Throughout my 18-year corporate career, I experienced scores of managers and “leaders” who were far from inspiring or competent. Many were clueless as to how to motivate, lead or develop their staff, or help employees utilize their best talents to grow and contribute in a meaningful way. But some were downright terrible in their behavior, communication and lack of managerial skill.
I did have a few great bosses, but often, they left quickly or were drummed out of the organization for being too creative and innovative or because they were leading in ways that the toxic, broken culture wouldn’t allow. Escaping poor management is one of the core reasons I chose to leave corporate life years ago and start my own business.
Why are there so many terrible managers in business today?
Every week, I hear from coaching clients who have to deal with unacceptable behavior from a boss. It’s infuriating and I wonder how it’s possible so many people treat others so badly.
I’ve observed six core factors contributing to the proliferation of damaging managers. We all know these folks when we see them, and most of us have had the misfortune of reporting to more than one miserable boss in our careers. Now that I’m outside the corporate structure, it’s more apparent than ever how these inept managers are hurting individuals and organizations. Shame on the “leaders” who place these ill-equipped people in positions of authority.
From my view, no one should be given the honor and responsibility of managing departments, projects or people until they are appropriately trained and can effectively demonstrate that they know how to manage and lead in a positive way.
The 6 core reasons for the proliferation of terrible managers:
They don’t have a handle on their own emotions
You simply can’t lead or manage effectively if you don’t have control over your emotions. In my work as an executive and career coach, most people I come in contact with (male and female) need greater awareness of why they feel as they do, in order to have greater choice and control over how to act on what they feel. I’d like to see every manager in America receive more effective training to help them identify their feelings, understand the root causes of their emotions, heal what’s broken and address the 7 damaging power gaps they’re experiencing. And we need to help managers find better ways to communicate and lead in order to achieve their personal and professional goals and move their organizations forward.
They’ve never seen an inspiring, motivating and helpful manager in action
Just because you have talents and skills in a particular area or industry doesn’t mean you can manage and lead others.
Leadership skill is an entirely different ball of wax – it involves empowering others, building a vision for the future and inspiring others to follow that vision, encouraging cooperation and collaboration between people and departments, understanding and honoring what makes your employees tick, and much more.
Again, the vast majority of managers today are so overwhelmed with what’s on their own plate that they fail to attend to (or care about) the needs of their staff. We believe and follow what we see, and there are precious few great role models out there for us to learn from and emulate. The truly great leaders usually ascend up the ladder quickly, and shoot out of our orbit before we can learn from them.
They mistake authoritarianism for leadership
Ask managers you know what “leadership” is and you’ll get one thousand different definitions. While defining leadership widely isn’t a problem in and of itself, mistaking authoritarian behavior for leadership is. Many managers today think that parading their power and influence for all to see, and demanding blind submission to their will, is leadership. And narcissism is rampant in today’s work cultures, because narcissism often passes as power and influence.
How many of us can say that we’ve had a boss who insists on our being a “yes” man/woman in order to succeed? (Dare I say virtually all of us?) And how many of us have had our ideas suppressed, contributions undermined, and our growth thwarted because of a narcissistic boss who can’t tolerate being challenged (read more about how to tell if your boss is a narcissist and how not to get fired by one.)
Their communication skills are sorely lacking
Right after I left corporate America, I earned a Master’s degree in marriage and family therapy, and the training was transformative. Marriage and family therapy is grounded in communications and systems theory, and through my years of study, I learned (what I wish I knew earlier) about communication style, the structure of relationships, hierarchy, power, and how systems attempt to maintain status quo.
I also saw that most of us are utterly mindless when it comes to how we communicate, and the powerful impact of our words and actions. Again, sadly, many in corporate America are more comfortable using their words as weapons rather than communicating in kind, open, compassionate ways that pave the way for better listening, trust, and collaboration.
They’re too worried about politics and managing (and kissing) up
Inept managers worry more about kissing up, being noticed, and getting ahead, than doing the right work at the right time, and leading effectively. Being politically savvy is certainly an important skill, but spending all your time and energy maneuvering to step over others and reach the next level makes you a lousy manager.
If your sights are solely on the prize of a better title and salary, you’ll miss scores of opportunities to grow, learn, develop and lead in the truest sense.
They’re miserable in their own careers
Here’s another “aha” I’ve seen in coaching hundreds of mid- to high-level professionals – if you’re not happy in your career, your career and work-life will ultimately reveal and demonstrate that. Many managers today are struggling in jobs they dislike intensely. If you’re miserable in your work or job, you just don’t have it in you to help other people grow and thrive. You’re too busy trying to manage your own unhappiness to have the energy to be helpful to others.
Our cup needs to be at least half full to muster the energy, generosity, and time to support the growth of others through a positive, “giving” management approach.
If you are stuck under a terrible boss and wonder what to do about it, consider these strategies:
1) Explore new ways to do work you love in another department, group or division that is out from under this boss
2) Begin interviewing widely outside your company, to understand more clearly your worth in the marketplace and to help you strategize your next move. We are not actually stuck in miserable jobs unless we believe we are.
3) Develop both a mentor and a sponsor at your company who have your best interests at heart and can help you navigate through these challenging waters
4) Build a powerful support network within and outside your current employer to support you to change jobs when the time is right
5) Finally, gain clarity about what you really want to do in your career, and plant the seeds for that future right now.
There is good news about a terrible boss. Often, he or she is in your path for a very good reason: to reveal to you that it’s time to make a significant change.
Are you under the thumb of a terrible boss? What can you do about it today?
To build a happier, more rewarding career, join me in a Career Breakthrough program, tune into my weekly podcast Finding Brave, and take my Amazing Career Project course or video training.