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The top 10 bad people managers


In the course of my work as a management and leadership consultant and coach I am often approached by people who, rather than talking about the “right stuff” , are keen to discuss those situations when in their working lives, people management has gone badly wrong. 

 As we all know learning styles are different .Certainly there are some business leaders who will draw more from discussions on concrete examples of bad people management than they ever will from looking at new ideas. It was a good reminder for me that when trying to coach a behaviour or introduce a new idea that it is frequently the push rather than the pull stimuli that work best.
 Because of this I was encouraged  me to canvass opinions from clients past and present to see if I could compile a greatest hits of when managers have not fulfilled their duties to their people. So here is a list of the most ham fisted examples that I have heard of, a veritable rogues gallery of E.Q disasters, a litany of leadership lapses. Welcome to my collection of people management mayhem
  • First off we have that hoary old chestnut where your boss steals your work. Imagine my surprise when I heard that a director that I reported to had changed the final slide of a project proposal that I had been working on, to show not my name, but his. The proposal was later adopted by the board and was very successful. I received recognition at a later date but the damage had been done and the trust destroyed.
  • Lessons: Give credit where it’s due. People are people not assets. Recognition from your boss’s boss is a huge motivator.
  • Secondly we have the horrendous example where a senior manager was confronted by the results of a large scale but anonymous employee survey pertaining to change management practices. When this gentleman read some less than flattering feedback his initial comment was “what do you expect, some of them don’t even have degrees”. Later when he was faced with facing his own fallibilities he demanded that we hand over the source of the feedback. Naturally we declined and have not been asked back since!
  • Lessons: The great leader takes feedback away and digests it. He or she looks at criticism as potentially constructive by looking at it from all angles. Solve the problem rather than going after the source.
  • Next up we have the lady who was given a promotion which entailed taking P+L responsibility for sales department. Her mandate (and her bonus base!), was to reduce costs but maintain steady revenue flows. Her answer was to radically cut the commissions of her best salespeople who she felt were earning too much. This was done without consultation. The big hitters soon left. Pareto’s principle kicked in. Had she done her research she would have known her top 20% were delivering 80% of her numbers. She is no longer in the role.
  • Lessons: Do your homework before you make any hasty conclusions. Whenever possible consult and gain buy-in.  Treat people like you would like to be treated.
  • The next one is a horror show. Candidate A has gone through an exhaustive and longwinded process for a promotion to the senior management team. He has been in the company almost 5 years and has put himself forward for a role he believes he is suited for. On the day he was due to hear the decision and get his feedback, he had to leave early due to a problem with one of his children at home. By the time he gets off the train there is a voicemail waiting for him on his Blackberry. It’s from his boss who regrets that he hasn’t got the job but that they will talk about it on Monday when he gets back into the office. A devastating career blow communicated by voicemail. Truly shocking.
  • Lessons: Communication is a fundamental part of effective management. A little E.Q goes a long way for every leader.
  • And so to my personal favourite in this collection of the clumsy. A team manager is approached by one of his employees who asks him for a quiet word. The employee states that she is “under huge pressure” and is feeling stress. The manager then tried to make a joke of the situation by humming the Queen Song “Under Pressure”. The tactic failed. The employee walked. The manager is still scratching his head wondering why?
  • Lessons:All managers must be capable of being sympathetic and empathetic. Leaders recognise issues with their people and act swift and decisively to rectify.
  • Number 6 on my list is also an empathy nightmare. This person was on his annual leave which he taken around the week of his marriage. His boss needed the number of a supplier badly and because he was not in the office with access to the suppliers file, decided to try his luck and call the employee. When he got no answer he left an urgent voicemail but then decided to call the best man who also happened to be employed by the company, again leaving an urgent voicemail. These messages were left at 3pm on a Saturday, precisely the time that most weddings take place.
  • Lessons: Anyone who manages people professionally has to have the necessary EQ and basic skills to do their job. There is nothing soft about “soft skills “for a leader.
  • At number 7 we have the scenario that I am sure many of you have heard of. But this is no urban myth, this actually happened. Under pressure to improve intra-departmental communication lines, a line manager decides to clamp down on the use of email. His rationale was that with less email people would take the time to talk face to face and build relationships. His method of communication to his people? Email !! He actually sent an email outlawing email. He sent an email to his team of 10 extolling the virtues of face to face communication. Oh the irony.
  • Lessons: Managers have to walk the walk as well as talk the talk. Managers and leaders have to be exceptional communicators.
  • The villain at number 8 answered a phone call during an annual 360 feedback session. To augment the problem the employee he was managing, that he was feeding back to, had just been asked how things were going and had answered that things at work were not ideal and they were struggling in their role. After completing his call the manager closed his phone, refocused on the task at hand and said “So it’s been a good year? Things are good with you right?” The employee was gone within weeks.
  • Lessons: The great leaders are great listeners. They know their people and they know their issues.
  • Penultimately, we have the example of the new lateral hire manager who took his team of managers away on a team building and bonding exercise. Usually a good thing, but this fellow had decided to design the exercises himself. After a weekend of enduring humiliations from having to wear a nappy to being denied supper for coming last on an exercise, the boss came back to carnage on Monday morning with people talking about harassment, a strong culture had been eroded and it necessitated a further spend on consultants to sort out .
  • Lessons: People are unique not homogenous. Cultures must be respected. Understand your people before you try to change them.
  • And finally, we come to the manager who was asked to manage a wholesale change management programme. Under pressure and incentivised to perform he became increasing frustrated with the speed of change and the resistance he encountered. One day he lost his temper, gathered the team of managers that reported to him into an office and gave an ultimatum. Change now, change quickly and if you don’t like it, there’s the door. He was left jaw dangling when the team, fed up and pushed to breaking point walked out en masse. If that wasn’t bad enough he shouted after them as they walked towards HR, “Cowards, you’re all cowards.” He is no longer at the firm.
  • Lessons: A team is a fragile entity and a change is a complex, sometimes glacial process. Never ever lose your temper and then open your mouth.
So there we have it, my collection of the 10 worst examples of people management that I have encountered. The lessons are simple; communication, listening and empathy skills are absolutely vital for any manager and leader. Technical skills are of course vital for all managers in their varied roles, however, whenever you require people to execute your tactics it’s vital that the manager has the ability to demonstrate both their people and empathy skills in order to facilitate the human element of management. As trainers we can often add as much value to our courses by discussing the truely horrendous examples as we can by discussing the excellent or the aspirational.
  • Simon Kenny is a management and leadership director for Skills4Sales. He is also the author of the soon to be published book “Business, Quotes and Anecdotes.”

One Response

  1. Management blunders

    Fortunately none of these has happened to me. But there are many others. Leaders have to know what they are talking about and do more than manage. Leaders need to be true leaders, which means of course managing the business but also leading the people and developing them, trusting them, bringing out the natural talents of their team. Quashing their spirit is one of the best ways to fail as a leader.

    There are people skills beyond management skills that are crucial. At one point, my nephew was in ICU and daily we were told he might die. I was a wreck obviously. I took a week to go to him and be with my brother’s family. I was daily in the ICU watching this precious little 3 yr old boy flounder. My manager asked me – "well, if he turns the corner, can you come back on Friday?" I was flabberghasted and in tears.  My trust never came back and my faith in him was already lost, so this was just another reason to turn him off. I stayed at the company not quite a year past that but it was all downhill from there. (My nephew did make it and is well now).

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