Working with a Bad Manager might be way better than you think!
A great manager is the best thing that can happen to you at work, but a bad manager might not be the worst thing after all. An exposure to bad leaders actually makes you look at the impact of good management on the entire ecosystem in a whole new light, that might not be possible when you are in your comfort zone with a great manager.
There is so much of management Gyan out there, books & blogs to read, workshops to attend, great speeches to listen to on how to be a good manager, a good leader, the difference between a manager and a leader and what not… However, after reading and researching a lot on leadership and management, I think I understood one thing, no amount of material can teach you what exposure to bad management styles can teach you!
Exposure to Management Styles
The experience with a good or a great manager is the best thing that could happen to you at work, they nurture your skills, gives you an opportunity to grow, career advancement, counseling. You get wings to fly with them, you are trained, mentored, given an ecosystem to focus on enhancing your skills and encouraged to perform over 100% of your capabilities. Even after this, when we are happy at work, we don’t really realize it that often and even if we do, we hardly attribute it to the reporting manager or the management.
Generally when individuals are happy or satisfied at job, they tend to attribute this to various factors like flexible work hours, creative job, challenging projects, skill set match, job profile etc.
When things are not working out, we definitely dissect the situation to the core and talk about it constantly— to our colleagues, our friends, our partner, everyone around us, everyone we know, knows the story — how our boss has made our life a living hell by not giving us enough credit, not acknowledging our efforts, not supporting us when needed, using our work to advance himself, not standing up for us and whatnot. Guess what? that’s our “not to do“ list right there with live examples! Bingo!
What I am trying to say here is — you think about the whole situation and management a lot more and in the process (of talking to everyone and over analysing it) you are forming learning patterns, patterns of what is not working for you and hence what is a strict no -no when it comes to being a boss.
This is a very crucial piece of knowledge right there in front of us waiting for us to cash into the maximum. We need to channelize this to actually learn from it and be better Managers ourselves.
Learning through Analysis & Observation
I was really lucky to have come across people who taught me a lot in my previous organization, not just my bosses, but other managers too. I observed, listened to people crib about their boss, trying to understand what was going wrong, trying to make sense of all this, being junior HR person really helped me gain access of this information.
Then I started maintaining a journal, where I would just record all the incidences when there were casual jokes or a serious analysis specifically of someone’s qualities in the form of either
- Admiration or
And suddenly I was surrounded by only the second type of incidences, casual banters at the pantry, lunchtime shenanigans, coffee break gossips, and travel time chitter-chatter, maybe 0.0001% admiration, most of the times people talked about their disappointments, this clearly showing that, if you have a good boss, you never dissect his personality, you never pin it on what exactly he/she does. But surprisingly everyone is an expert when it comes to analyzing a bad boss, and when they talk, it usually comes from a place which I can describe as “if I were in his shoes I would never do that”. I am not sure how they will actually behave once they are in those shoes, nonetheless, they all learn valuable lessons, lessons on what not to do to their juniors/ colleagues, I think this really helps to put a perspective in mind, even If only 10% of them implement what they have learned, the workplaces will be better places to be in.
Five things I would dedicate completely to “Work in Progress” Managers or let’s just say my what “not to do” list -
1. Never be “Always Busy” :
“Always Busy” professionals will never have time to spare for their team or are very sporadic in dedicating time, sometimes there is way too much time given and suddenly nothing. Have you seen those really busy managers, being in the middle of a tornado of mails, juggling in air 3–4 tasks at any given moment, too much on their plate and always holding a placard that says “I am already behind a Deadline! This better be important”, no one wants to or rather can approach them anyway with their own trivial issues. Absolutely amazing individual contributors, excellent performers, so everyone loves them and so when there is a vacancy they are promoted for the position, and now they have even more work. They generally focus solely on how much work they complete in a day, they can’t move past this. The busy Managers can have these issues-
A. Over delegation: They have delegated everything or maybe just the wrong things - training, reviews as also taking stock of what their team does. Imagine asking someone to follow up with their own colleagues/equals on how much work is done. Manager’s entire role exists because they are responsible for not just their own work but also their team’s work, how can they not take stock of what work their team members are doing and simply let them be? How can they ask team members to get trained from someone who is an equal? How can they delegate the main aspect of their role, the one thing that separates them from their team members?
B. Non Approachable: One step further to the “over delegators” are the “Over delegators + Not approachable”. They seem to be very busy that they miss out on many trivial observations, that can help them get an insight on the team’s health, like-Is the team happy, is there a discomfort in any area, are there any signs of distress, etc. I am not saying being out there all the time that’s also wrong, but taking some time out to listen to the team is very important. Sometimes they also say that “no one ever comes to them, if someone would’ve come, they would definitely taken out time to talk” but just think why doesn’t the team come? Maybe because they seem to be busy in so many things that they team feels what they have to say is too small an issue to disturb and the team keeps ignoring it until the day it transforms into something that can’t be resolved at all. Then the 2 hours call that the team member makes to vent out so many things all at once isn’t actually a good thing, that means that you actually need to be there more often.
