When Good People Make Bad Managers


If I asked you to picture a bad manager, what comes to mind? Yelling and cursing? Lying and cheating? Fits of rage? Intentionally throwing others under the bus? While occasionally these images may ring true, I have found in practice that all too often bad managers are actually good people - people who I’d hate having as a boss but would love to grab lunch with! So, what’s the disconnect? Where do good intentions fall short? What do good managers have that bad managers are missing?

1.     Self-Awareness

A blind spot is defined as, “an area in which a person lacks understanding or impartiality.” At all levels, successful leadership starts with strong self-leadership. Self-leadership skills are gained through knowing who we are and who we aren’t, embracing and investing in strengths and seeking to develop a mature awareness of blind spots so we can effectively manage them. A good manager is willing to be transparent about both his/her strengths and weaknesses. A bad manager perceives that he/she has “arrived” and has no developing left to do. Bad managers over boast about their strengths and shamefully hide any weaknesses, afraid to let followers “see them sweat.” Embrace your strengths and manage your weaknesses; set the tone for this in your environment by being fully transparent about your areas of growth as well as your areas of excellence.

2.     Security

Closely tied to self-awareness is security. A good manager cannot be insecure. A bad manager sleeps with one eye open, holding followers at arm’s length falsely ensuring that his/her position isn’t being threatened. Good managers encourage their people to grow past them! Insecurity leads managers to compete with their own people instead of partnering with them to maximize effectiveness and enhance results. Good managers encourage people to disagree with and challenge them. Conversely, an insecure manager will surround him/herself with a small group of “yes” men (or women) who will bolster their false sense of security.

3.     Sight

George Washington Carver said, “Where there is no vision, there is no hope.” Gallup’s research on follower’s needs emphasizes that leaders must create hope for their followers. If a leader is short-sighted, it is near impossible to have vision or hope. Leaders must not only cast organizational vision to enable their teams to row in the same direction, but good leaders will cast vision for individual followers beyond the scope of their current role. I coached a leader once who struggled to invest time or energy in part time employees because she saw them as temporary assets to the company – short sightedness. Instead, if this leader had seen what her followers could become (within the organization or beyond), she would have invested in them regardless of how long she anticipated they would be around. Good leaders cannot be short-sighted, they must focus out down the road beyond both for their teams and for the individuals that are a part of those teams.

4.     Separation

This is the most straightforward differentiating factor in this list, in my opinion. Good leaders do not see themselves as “separate” from their followers. Bad leaders sit on a different side of the table, stand in a different spot in the room, park in a different spot in the parking lot and close the door to their offices which look very different from the people whom they’re managing. Good leaders take whatever seat is open, blend in to the team to outsiders and generally lead with a servant heart. “Never ask anyone to do anything that you yourself would not do.”

5.     Support

Legend has it, there are “task-oriented people” and “people-oriented people.” To be a good manager, however, one must be people-oriented! This isn’t to say that there aren’t great managers who are process-focused and operationally-sound. However, a good manager must care about his/her people as people! Gone are the days when a manager can be cold and disconnected and effectively lead other people. I’ve seen it fail time and time again. Bad managers aren’t interested in their people outside of line items on a budget. Bad managers can’t bring themselves to “waste time” learning about their employees’ hobbies or families. Bad managers want to come to work, do work and leave work. Good managers see people as individuals with interesting lives and unique needs.

“If you have a turnover problem, look first to your managers!” (First, Break All the Rules) The cost of bad management is high! Good people can be good employees and have good intentions but become bad managers, and organizations cannot afford to have bad managers!