The bad management behaviours that destroy good teams.
Even in ordinary times, bad managers create dreadful cultures and poisonous places of work that are harmful to our health, and our ability to contribute anything positive to our employer.
During this pandemic, when people will be feeling more fearful, distracted and isolated than ever, locked away from every norm they hold dear, bad managers have the potential to finish off even those companies which still stand a fighting chance of surviving this crisis.
Anyone managing a team or leading people through this COVID-19 driven health and economic crisis should be hyper-aware of bad behaviours that can destroy effort and productivity.
Let’s be honest, there are some leaders who simply don’t care about others and it is this level of disregard that leads them to be really bad to work for. They create truly toxic places to work, and so long as they get done what they want done, nothing else matters.
On the other hand, there are also managers (far greater in number) who are well-intentioned and who do care about people, but who simply lack the skills to do a better job of engaging and relating to people. A lack of awareness about what really matters leads them to be bad bosses, even though they are likely to be far less toxic and also likely to want to improve.
The what NOT to do checklist
On the basis that knowing what not to do can be just as helpful as knowing what’s right, I offer the following checklist to help you be more aware of the bad behaviours which will be turning off members of your team, especially now, during the crisis and during the recovery period.
I researched the truly bad behaviours of managers for my new book on Charismatic Leadership. These poor behaviours will make you disliked, increasingly ineffective and possibly even likely soon to be fired.
There are five characteristics of toxic managers:
- They destroy trust,
- They unwittingly damage their own credibility and authority,
- They lack warmth and disengage people,
- They demolish any sense of common purpose and cohesion, and
- They kill the much-needed conversations that enable innovation.
These characteristics are brought to horrible life by a set of bad behaviours, which I list here. As you read through this list of bad behaviours, reflect for a moment on each point and consider whether you may be guilty of this sin, to some degree or other. Mark yourself on a scale of 1-10, where 10 is you never, ever do this, and 1 is you do this all the time. Giving yourself a five means you may do this sometimes. Be tough on yourself, because your employees most certainly will be. Examine whether you may be unmindful of any of these sins and may therefore inadvertently be guilty of bad behaviour.
Bad behaviours that destroy trust.
- The very worst kind of boss to work for is one who lacks integrity or displays integrity inconsistently. Those with integrity stay true to their values and are prepared to make tough choices about what’s right rather than what’s convenient. When you get to a place where integrity plays no part in your management, no one can trust you. Without a moral compass and ethics, or even just a sense of what’s fair, the team will quickly dissolve into bad behaviours and poor performance, based on a lack of trust of their leader. This trust deficit floods into their daily working life and infects their relationships with all of their teammates, and, in turn, customers. Right now, people will remember the companies that helped them, and treated them mindfully and respectfully. They will also remember those who took advantage, or simply didn’t care.
- Even when leaders do have integrity, their employees often see it differently. This is because their employees will observe inconsistent behaviours from their bosses which, while simply thoughtless, will lead them to make judgements about the character of their boss. Equally, such inconsistencies, or even the want of speaking up on issues, can make a boss seem insincere and dishonest. Leadership is an act of courage and being courageous often means standing up for the things you truly believe in, even in the most difficult of circumstances. Those without integrity will stand up for very little, and hypocrisy quickly follows.
- Bad bosses discriminate amongst members of their team. They have favourites, whom they shield from the effects of doing shoddy work, or with whom they favour good assignments or great working hours and shifts. They will expect loyalty but won’t be loyal themselves. They divide and conquer, and set up discord in the team, by favouring the opinion of some over others. Members of the team will quickly notice this and then distrust, disengagement and demotivation quickly follow.
- Bosses who trust no one are toxic. Distrustful managers will tend to micromanage others, check everything that people are doing, or disbelieve people unless they can conclusively prove their point of view. This lack of trust will lead to massive bottlenecks. Bottlenecks lead to a loss of productivity. A micromanager will seldom delegate. They ask to be copied in on every e-mail, will want to go to every meeting and will make every decision and solve every problem. They will then make a really big deal out of working 80 hours a week. They care little that that team members feel disenchanted and disempowered. In fact, this actually creates a vicious circle, because if they do sense this disengagement, they will be even less likely to delegate.
- Leaders who keep themselves to themselves can be very damaging to team morale. Those who never speak up for the values they believe in and make it very difficult for people to read them, set up a wariness among their employees, which also leads to a lack of trust. Any employee who finds their boss aloof and doesn’t really know where their boss is coming from will regard them as dangerous and unpredictable.
- Managers who lack self-awareness or humility are damaging. When leaders think they are, for example, great communicators, and members of the team think otherwise, credibility suffers. On the other hand, leaders who show vulnerability are often perceived to be more effective as leaders, because they show more of their human side. As tough as it is to admit mistakes, humility is one of the most powerful attributes of managers and is a great accelerator of building trust.
Bad behaviours that destroy credibility and authority.
- A love of politics destroys relationships. Bad managers love politics, suck up to their own bosses and especially favour those who suck up to them.
- Use fear and bureaucracy as tools to manage. Poor managers would never consider liberating people to have more autonomy. They want employees to feel lucky that they’ve got a job and always hand over assignments with the threat that if it isn’t delivered the way they would like it, there will be highly negative consequences. ‘It’s my way or the highway’, they say. They use disciplinary measures when simply communicating with an employee would get the desired result. Because they are bullies, they will tolerate bullying in the team. Such fear-based management may get short-term results but is simply unsustainable.
