating auto accident the night before found out at work the next day that a fourth had also died. Grief stricken, the employee was dumbfounded when her manager scolded her for allowing grief to interfere with her work.

8. Be all-knowing all of the time.

Most managers get to where they are because they’ve demonstrated skill in their areas. Poor managers use that expertise to lord over employees and micromanage projects. Columnist Tom Shay, of Profits + Plus Coaching, writes that managers who micromanage are guilty of crimes such as–

* Never saying to a customer, “I do know a lot about this service, but one of my employees knows more than I do. Let’s ask him about it.”

* Taking every suggestion made by an employee and tweaking it so as to add a personal touch.

* Allowing employees to have the office key and thus access to thousands of dollars of company-owned information and equipment, yet not allowing them to adjust the amount of an account without approval.

All-knowing managers are very busy managers; they have to be everywhere all the time to make sure their expertise is known.

9. Ignore individual differences.

Managers are coached to be fair and consistent, but, in reality, all employees are different. Poor managers put employees in one big box with little regard for individuals. Culturally and behaviorally, people are brought up with different values and methods of operating in the world of work. Too often, managers get caught up in the habit of rewarding individuals who are most like them and punishing those who are different.

10. Never say you’re sorry or wrong.

Being able to say you’re sorry or wrong is a mark of healthy self-esteem. It’s the first step to getting a problem situation back on track. In association management, which functions among volunteers, deadlines, policy changes, and member turnover, there is ample opportunity for miscommunications and frequent mistakes. There is also ample opportunity for apology and correction.

Authors Kaye and Jordan-Evans, in their book, Love ‘Em or Lose ‘Em encourage managers to ask employees, “What keeps you here?” They assert that too many managers are afraid to ask the question for fear that they can’t give people what they really want. In reality, employees simply like being asked the question. Their research shows that 50% of work-life satisfaction is determined by the relationship a worker has with a boss.

In conclusion, your workplace climate can be as de-motivating or motivating as you make it. As a manager, how will you avoid the former list of “don’ts” and reinforce this list of “must’s”? It’s up to you to make the time.

Ten Motivating Musts

1. Give constructive feedback in private.
2. Follow up on employee ideas.
3. Give frequent praise.
4. Support employee development.
5. Allow flexibility and realistic freedoms.
6. Communicate directly and specifically.
7. Demonstrate that you care.
8. Allow employees to share and shine.
9. Respect individual differences.
10. Admit it when you’re wrong.

©2002 Cyndi Maxey

Cyndi Maxey (Maxey Creative Inc., Chicago, IL) is a speaker, trainer, and co-author of two books, The Communication Coach (1998) and Training from the Heart (2000). Contact Cyndi at 773/561-6252, cmaxey@cyndimaxey.com or visit her website at http://www.cyndimaxey.com



  1. Great points! I think the points you made is what separates Leaders from managers.

  2. 2
    maldita Says:

    You have just described our night shift OIC. I hope someone of a higher power is reading this so he can decide what to do with a baaaaad manager…

  3. 3
    demigod031 Says:

    I think he should read and throroughly digest what’s writtten in Dale Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends and Influence People”. It’s a must-read for incompetent managers. 😉

  4. 4

    Really solid post. I just wrote something related to your point 5 about bosses who “demand unrealistic rules of order.” When I was listening to the radio today, I heard about bosses in the UK who tell their employees precisely how to keep their desks. Stuff like that drives me nuts. I once actually had a boss who wouldn’t let me display a desk ornament related to a project that I led. I believe he is no longer with the compnay…but then neither am I. (-;

  5. 5
    Angelica Says:

    maldita: oh really? isn’t your night shift OIC my OIC too? hehehe main reason why I decided to post this on my blog.

    demigod031: thanks for visiting. I agree with you… will you be willing to provide him a copy of that? It’s for the benefit of everybody. 😀

    Ronnie Ann: Good for you that you only experience the number 5 situation. Unlike us here… everything written seems to describe exactly what kind of boss we have.

  6. 6
    Massomeh Says:

    Hahaha… I love it… These are my favorites: 1,2,5,7,8 10.
    Why? coz I can relate to them!

  7. 7
    amazing simplicity Says:

    Man, It is so simple and so true. I can describe an incident that falls under ever single one of these behaviors. I think it is time I look for a new boss. lol

  8. 9
    simon Says:

    I’m glad I found this, as I had a big arguement with my manager last night as to why the workforce is demotivated and doing a bad job. She tried to say it was pure incompetence, which I argued was not the case. Seems she’s using a lot of these traits in her job.

  9. 10
    Bhat Says:

    The points you make are very true of mangers in India. I have seen very few who really know how to tap into a employee’s full potential.
    I must have handled at least 10 such bastards in my career. Working in India in an MNC is like knowing that fools run tech companies with same tactics as you have mentioned.
    High handedness, intimidations are cheap choice of weapons that work on many Indian employees, but not all.

  10. Words to live by as a manager – great advice!!

  11. 12

    Hornestly I appreciatte your points; they are realy achievement-oriented. It‘s just that ppl don‘t want to humble themselves & do the correct things: they choose to be an “authocratic Thony Magabush“, issuing commands & wants to be served like demi-gods. Thanks 4 your ideas on this issue, it‘s welcomed!

  12. 13
    em Says:

    please also read this: it’s about a put-down boss and while reading on I saw this lines: No job is worth the anxiety and stress of dealing with abuse. hahaha! I’m quitting.


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    Excellent post. Remembering past bosses and how they have modeled these behaviors in the past makes me cringe and happy that now, the only thing I really have issue with is retaliation when asking for something. I ask for a single shelf on a bookshelf, they take my office and stick me in a cubicle in a part of the organization that I specifically said was unconducive for me to work in (too loud and on the main drag). I asked for professional development and they sent three people under me to go while I stayed. I make the joke that if I ask for a pencil they will take my computer or if I ask for a heater I will get moved outside (which wouldn’t be too bad).

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