I Want to Work for That Manager!

It probably comes as no surprise that many employees dislike working for their managers. In fact, Gallup surveys of U.S. workers show that about 20% of employees are dissatisfied with their immediate supervisor. Realizing that such discontent endangers employee retention and threatens productivity, can you afford to be a toxic manager? See if you recognize yourself in any of the manager types listed below, and decide if you need to make a change to become the kind of manager your employees talk about when they say, “I want to work for that manager!”

The Politician

You spend more effort networking with those in power than actually tackling your responsibilities. In conversations with others, you word your responses carefully and somewhat ambiguously to protect yourself. Having made delegation an extreme sport, you take care to hire direct reports who can make you look good.  The danger is that your subordinates can feel used by you and their trust in you gets damaged. According to Peter G. Northouse in Leadership: Theory and Practice, there are three ingredients necessary to create strong leader-follower relationships: respect, trust, and obligation. Your team may mutually respect each other’s capabilities, but without reciprocal trust, a strong sense of mutual obligation to help each other toward the goal will not develop. The cure sounds simple: Act with integrity. Be the same person in all situations and say what you mean, not what is politically correct. Only when you have integrity will you gain a real following of direct reports.

The Control Freak

You struggle with delegating tasks to others and won’t let even the smallest thing happen without your input and approval. Truly a micromanager, you can’t stop yourself from leaving your own mark on whatever task your employees undertake, even though they are capable of working independently. They can’t help but feel insulted and belittled and have difficulty not taking your lack of confidence personally. Unfortunately, you get what you create—inert employees who are afraid to make a move or express self-initiative without your prior approval. You become the logjam! To reverse this cycle, you’ll need to create a system where employees can earn your trust, a system where you delegate first small and then larger tasks as they perform to your specifications. As John Maxwell says in The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, “only secure leaders give power to others.” Don’t let your insecurity hold others back from being permitted to achieve their fullest potential. Equip and release your subordinates, and you will reap the benefits of both their creativity and productivity.

The MIA Manager

Perhaps you travel constantly, or work from a remote office, or are just too busy to actually spend face-to-face time with your subordinates. The opposite of the micromanager, you almost never interface with your employees, leaving the day-to-day details to them. But if they can’t depend on you to give needed direction or notice when they do something spectacular, eventually they will likely become disengaged and start looking elsewhere for a job that will recognize them as individuals. To establish better connections, schedule regular meetings or phone calls, and communicate regularly through emails, inviting input and questions to demonstrate your emotional availability. Watch for ways to affirm and praise their actions, and you’ll build the connection you need to keep your best employees.

The Airhead

You are new to your position, so your management skills are slim at best, or you don’t know that much about your industry. Either way, you understandably feel a little insecure. Instead of leading, you find yourself wanting to be just one of the team, and they don’t know who to follow. Here’s where you could probably take your cue from the Politician manager, and surround yourself with people who do know what they’re doing! Better yet, start educating yourself by reading books on managerial and leadership skills, and take advantage of any training your company has to offer so you can become more expert in your field. If possible, find a mentor you admire or hire a business coach to help develop your confidence and leadership skills. Be proactive rather than passively waiting for yourself to improve.

The Napoleonic Manager

You have no life other than at work, and you expect everyone else to treat work as their only priority. You also subject your direct reports to impossibly high standards and expect them to achieve superhuman feats. This makes you appear critical and unapproachable and sets your employees up for constant failure and eventual burnout. Inevitably, your employee retention levels will suffer. Your first order of change: Get a life! Develop a hobby, join a club, or take up volunteer work. Give yourself permission to relax, for the sake of both yourself and your employees. When your work and personal life become balanced, it will be easier to view your employees as people rather than productivity machines. And at the office, work harder . . . to create a culture of no blame, recommends Timothy Keiningham, co-author of Why Loyalty Matters, and to reward excellent performance, since rewards and expressing appreciation are the leading drivers of loyalty in employee/employer relationships.

You can’t change your personality, but you can take steps to avoid being a toxic manager. Being honest with yourself about what type of manager you are is the first step toward improvement. If you’re really brave, asking your subordinates how you can improve is the second. (If they’re really brave, they’ll answer you honestly!) Understanding how your behavior adversely impacts your direct reports can be a strong motivator for choosing different ways of relating. But honesty and understanding will only take you so far; now you must decide to change! Set a SMART goal—specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound. Then, solicit the help of a friend, mentor, or colleague to whom you can be accountable, and stick with your plan of action. With your newfound awareness and determination, you can become the manager whom your employees will be eager to support.

Reference list:

“How to Inspire a Loyalty-Driven Workforce,” https://www.nfib.com/tabid/56/Default.aspx?cmsid=50032

Joanna Boydak, “Worst Managers to Work For,”  January 15, 2010, www.livecareer.com/news/Career/Toxic-Managers-_$$01202.aspx


John Maxwell, The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership

Peter G. Northouse, Leadership: Theory and Practice

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