Management Tip: Mean-Spirited Managers

In his book Every Mistake in the Book, F.J. Lennon states “Being promoted to a management position does not give you the right to become a dictator. The business world is already jam-packed with tyrants; there’s no need for fresh talent.”

In an article published a few years ago (“Bad bosses and how to deal with them” CBS Marketwatch.com, April 8,2003) Marshall Loeb observed that when labor markets are bad (as they currently are) bad bosses are more prominent and employees are more likely to let themselves be abused at work. Loeb goes on to cite a “tolerance, even admiration” for these type of managers in corporate America due to investor-driven emphasis on the bottom line.  

Eric Rhoads, publisher of Radio Ink, a radio industry trade magazine, cited a similar contempt for customers in his April 22, 2002 issue: “Unfortunately, in many radio companies today, pressure to perform means an unintentional requirement to screw advertisers. A sales manager recently told a rep: ‘I don’t care if if works for the advertiser; get the order.’ It’s a sad reality we face as an industry.”

Media companies do not have a monopoly on this type of unfriendly management behavior either; it’s everywhere. Gary Namie, author of The Bully at Work states that 17 percent of workers report being abused by their bosses. Loeb’s CBS Marketwatch.com article also alludes to Joel H. Neuman’s (Director for Applied Management at the State University of New York) assertion that mean-spirited managers account for millions of dollars of losses each year due to the fact that bad managers create more absenteeism, dissatisfied employees, ticked off consumers, poorer quality products and crippled productivity. “The number one cost is turnover, particularly of the best and brightest,” Namie tells Loeb. “Bad bosses are very threatened by a technically competent and socially skilled staff. By comparison with them, the boss looks worse. So, the most talented employees are often the ones the bad bosses drive out.”

“It’s not pay, benefits or dissatisfaction with the job that prompts good employees to leave, it’s the boss” says Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman in their book First Break all the Rules, suggesting that people don’t leave organizations, they leave managers. The most important attribute to the retention of employees is the quality of the manager.

If the turnover situation in an organization that Namie describes above is perpetual, then hangers-on and “yes men” will be the only people left in the organization. Now that sounds like the former Iraqi government, doesn’t it?

Being an ass isn’t cool– contrary to what some manager’s think.

Some managers like to be feared by employees, and apparently confuse fear for “respect”—and they fail to realize they are not respected at all. These managers who think being a jerk is a good thing are the same ones that can be heard telling other managers at conventions and seminars things like “Yeah, mine (employees) are all lazy, etc.” It’s really a shame when you think about it. Some managers just get drunk on power and feel they can treat people anyway they wish. I have a theory on how and why some decent people become horrible managers.

First, some people should never be in management in the first place, but they were promoted or “rewarded” because of their longevity of service to the company. Many are taken out of roles where they are successful, and put in a role where they are a detriment to the company. Many companies promote their top producing salesperson to become a sales manager despite the fact that some of the best salespeople make horrible managers. To be successful in sales, a person has to have a pretty big ego to motivate themselves each and every day. But in a management role, that ego can be a liability, with the manager putting his or her needs ahead of the employees’.

Secondly, very few managers have ever had a good role model or mentor to emulate. It’s the like the “abused child syndrome” — most managers today were managed by bad managers, and the only way they know how to manage is to use the same methods they were managed. Very few managers have ever been through any type of formal management training too. Most newbie managers are thrown into the job with no training at all, so the first thing they do is to do revert to what they know. The “abusee” is now the abuser.

Years ago, I witnessed something that really appalled me. I witnessed a manager verbally lambaste a co-worker in front of the entire staff. Not only was I very sympathetic to the person that was the target of the verbal abuse, I was also very embarrassed. So was everyone else that witnessed this sad event.

Worse, some managers will talk about one employee negatively to other employees. Yeah, that’s real smart. This sends the message to the employee who is hearing the criticism that the manager is probably talking behind his or her back as well. This is very disturbing behavior for a manager. More shocking is the fact that so many managers do this and think nothing of it. They don’t even think it’s wrong. Anyone should know this behavior is wrong. Proverbs calls “one who sows discord among brethren” an abomination.

Trust between management and employees is essential to maximize productivity and to focus on the job at hand. If there is a complaint from a customer, or an internal complaint (where the employee is accused of making a mistake) managers should give his or her employee the benefit of the doubt before leveling criticism. Ask the employee his or her perspective before firing a verbal broadside:

“A client called and said [insert complaint here]… tell me what you know about the situation.”

Don’t automatically assume your employee is wrong. In many cases there is a logical explanation for the situation. If a manager falsely accuses an employee, then an egregious violation of trust is infracted.

I have seen managers send out berating memos (which are directed at the actions of a single employee) to the entire staff. A manager who does this doesn’t have the interpersonal skills, courage or dignity to use one-on-one human communication to voice his or her criticism directly to the employee(s) that need the criticism. The “staff memo” only causes speculation as to which co-worker triggered the memo (again “sowing discord among brethren”). This causes employees to focus on internal issues at the expense of executing the mission of the company.

Don’t misunderstand me– criticism is needed in the workplace to help people improve. The function of criticism is to improve performance. Criticism (in its classical definition) is a good thing, although the word has a negative connotation today. Call it “coaching” if you want.

Coaching an employee to get better is what management is all about. It’s too bad that managers have to use heavy handed criticism. Not only is it unproductive, it’s also unnecessary.

 

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