Article (October-2016)


Indicators of bad & good managers

Sanjeev Himachali

Designation : -   Principal Consultant & Talent Strategist

Organization : -  EclipticHRS

Other Writers : -  Anju Talmale


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Of late there has been so much emphasis on leadership qualities and leadership development programs that we have begun to underplay the role of Managers and stealing away its importance in the process.  A new search has been triggered for "Managers with Leadership" competencies, which is ridiculous because in the process neither we can get good leaders nor good managers. We must accept that -

1)    Leaders and managers have a different role to play.

2)    Leaders cannot work without managers and Managers need leaders to show them the direction.

3)    Job titles do not reflect roles of individuals. There are cases of CEO's and Managing Directors working as Managers and then there are Functional and Department Managers who are accomplished, leaders.

4)    We cannot call someone a Manager or a Leader if he doesn't demonstrate required competencies and skills.

5)    Managerial and Leadership Roles cannot be gifted to employees as a part of employee retention and development programs.

It has often been noted that in organizations, they promote their best employees [the subject matter expert] or the senior most employee in the team to the role of a manager.  The promotion to a new position is given either by loyalty towards the organization or to reward the technical abilities of an employee. Such employees, when they get promoted to a new role, continue to do what they have been doing, roll up their sleeves and get in the trenches. It has been observed that these new managers often spend a little too much time in the trenches. They get buried in the routine work of their team, thereby setting themselves up for a host of failures. They are unable to dedicate their time to actual tasks of a manager. They don't realize that as a manager, they need to get the work done. As a result, they fail as a manager. So, what was it that the organization just did? They lost a good performer and created a bad manager.

 Let's identify bad apples from the basket of good apples. A lot has been written about bad managers. Many authors seem to have taken out their frustration through their stories and prepared an extensive list of 25-40 traits they seem to have noticed in managers. Broadly speaking, mediocre or bad managers demonstrate FIVE bad qualities.

Poor Communicators- 
As soon as Ganesh, the functional Head of Finance Team, reached the office, he sent an email to his direct ten reportees asking them to coordinate with each other and complete a task before the end of the day. He wrote another email to Pankaj and Naveen, asking them to fill out a couple of other assignments on priority. When Pankaj enquired about the previous assignment, Ganesh asked him to put that on hold and instead focus on the new assignment. However, a while later,  when Ganesh returned from Executive Council meeting, he asked Pankaj to focus on the previous assignment and delegated that latest assignment to Naveen. At the end of the day, none of the tasks could be completed. In fact, it took three days for the entire team to complete both the assignments as   Ganesh had not given the full information to his team required to accomplish the task and of course, his priorities were not clear. It's quite common to find such bosses in any organizational setup. In the morning they tell you one thing, after lunch, it's a different story. You are told to do X, with the objective of an outcome of   Y.   You put in all your efforts in doing X but Y doesn't happen. Your boss gets furious that you didn't do what was expected. Does this sound familiar? Not giving clear instructions is a prominent trait among bad bosses.

They frequently guard information and treat it as power. Also, they often contradict themselves or give conflicting instructions. Employees are then left in a workplace Catch 22: They either risk looking unintelligent or insubordinate by asking too many questions at the onset, or they spend way too much time trying to speculate about their manager's actual expectations. Should you choose the latter and fail to envision what your manager had in mind, you run the risk of bumbled task and letting the manager build a narrative that you're poor at following instructions. Bad leaders fail to communicate with their followers, which spawns confusion and slows down the workflow.

Play Favorites - 
It was a weekly team review meeting when Sarah announced an ad hoc cash reward for Aditya for completing a project, which was behind schedule by TWO months. Interestingly, there were FIVE other people involved in this project, but the reward was given to Aditya. It wasn't the first time when he was showered with such ad hoc rewards; even in the past, he had received several awards, out of turn promotions and nominations for training programs. In a team of 18 employees, apart from Aditya, Shilpa is another team member who gets such favours from Sarah. All three of them have been working together for last ten years during which they have switched THREE organizations. The term "playing favorites" has a ring of unfairness to it.  No matter how hard you work, or the results you achieve, you somehow become dwarfed by those of the manager's pet - this trait clouds their ability to recognize your skills and the value you add to the company. They also fail to see that they're treating you unfairly. As a result, they create unhappy employees and increase the attrition rate.

