Leadership

How to be a REALLY bad manager

Shutterstock image: manager wrapped in caution tape.

There is an abundance of advice books on management excellence, but guidance on how to be a truly Bad Manager is remarkably rare. Some people may think that bad management is related to personality traits -- that BMs are born, not made. Certainly genetics play a role, but with a little guidance and practice, anyone can become a credibly Bad Manager by simply following a few basic rules :

  1. Isolate Yourself from Employees. Today's office environment makes it easy to hide at your desk doing e-mail, while caller ID helps you avoid talking to people. If you're high enough in the management chain, you may even have an assistant to guard your door against straying employees who have something to tell you. Isolation, in addition to helping you avoiding dealing with employees, shields you from learning anything that could require action for which you might be responsible.

  2. Ignore Complaints and Bad Behavior. In the event Rule 1 is inadvertently breached and complaints leak through, take the position that complainers are just looking for attention, and that if they were doing their job they wouldn't have time to complain. Keep a list of complainers and use it to punish them when it comes time for pay increases or bonuses. Never compromise your position by taking action on a complaint. Likewise, ignore bad behavior -- reports of it are just griping by the do-gooders.

  3. Play Favorites. Make sure everyone knows who are your favorite employees. You can implement this rule by repeatedly pointing out how valuable their contributions are, assigning coveted office space, allowing slack attendance, applying oversized bonuses and pay increases, providing company tickets to events and making obvious exceptions to Rule 1. You are limited only by your imagination and favorites' requests in applying this rule.

  4. Engage in Gossip. This rule can be fun. Don't limit yourself to who's dating whom -- work ethic, personal looks, hygiene, health, divorces, bad habits and shortcomings of others' children are all great topics, especially when discussed in groups of three or more and behind someone's back. This rule can best be implemented during a meeting, which is an important exception to Rule 1 (for more details, see Rule 10).

  5. Criticize in Public. Implementing this rule often is a crowd-pleaser, especially if the person is disliked, so you must be careful to dish out the criticism indiscriminately (except to your favorites -- see Rule 3). Be sure to point out mistakes and shortcomings, and don't be afraid to dip into events that are well in the past to make your point. This rule is best applied when groups of five or more are assembled, as in a meeting (see Rule 10).

  6. Micro-Manage and Second Guess. This rule is very useful in keeping employees in their place, and discouraging empowerment and innovation. Not only does it establish you as being smarter than everyone else, it also helps limit new ideas (see Rule 7). It makes people afraid to bring results of their work to you, which helps with Rule 1. No work item is too small to micro-manage.

  7. Discourage New Ideas. New ideas are dangerous because they can introduce doubt about how you have been managing and might cause people to question whether you are truly smarter than they are. Thus, ideas must be discouraged at all costs. One technique is to immediately find fault with and ridicule, preferably in public, any new idea. You also can take this opportunity to denigrate the employee's understanding of the entire business and its complexity (see Rule 5).

  8. Take Credit for Others' Work. Ensure that employees understand their role is to do the work while you take the credit. Enforce this understanding by accepting awards and bonuses for yourself and not passing them along. Never let employees present new ideas or good news to your management -- make the presentation yourself. If, on the other hand, the briefing involves bad news, by all means have the involved employee make the presentation -- but be sure to brief your superiors beforehand regarding how you tried to prevent this situation but the employees ignored you.

  9. Announce Arbitrary and Negative Policies without Warning. This rule can be fun to implement because you'll be able to see the expressions of disbelief wash over employees' faces as you announce. The possibilities for devising irritating policies are nearly endless. Favorites concern office space, titles, pay increases, bonuses, vacation, benefits, parking and use of the office kitchen and refrigerator. A really good one is the promotion of someone particularly undeserving, especially if this person is a favorite (Rule 3).

  10. Use Meetings to Exercise the Rules. Meetings are the Bad Manager's playground. For starters, make sure you arrive late so that everyone will understand your time is important and theirs is not. Although holding a meeting compromises Rule 1, it is a forum fertile with possibilities for implementing any or all of Rules 2 through 9. The meeting will demonstrate your mastery of the rules and ability to implement them, which is an important step in your climb to the top.

Note that there is a considerable amount of interdependency among these rules and implementing one can reinforce another, providing a desirable consistency among the Bad Manager's actions. Constancy and repeatability also are important factors in establishing a reputation, so the aspiring Bad Manager should strive to implement two or more of the rules daily and cover all at least weekly. With this level of dedication and practice, anyone should be able to become a BM relatively quickly.

If, on the other hand, despite the benefits and potential fun of being a BM, should you aspire to be a Good Manager (GM), here are few simple and easy tips to speed you along the way:

  1. Be Open and Inclusive. Welcome employees to bring you concerns, problems and new ideas. The organization's collective insights and intelligence reside in the minds of the employees and always are greater than the manager's. Don't wait for them to come to you -- conduct town hall meetings, skip-level interviews, and drop-in office visits--don't be the last person to know what's going on!

  2. Deal with Problems. Address complaints and problems and give feedback! If it's a group problem stand in front of the group, if feasible, and explain the problem and the resolution, if there is one. If there is not a resolution, be prepared to explain why. In all cases, take questions and answer openly.

  3. Don'ts. Playing favorites, engaging in gossip, and criticizing in public are easy to deal with -- just don't do it -- not ever, never! Nothing destroys your credibility as a manager as quickly as perceptions that you don't deal fairly, are publicly abusive, or manage by rumor and innuendo.

  4. Let Them Work. Hire people who are smarter than you and let them do their job without second-guessing how they do it. Your job is to be clear on the results you are seeking, provide information and guidance they need to know, be helpful along the way, and provide constructive feedback.

  5. Make Employees Successful. Wallow in their success -- put them in front of the Board of Directors, let them brief their results, reward their efforts, and make sure they get the credit for their efforts.

  6. Share the Bad News. If you have to deal with unwelcome policy changes and if the policy change is something the employees could have voice in (for example, a change in benefits in which alternatives are being considered) let the employees have input through meetings, surveys, and working groups. If the change is something they don't have a voice in, be prepared to explain why. And, if you have unexpected bad news to report, be able to explain why you couldn't give them a heads-up.

  7. Make Meetings Useful. Strive to keep staff meetings under 30 minutes and don't use them as places where people drone on about subjects that are not of interest to the entire group or let them devolve into gab sessions -- your employees' time is valuable. Always try to be the first person at the meeting and, if you are unavoidably detained, apologize and explain why. Use meetings as a forum to give out praise and awards.

  8. Be a Listener. Ask questions then listen without interruption--get the details, understand all aspects of a problem, and seek contrary opinions and expert advice before making a decision. You will find that you learn much more when you are not the one talking.

Implementing these tips doesn't mean abdicating the tasks of managing people and projects, expecting results, and taking corrective personnel actions. That's work that must be done and it is not always easy or pleasant. But for the long-term productivity and success of an organization, these tasks are better handled with a velvet glove than an iron fist. 

People work best when they are included in the process, treated well, respected, and allowed to exercise their imagination and judgment. Creating that environment is called leadership. Being a GM, not a BM, is a critical part of the process.

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