How to Fail as a Boss

Friday, June 21, 2013 - 08:13

By Leon Gettler

Many people are out of their depth when they get promoted into management positions. Call it the competency trap. There are good technicians and people who are particularly skilled in an area. Invariably, they’re turned into managers. But here’s the problem: the qualities that made them a great technician – the ability to work on their own, think laterally and cut corners - are not necessarily the same as the skills required to be a manager where the skills are more about developing people and communication. So how can you tell whether you are a good boss or not? What are the signs?

The Business Management site identifies several warning signs you’re a dud: you send one-word emails, you rarely talk face-to-face with employees and your employees are out sick – a lot. Other signs include your team overworking but constantly missing deadlines and the fact that you seem to yell a lot.

Steve Tobak at BNet lists seven signs: your group is underperforming, your superiors are putting you under more pressure, people you once thought were allies are now turning against you or avoiding you, the increased stress is forcing you to make bad decisions, you are behaving badly, your personal relationships suck and your employees hate you.

Tobak says it can be a complex problem.

“One thing most bad managers have in common is they’re not consciously aware that they’re bad managers. And if they are aware of it on some level, they’re probably not willing to admit it to anyone, least of all themselves. That’s because nobody wants to believe they’re the problem. It’s a common enough phenomenon that isn’t limited to bosses, but applies to people at all levels: executives, managers, employees too. I’m not a shrink, so I’m not sure why that is. But if I had to guess, I’d say it’s probably got something to do with ego, denial, compartmentalisation, self-delusion, lack of perspective, that sort of thing.”

Eric Jackson at Forbes has a swag of bad signs: you give your direct reports little to no guidance, you’re supposed to do performance reviews every year but manage to skip them, you bully your reports and hate it when your subordinates get uppity, you spend more time playing office politics and positioning yourself for the next promotion instead of getting any work done, you put team members down and never give them credit, you’re never wrong – about anything.

Other signs include people constantly quitting or asking to be transferred out and when a mistake is made, you’re quick to blame someone. Also, you micromanage;, lie and suck up to your superiors; you can’t make a decision; you hire C-grade players who won’t outshine you; you tolerate bad work; you let chronic underperformers go unchecked and play favourites; you don’t update your team and you keep information from them; and there’s turmoil in your personal life.

And then there’s the list from management professor Bob Sutton: you ride people hard;, you feel you are babying employees if you thank them or try to understand where they are coming from;, you cultivate only your star employees and ignore the rest; and you take credit for all the good stuff.

Sutton writes: "The most crucial test of a boss is self-awareness. The best bosses are in tune with how the little things they say and do impact people, and they are adept at adjusting to bolster both performance and dignity. Unfortunately, too many bosses think they are in tune with their employees, but live in a fool’s paradise."