- Make promises to employees, and then break them. Even if they have the intention to do something, and then forget, this will result in a lack of trust from employees.
- Ride authority for all it’s worth. Poor managers expect others to serve them and serve their egos. They’ll never roll their sleeves up and will ensure that others do the jobs that they are no longer willing to do themselves. Humble leaders are often out in front, leading by doing and by example. Bad bosses try to promote themselves at the cost of the team, always playing for themselves, at every opportunity. They will take credit for others work.
- Don’t worry about standards, and don’t care about quality or delivering projects on time.
- Never apologize, and never accept responsibility for mistakes. With bad managers, it will always be someone else’s fault. As for personal development, learning is for losers. And they never learn from mistakes; because they don’t make them.
- Constantly brag about their exploits and so-called achievements. Also, constantly demonstrate high intellect, thus belittling and demeaning those who follow you.
- Panic under pressure, and let it show. Bad managers rush around and overreact to even the smallest problems, often causing despair and disdain in equal measure.
- Be negative about their own bosses, blaming them for everything that’s wrong about the organization. Bad bosses never accept that they have the ability to change anything themselves.
Bad behaviours that make employees disengage.
- Bad listeners are often bad managers, and worse, they either don’t care or are simply unaware of that fact. They regularly show employees that they have no interest in their input and perspectives and treat their views with contempt or disdain.
- Managers who show little empathy or compassion for members of their team will also have a hugely negative effect on morale and engagement.
- Highly critical and vocal managers will seldom celebrate successes, and will relentlessly and publicly interrogate failures, never forgiving mistakes. They never offer second chances and can see no value in giving the benefit of the doubt to others. They will constantly search for faults in employees and ignore their strengths. This kind of behaviour will make every new assignment, and every member of the team, feel very unsafe.
- Bad managers are disrespectful of everyone. They show contempt for their employees, their own bosses and even their customers. Disrespect is contagious, and very soon members of the team will be disrespecting each other and disrespecting customers too, with disastrous consequences.
- Bad managers lack any charm and are cold and aloof. They are not interested in building relationships. They have no interest in the motivations and personal lives of their team members. They pay little attention to work–life balance, and their team members are constantly overworked, with a high risk of burnout.
- Worst of all, bad managers are not inclusive. They exclude people from critical conversations. They have little tolerance for diversity. They prefer ‘birds of a feather’ in their team and are not interested in teams that are built on a diversity of gender, race, culture or nationality. Even if they have strongly diverse teams, bad managers make little effort to ensure that everyone is included in team discussions or decisions.
Bad behaviours that demolish a sense of purpose and kill drive.
- Bad managers are never clear about their expectations, timelines or goals. Worse, they change their minds frequently and leave team members feeling off-balance and insecure. If goals look like they are being met, they’ll quickly ramp them up to higher, unachievable levels. They are myopically focused on results.
- They never bother to connect with what the team is doing, to the organization’s mission and goals. It always feels as if the team is acting in isolation from the rest of the company, and that there is no meaning or purpose behind what they are doing. The team will feel like they are pursuing pointless goals and also feel disconnected from their colleagues.
- They will often give the same work to different people, causing confusion about roles and responsibilities, leaving everyone unclear about what exactly they’re supposed to be doing.
- They pay no attention to company or team culture, and certainly don’t live up to the values of the workplace themselves.
- They do nothing about poor-performing or toxic members of staff and will show little interest in constant continuous improvement. They will equally be disinterested in helping employees to grow and develop, regarding this as a waste of time rather than a way to help improve performance.
- They will show no hesitation in ripping off customers and suppliers at every opportunity, as anything is acceptable in the pursuit of achieving profits.
- They are not in the least bit interested in how their customers feel.
Bad behaviours that kill conversations and innovation
- Bad managers are secretive and share as little information as possible. Information is power, so they deliberately choose to withhold it.
- Bad managers are bad at giving feedback. Worse still, bad managers are even worse at giving praise. Employees always see managers who give praise often and appropriately as more effective.
- With bad managers, one-way communication is rampant. They are on the broadcast button all the time and have no interest in listening to people’s views or encouraging robust conversations to find ideal solutions. They care little about encouraging good communication between team members.
- Bad managers are invisible. They prefer the security of their office walls to going out to talk to members of their team. They send e-mails at all hours of the day and night, even if members of their team are but yards away in the office.
- Bad managers never prepare for presentations, preferring to speak off the cuff. They have no sense of their audience and are completely unaware of the audience’s issues and concerns. They have a message to deliver and, by heck, deliver it they will, no matter how long it takes. In this age of video conferencing, they do nothing to ensure everyone gets a say and is contributing views and ideas to a debate.
- They can be ambiguous, indirect or even lie, and never check whether people have understood a single word they said.
Storing up a churn rate.
Who of us would want to be working in a team led by a boss who exhibits any of the behaviours I have listed above, especially now? These are the bosses who will have high churn rates in their teams when everything eventually does return to normal, with most of their employees looking to move to another department or even another company, just as soon as they can.
* This article is based on research I did for my new book, “Charismatic Leadership”, and comes from the chapter entitled: “The dark side of charisma.” You can find the book here: https://bit.ly/34QPmmp