Signs You Might Be a Bad Manager

Are you a bad manager? Learn to spot the behaviors that signal you might be, while you still have time to correct them.

August 3, 2021
11 minute read
Signs You Might Be a Bad Manager

“People leave managers, not companies,” is a well-known saying, but when an employee leaves, the damage has already been done. That’s why it’s important to look for signs that you might be a bad manager before key parts of your team leave. Only then can you make a conscious effort to change your management style.

In High Output Management , Andrew S. Grove, the former co-founder and CEO of Intel, states that middle managers have the power to improve their teams’ performance and productivity. But turning this around, middle managers also have the power to impair productivity, performance, engagement, and motivation.

Although this is nothing new, companies, as well as employees, suffer from bad managers.

The Gallup study, State of the American Manager , published some interesting numbers:

  • At least 50% of American employees have left one job in their career to get away from a bad manager.
  • The influence of managers on the employee engagement score is estimated to be at least 70%.
  • Only 18% of current managers have the talent required for the role.
  • 51% of current managers are not engaged and 14% are actively disengaged.

If managers have such an immense impact on an organization’s performance, it is crucial to take these issues seriously and address them accordingly.

5 Talents of Great Managers

In today’s VUCA world, with growing uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity, managers need a combination of talents to be successful in their roles.

According to the same Gallup study above, great managers have the skills to:

  1. Motivate their teams
  2. Build solid relationships in a trusting environment
  3. Create a culture of accountability
  4. Make valuable, unbiased decisions in the sense of shared, common goals
  5. Assert themselves to overcome obstacles.

The interesting thing about this list is that all of these talents are soft skills independent of your industry or domain expertise. That’s why promoting someone due to their success as an individual contributor doesn’t automatically mean they’ll be a great manager.

The Gallup study mentioned above also says that only 10% of managers have all five talents, and 20% display a few of them.

With these essential talents for being a great manager in mind, let’s have a look at some indicators that you might be a bad manager.

OMG, Monday Again!

Every Monday, you have to return to work, but it frustrates you more and more.

You do not feel happy. You dread speaking with your employees. You feel exhausted. Everything you do is something you have to do and not what you want to do. You wish you had not taken this role or you start to look for another job. The only reason you are still doing this is because of the money.

If all or some of the above-described feelings are familiar to you, you might be a bad manager.

Your engagement and enthusiasm as a manager have a direct impact on the engagement of your employees.

If you are not engaged, it is more likely that your employees will not be engaged. They won’t contribute their ideas and they’ll avoid making decisions. Disengaged people are not looking for solutions, they’re poisoning the mood and the atmosphere within the team.

Additionally, the longer you bear such a frustrating situation, the more your motivation and health will suffer. As a manager, you need to set a good example and you need to care for your team, but you can’t do that if you don’t even care for yourself.

Start Acting

To fix this issue, find out what is frustrating to you.

Is it the whole job or just a part of it? Is it because you want to do something completely different, or is it because you don’t have the skills to be a better manager?

You can easily adapt the well-known agile team technique of a 4L Retrospective to find out more about your situation.

Visualize the four aspects:

  • Liked
  • Learned
  • Lacked
  • Longed for

And fill them with data.

As soon as you have filled the table, you can start to uncover the underlying reason for your frustration and determine how to get re-engaged.

Example of the 4L template

No matter what you find out, the important thing is to make a decision!

If you discover that you don’t want to be a manager or at least, not in this company, take responsibility for it. Do this for your own sake and the sake of your team.

Knowing Nothing About the People on Your Team

What do you know about the people in your team?

Do they share personal insights with you? Are you sharing personal things with them? Are you approachable enough that team members can talk to you and ask questions?

Do you feel that talking with team members is a waste of time? Do you have the impression that they trust you? Do you trust them?

If you do not have a solid relationship with everyone on your team or you lack trust, there is a huge possibility that you are a lousy manager.

Trust Is Vital for Teamwork

It is never a waste of time to build up strong relationships with your employees. Trust in a manager can lead to:

  • willingness to take good risks, which can foster innovation
  • prompt, cohesive action as a team
  • an open environment for clear, quick communication

Even though this is a crucial part of your role as a manager, you will never have time for it; you need to make the time. Otherwise, your team can suffer from a lack of connection, a hesitation to pivot when necessary, and a tense workplace.

Catching up with the people in your team as often as possible is helpful. To show your trust, share personal insights and act transparently, be predictable and authentic.

You can’t demand that your team trust you. It’s a slow process, and it’s got to start with you showing you’re worthy of it.

1:1 meetings can help you to show interest in the individual and learn more about the human. This is important because trust begins with a relationship.