Satish came out from his cabin in a furious mood, shouting out at Aditi, "What is this crap you have sent to me. Didn't you understand my instructions? I have explained to you 100-times what I want in that report, but you b***h never pays attention. Where was your mind when you were working on MIS? Were you thinking about sex positions? Well, that's what the report looks like, totally f**k*d up? Do you have SEVEN years of work experience or its fake? You start counting your days; soon you will be out of this company. Now, don't you start crying, I know all your dramas". Not only did he scream at her but on few occasions, he even tried to hit her, all in the full glare of more than 70 employees on the work floor. For them it wasn't an unusual sight, everyday Satish would bully a couple of his team members in this manner. They used to hate him like hell. Well, that's how bullies are. Bullies manage through fear-mongering and intimidation. Often "screamers" do not give guidance; they bully. They humiliate you in front of others and might shout, swear or yell at you on a consistent basis or make offensive jokes at your expense. Such bosses also make snide remarks or offer unfair criticism about you. They also have been known to ridicule and berate their employees. While doing so, they create a culture of distrust, nervousness, and fear. Under their thumb, employees are worried about losing their jobs. Office politics begin to dominate employee performance.

Indecisive - 
The digital marketing team of Ashish got stuck with the finalization of content and script while they were preparing for the upcoming marketing campaign. The content was ready and could have been approved by Ashish but instead of approving it himself, he had sent it to the CEO for his approval. The CEO had already responded to him with a message, "Do as you deem appropriate," yet, Ashish was reluctant to decide. Probably, he was trying to save his on a**, just in case anything goes wrong. While his team was getting frustrated, he convinced CEO to appoint a panel of THREE member team for approving the content of marketing campaign. Ashish is not alone. There are several managers like him. They live in fear, which often leads to decision paralysis. While some may be perfectionists who won't make decisions until they gather all the data; others are paralyzed by uncertainty, and many simply prefer the seeming safety of the status quo. Indecision stems either from their fear of making a mistake or simply not having enough essential business intelligence to make the decision. A poor decision can be corrected, but indecisiveness is fatal, and employees hate such managers.

Members in the team of Pooja, a Project Manager in a real-estate organization, were fed-up with her. She wanted them to send a daily report describing a list of activities they performed during the day. Many times she had called her team member to her cabin and asked them to re-do the task as it was not as per her direction. Once, Anand countered her and said, "Madam, the result is same. However, by following this new process, we will be able to save a lot of time and resources". To which she replied, "Don't use your bird-head and do as I say." Micro-management is a sign of poor management. It shows an attempt of a manager to take control. In its real sense, micro-managers are bad news for business and bad news for employees. Micro-management will eventually lead to a massive breakdown of trust. They dis-empower staff, stifle opportunity and innovation, and give rise to poor performance. Micro-management is a sure way to ensure your team won't reach its full potential. When trust is gone, two things can happen - a severe loss of productivity and loss of employees. Yes, the latter is a worst-case scenario, but happens.

Contrary to bad managers, good managers are those who planned their career. They invested time and money to groom self, identified their mentor, and took the help of professional career coaches to develop competencies required to be successful as a manager. They understood that the role of a manager is like putting together a puzzle.  The pieces of the puzzle are the people, tasks, goals, and data.  Assembling those pieces means creating strategies, distributing tasks, supervising the execution and providing feedback, which requires them to make decisions.  They also understood that getting the title of a manager is not enough, and they need to invest continually in their self-growth; think about the motivation that compels to do a good job and to achieve excellent outcomes and set a good example for your employees to follow.   Good management is no child's play.
Five competencies of 

good managers :
Effective Communicators - In her organization, Simran is known for her effectiveness. For her team communications, she doesn't depend of solely on email.   She talks to individual team members and set her priorities. Her every meeting ends with, "Did you understand what I said and what the result I am looking for. If there is any doubt, ask me again and do not hesitate in reaching me should you need any clarification. It is critical for the manager to have unyielding communication skills. Ineffective communication can lead to so many different problems in the future. A good manager is a communication expert. Promoting a work environment where everyone feels valued and heard takes excellent communication skills and practice. As a thumb rule, a good manager always listens first, ask questions, and then facilitate to direct with the answers and solutions at hand. Frequent communication is important for everyone to be on the same page. Good Managers take a proactive approach by initiating a series of positive check-ins, an open door policy, and not waiting until the conflict arises to communicate effectively with your team.

Excellent Delegators- There is an impression in the organization that Samar doesn't work and is getting a salary for not doing anything, but that is not the case. Samar is an effective delegator. He delegates the work among his team members. He does what he is supposed to do, coach his team members to improve their efficiency, does resource planning, resolves conflicts, and engages stakeholders and customers. Because it is their objective to add value to the overall operation of business, the ability to delegate is one of the most important qualities of a good manager. 

Their goal is to have a global vision and contribute to the business operation in a more inclusive manner. That being said, the good manager should be able to delegate the day-to-day tasks of the business effectively; especially those that are more bureaucratic in nature, or are less analytical and complex. 