C. Feedbacks with half-knowledge: This is a step further to “Not Approachable”. Now let’s assume that they are actually very busy and not just bad at juggling the clock hands, it’s ok you know! As I said I would definitely cut some slack there. It’s worse when the manager tries to cover it up by giving wrong feedback when actually they have never given time to that project or assignment or person. Post this, whatever the team member has done is actually without any support or guidance from the manager, the least the manager can do is appreciate him/her for the doing the work, rather than rejecting the whole work, maybe the whole work is bad, but is it his fault? He has done it to the best of his abilities, maybe the manager should have set the expectation right from day 1 and trained him to do that. There is nothing more demotivating than listening to your manager giving you wrong feedback, telling you to do the stuff in a way that you have already implemented without being told by him. You get completely bummed knowing your manager doesn’t even know what you do. Your hard work is not just getting unnoticed, but you are also an under-performer now.
2. Stop saying “Don’t come to me with problems, come with solutions”:
I know this is the most cliched thing heard at the workplace, used by all the managers including me. But I have just realized that this does not make any sense. Yes, the purpose of a manager’s role is to delegate the work, train the team to perform tasks independently and take a stock of their progress, but it does not end here, when the manager is reviewing the work and is told that there seems to be a problem which can not be solved by the team, that’s when the Manger’s role comes in. As managers, we need to provide the team with ways to get to the solutions if not the actual solution served on their platter, but we can assist them to get to a solution by asking the right questions. Assuming that we have given our best at training and making them independent at doing their work, we are now not micromanaging the day-to-day activities — But does this mean that they will be able to complete all the tasks ever assigned to them without your support or guidance? We can not expect that they do not come to us with problems. This is where our role comes into play in the equation. And to think about it, what do we really mean by come with solutions? Why would they come with solutions, if they knew, wouldn’t it be solved/implemented already! In fact, I would like to put it in a way that our role is to solve the problems they face, that’s called escalation!
3. Never blame your team members in front of your superiors, stand up for them:
A Manager should be like a filter between their team member’s work and the outside world, of course, he/she can not check each and everything that they make and then pass it on, however, one should be confident on the work they are doing, or maybe take out time to train them better. Having said that, it is fine if the team still makes mistakes, but if they do, as a manager, you can not simply blame it on the team and escape the fire, you need to stand up for them, if there is a mistake made by the team, you need to take responsibility for that, you can’t just escape saying “this is the new guy, he always does this, he never learns”, you can not just leave them alone especially in front of your superiors. There is a simple rule —
In case of things go great, credit goes to the team and for and the things that don’t go right, credit goes to you.
I have seen managers, doing exactly the opposite. While in review, just blaming it on their juniors for the non-performance of that aspect (maybe because that junior is never going to get a chance to prove it otherwise), but never ever giving feedback to that person about it. If he really thought that the project is not being handled properly, rather than informing superiors about it, his first responsibility is to tell the person himself. Most of the managers fear giving feedback, thinking this will make them look bad in front of the team, but rather resort in talking about it to their bosses or colleagues. This is a complete no-no.
4. Do not be “Over Commitment Pleasers”:
Remember the promises you make, if you can’ t remember -write it down , if you can’t write them, don’t make them.
Some of the leaders have loads and loads of tasks at hand, some of them have not delegated work properly and some of them have too many things to look after. In spite of this, they want to be in touch with people, meet people at the ground. This is a great thing, this is a wonderful way to be grounded and have a reality check. And also sometimes It feels nice to come across as powerful people who can solve people’s problems in no time and hence they listen to issues from one side and straightaway make a decision & announce/commit then and there without consulting other stakeholders or listening to the other side of the story. This might also be good if the leader has the potential to see through the decision, but the leader when talks about the decision to other stakeholders and finds out that the solution was not possible and hence forgets it. This does more damage than help, as the people are misled and given false hopes. Instead, a leader needs to listen to the issues and understand the perspective and try to explain why the issues occur or else let people know that he will look into the matter and discuss it with the concerned people and get back with a solution if a solution is possible. This makes the people feel heard and at the same time, they aren’t given any false hopes.
5. Do not practice “Divide & Rule”:
There are numerous insecure managers in any organization, they feel threatened even by their own team members. They are constantly getting involved in politics and are pitting their own team members against each other and ruling the world with the smirk of self-pride all the time. Teamwork is very important and my manager discussing my colleague’s mistakes with me has two major issues 1- I will feel really close and important that my boss shared this with me and would crave for more, however, if he is talking to be me about that guy, he will talk about me to some other guy, so how can I trust him? 2- This will definitely turn me against that colleague he is talking about and I will never believe in his skills or work output. Trust and Teamwork goes for a toss right there. Now that I have worked in a team, I understand how trust can help so much in any focus group, we can make wonders if it is a functional group with minimal menial tactics, where more time is spent on actual work rather than petty politics and useless gossip. People can help each other and synergize to have a much better output. I can’t think of no better way to function.
So I would say never underestimate a bad situation,
You will definitely come out of it much wiser and stronger than ever. These are such important lessons and having them early in your career will definitely help you be a great manager yourself provided you read the signs properly and implement it right.
I know cliched but I would still say this…
If life throws lemons at you, don’t be sad, make lemonade out of it instead!