What Bad Managers, Good Managers and Great Managers Do

“Lean management,” or the Toyota management style, encourages leaders to live in that “good to great” range (with apologies to Jim Collins).

Bad managers bark orders. They are directive and tell employees what to do, without any explanation or context. I saw that style of management quite often during my first two years at General Motors (read my previous post about that experience) and the workplace was incredibly dysfunctional as a result.

There are top-down, “command and control” managers in every type of workplace, unfortunately. Managers who are controlling and have all the answers want their employees to “check their brains at the door,” and often say so quite explicitly — or they spread that message in more subtle ways.

At GM, front-line employees complained that they were “hired for their backs and their arms, not their brains.” In hospitals, healthcare professionals (even those with master’s degrees) have complained, “They just want us to do what we’re told.” This is not a recipe for quality, productivity, or good customer service.

A friend of mine lives in a high-rise condo building. One example of “telling” was the general manager telling employees that the doors to the resident gym must now be kept closed at all times. For years, previously, the doors had been left open unless a resident wanted privacy and chose to close them.

My friend asked one of the employees, “Why are the doors closed all of the time now?” The employee replied, “I don’t know, [the manager] just told us to.”

It’s disrespectful to just give directives without letting people understand the reason(s) why. There might have very well been a good reason why the doors were now to be kept closed. Had the manager taken just a few minutes to share a reason why, the employees would feel better about themselves and would more likely keep the doors closed. If employees are following directives out of a fear of being “written up,” they aren’t in a position to provide great service.

A good condo manager would explain why the doors now need to be closed. And, if there wasn’t a good reason why, they wouldn’t force the change on a whim.

A great condo manager would involve the employees in coming up with solutions to whatever problem is being solved by keeping the doors closed. The employees, when being posed with the problem, might come up with the idea of “close the doors” or they might come up with something better. Either way, they would feel a greater sense of ownership over the idea since they were involved in its creation.

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