Giving feedback with an appreciative and strength-based approach is another good way to build up trust. It is no longer enough to have one annual performance review. Shorter feedback cycles are needed, helping employees focus on their strengths in order to address goals for the team and themselves.

But also, asking for feedback and listening to teammates who are willing to give it to you is essential. Listening is not only respectful; it gives you helpful clues for trust-building with each of your teammates.

If you want to learn more about the impact of having or not having trust, then read our post Communication in High Performing Teams.

You Do Everything

Are your team members unwilling to make decisions? Do they always ask you to make hard calls? When things go wrong, are they unwilling to take accountability? Perhaps they fall back on defenses like “I was doing it just like you told me” or “You didn’t tell me that I should take care of it.”

The impression that you alone can get things done is a big problem.

Your natural response will be to make even more decisions and delegate less work to your team. This will leave you spending more time doing the jobs of your employees instead of your own. Everyone else leaves the office on time, while you work overtime just to get everything done.

You might think this is normal because, as a manager, you think you’re the most competent person on the team. Unfortunately, you are not as smart as you think you are.

Delegation: Context and Why

Trust is the prerequisite for building a great team, but to drive outstanding outcomes, managers must act as a coach and mentor to empower their teams. If employees are used to a command-and-control management style , this will take some time and intention on your part to change. You’ll have to learn to delegate without overwhelming or under challenging teammates.

The most impactful action you can take is to set the context and deliver the why. This will help your employees see the big picture and how their roles fit into the broader goals. They can also identify the dependencies between their work and the work of other teammates.

Context and why also make it easier to focus on the outcome. In his TEDxTalk How Great Leaders Inspire Action , Simon Sinek gives some helpful tips on how successful organizations (and managers) start with why rather than what or how.

The author and consultant Jurgen Appelo advocates for a solution called Delegation Poker. This practical and transparent approach points out that:

  1. Delegation is not a binary thing. There are plenty of “shades of gray” between being a dictator and being an anarchist.
  2. Delegation is a step-by-step process. You hand over accountability to other people in a controlled and gradual way.
  3. Delegation is context-dependent. You want to delegate as much as possible but if you go too far chaos might unfold.

The big thing to remember is don’t make decisions the team should make!

Delegation and decision-making should be group efforts. Managers need help from their team and other experts to get all the information they need to make the best decisions for their organizations. With the shared goals in mind, your team will have a basis for making their own choices and taking responsibility for tasks that may not have clear-cut instructions from you.

If team members continue to ask you to make decisions or do work for them, act as a coach and help them become more independent. This will take a bit more time initially, but as your team gains more self-confidence, you will save much more time.

Resistance is Everywhere

Are your fellow managers not listening to your ideas? Are they ignoring your decisions? Is your team unwilling to work with you on projects? Do you always seem to be fighting people in your organization?

If this is the case, you’re in a very poor position as a manager, and you might be the problem.

Transparency, Communication, and the Qualified “No”

To overcome general resistance like this, you need to operate with more transparency and open communication. It’s likely that your teammates are misaligned with you on some key component of your goals.

Try having candid conversations to understand why this resistance keeps happening. If you can find out more about the reasons for this behavior, it will help you define better working patterns.

Sometimes though, the only answer is the qualified “no”.

As a manager, you can’t please everyone—mainly because you have to reach defined goals. The important thing is that the qualified “no” doesn’t stop communication. So how do you deliver it effectively?

  • Clarify that you’re saying no to this specific pushback only.
  • Leave options open for later.
  • Restate goals and explain the type of solutions you need to reach them.

Are You a Bad Manager?

If you’ve identified one of the above signs in your own management style, don’t worry!

Having identified the behavior is the first essential step towards becoming a better manager. With every step towards improvement, you will bring more value to your team. Employees will see your efforts and appreciate them but don’t forget to continually ask for feedback. You want to make sure that you are moving in the right direction.

Making improvements and asking for feedback will result in more engagement, increased motivation, and a higher level of trust with your team. You will start to become a better example, and with every step, it will get a bit easier.

If you have the impression that you’re stuck, ask for help. Having a coach or mentor at your side is a great option. Management is a skill like any other, so even if you are not a naturally talented manager, you can learn to be better. It is your choice to make the effort.

Sabine Wojcieszak

Sabine Wojcieszak

Sabine Wojcieszak is the enthusiastic Agile and DevOps Enabler at getnext IT, a German based consultancy. As a coach Sabine helps technical teams and leaders to communicate and collaborate in a better and more effective way. She is a lecturer at university, writes articles, and speaks frequently about soft skill topics at international tech conferences.

Henry Poydar

Hello there! 👋

I'm Henry Poydar, founder of Status Hero. I've been writing software and leading both co-located and remote software teams for 20+ years.

In that time I've learned a lot about team communication, software estimation, and managing people — mostly the hard way.

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