Being able to delegate does not only make a more efficient and effective manager, but it can also create a more productive team. Giving your team members additional responsibilities and accountability make them feel more motivated and empowered. Good managers hold regular one-on-one meetings with their direct reports and reinforce the outcomes they and the team are responsible for. They are vested in driving solution-based cultures and strive to build an environment of continued learning (versus finger pointing).

Remarkable Planners- Parul is one of the finest planners in the organization. She plans to the minute possible details. She analyses probable risk factors. She defines all milestones, very clearly and accurately. If a project needs to be completed in 100 days, she takes 25 days for planning and then hands it over to her team for execution. She never lagged in the delivery of her projects. All her projects get completed within 80% of allocated time. Good managers, like Parul, are organized. They know what needs to be done.  They know and understand the goals of the business and what supervision employees need, to achieve that goal. If you give them a task, they can plan the steps involved in reaching this target and communicate the steps to the employees who need to carry those steps out. Exactly what needs to be prepared varies depending on the type of business. Typically, good managers should be able to plan out schedules, inventory, and departmental budgets.

Empathisers - Good managers strike a connection with their employees.  Business may ultimately be about results, but it is still an exchange between individuals, and it has a very human component.  An important part of what makes a good manager is their ability to connect with others and build a rapport and trust.  Good managers know how to be authentic, open and friendly with other people, especially their subordinates.  They demonstrate an interest in others, and they can make interpersonal interaction informal and relaxed.  They find out what motivates each to do a good job so one can capitalize on it.  Instead of micro-managing everyone else's work, they explain to them the bottom line and assign them a certain amount of authority to take charge of the task at hand. 

Conflict Resolvers- Yogesh is a different kind of manager. He is a task master. He doesn't get involved in workplace gossip. Whenever an issue arises, he doesn't wait for an issue to become a monster. Instead, he reaches out to the concerned person and gets it resolved. He doesn't run away from conflicting situations but rather hold them from horns and get them resolved at the earliest. He understands that workplace environment is a fertile breeding ground for conflict.  Interpersonal issues, compensation, recognition, cost-cutting, layoffs, management-employee relations, there's never a shortage of emotionally charged issues that can lead to conflict. Contrary to weak managers, successful managers aren't "conflict avoiders" - they address problems quickly and justly.  Employees respect managers who confront difficult situations, just as they loathe those who chronically avoid them. If the boss gives and takes feedback well, everyone else will too.

Now that we have identified the difference between efficient and inefficient, and efficient and ineffective managers, let's define a checklist of questions to be answered before promoting the best employee to the role of a manager. The onus is on HR Function to execute it thoroughly.

Do they want to manage? - It is the most important question, but it's so obvious many companies can completely skip it. Not every superstar employee intends to become a manager. Your top-notch sales rep might have become invaluable because they love the work they're doing. You want to reward them by giving them a manager position, but what you're doing is taking away from them the work they excel at. If the candidates don't t seem motivated to manage, find another way to recognize and reward their hard work and find someone more suited to the management lifestyle. Poor management can indeed hurt your company, kill employee morale, and bring down your bottom line.

Do they have good people skills? - An employee might impress you with his tech wizardry, marketing know-how, or medical sales abilities, but this doesn't always translate into management potential. Good managers need to guide workflow, train team members, clearly communicate goals and keep everyone on track. They have to be organized and ready to negotiate problems. Without top-notch people skills, the employees being managed are likely to feel rudderless and unrecognized, which is bad news for your company culture.

Are they aligned with business goals and grow aspirations? - As a manager, your top talent will be representing your business in a more visible way. They'll be interpreting company goals for a team and ensuring organizational objectives cascade properly. This is why it's important the employee in question is strategically aligned with company goals and culture. Managers need to be creative thinkers and problem solvers, and not only when it comes to their direct workflow. Before an employee is promoted, think what tangible value he can bring to your organization. Assess him on the new ways he demonstrates to face old challenges, did he bring new business or helped your company streamline processes? Creative thinkers are great at moving your business forward and can help you pivot a team of employees in a more productive direction.

Are they good listeners? - Communication is important, but listening is essential. Managers need to listen up and down the organizational chart so they can clearly communicate workflow to their team. They need to not only listen to what is being said but understand what is unsaid among the employees they manage. They need to hear to problems, address concerns and stop small issues from snowballing into enormous challenges. If managers are more focused on their work than their workers, it could spell bad news in a management setting.
For a leader to lead efficiently, he needs a team of managers, to believe in his vision and mission, and execute organizational goals effectively, while adhering to core values of the organization.