Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Top 10 Excuses for Being a Lousy Manager

Throughout the course of my career in leadership development, I’ve had the opportunity to confront, counsel, and console a lot of bad managers. As an HR manager, I sometimes had to discipline or even fire bad managers. But those cases were the extreme ones. More often, it was as a result of a manager receiving a rough 360 assessment. Or, in the case of developing executives, it may have been a last ditch attempt to save a derailed senior manager by convincing them to work with an executive coach.

The majority of these bad managers were not really bad people. In fact, once you got to know them, they could be sincere, caring, and down to earth. Many of them, when confronted with evidence that their management skills were less than ideal, were shocked. They would need to be coaxed through the stages of denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance before they could begin to start working on a plan of improvement.

Some, unfortunately, had a hard time taking ownership for their flaws. And of course, without ownership, there was little chance of improvement.

Don’t let that happen to you! Like they say, perception is reality. Or, if you’ve been called a jerk by more than three people recently, maybe you’re acting like a jerk.

Here are the most common actual excuses I’ve heard from “bad” managers to justify their behavior. Some of them may even sound like good reasons to you – but at the end of the day, they are still just excuses. As an added bonus, I’ve also included my evil twin response for each excuse:

1. “I was hired/promoted to drive change – it should be understood and accepted that not everyone’s going to be a happy camper”.
No, no, you were hired/promoted to lead change, not drive it like a jackhammer!

2. “We have the worst HR/finance/budget/sales processes and policies! My hands are tied; I’m almost forced to act this way!”
In other words, it’s “the system’s” fault, right?

3. “I inherited a bad team, and bad employees make a bad manager.”
Right, and if it weren’t for those lousy HR policies, you could fire them all.

4. “My manager taught me how to manage like this, and he learned from his manager.”
So it’s Mom and Dad’s fault? You inherited your bad management skills?

5. “Honestly, I really don’t care.”
Really?! I mean, seriously? I could never really get my head around that one.

6. “I’m new, and have never had any training.”
OK, good point. Organizations that don’t provide management/leadership training are going more likely to end up with bad managers. New managers in particular tend to make a lot of na├»ve mistakes. But still, in addition to formal training, managers need to take ownership for their own development.

7. “This isn’t the real me – the job makes me this way.”
Then why aren’t the rest of the managers in your department having the same issues?

8. “They’re all just jealous – I got the job and they didn’t.”
Maybe a few employees were, but you’ve had plenty of time to win their respect. Also, not everyone wants to be a manager. In fact, since they’ve been working for you, none of them do, so good luck getting promoted with no successors.

9. “I am what I am, and people should just accept me for what I am. Whatever happened to valuing diversity? ”
Sorry, but we value leadership. Leadership isn’t some inherent trait; it’s a skill that can be developed through hard work. Great leaders come in all shapes, genders, and colors.

10. “There are a lot of other managers who are worse than me!”
Hmm, that’s what my kids used to try to tell me, and I never accepted that low standard.

How about you? What excuses have your heard for being a lousy manager, and what would your response be?


Duncan Brodie said...

Great post which I have shared on social networks and groups I belong to. As you say the first step in changing anything is to acknowledge that there is a need to change.

Sadly people wrongly see this as a weakness rather than a strength.

Duncan Brodie

Dan McCarthy said...

Duncan -
Thanks for doing that!
I agree, it is sad. I hate to see blind spots, and then even worse, stubborness derail a promising manager's career.

Arkadiusz Dymalski said...

The most frequent excuse I hear during my seminars is "I don't have time to work in different way".

Dan McCarthy said...

Arkadiusz -
Thanks, yes, I've heard that too. And of course, we know that "no time" means "it's not important to me".

Jesse Lyn Stoner said...

Dan, Love your list and especially your evil twin responses! It seems to me that sometimes the excuses vary depending on where the leader is in the organizational hierarchy and how secure they feel in their position. If they've been promoted several times already, I sometimes hear a variation of "I might be a tough boss, but we deliver results." In my imagination, my evil twin response is, "yeah, but at what cost? How many people do you think have had to go into therapy because of you?"

Dan McCarthy said...

Thanks! Right, I agree, and newer managers are usually more open to the reality that they may not yet be perfect.

skribe said...

Awesome list. As with most things communication is the key. Great managers need training & support.

What do you suggest managers do when they find themselves in an environment where they've received no management training and/or they don't have the support of their teams and/or upper management?

How do they negotiate the minefield of tight deadlines and no resources to alleviate these shortcomings?

Bob Acton said...

Great comment Dan. In my work with leaders I have heard many of the same or different excuses. It seems that it all comes down to being unable to accept personal responsibility for their actions.

As you said, they are not bad people and often do not understand the impact they have in the workplace.

In my experience, leader and executive coaching can be a powerful process to engage a successful and valuable leader to understand the impact of their behavior, motivate them to change, and facilitate productive behavior change.

Dan McCarthy said...

Scribe -
Yikes, no training, no support from the team or management, no resources, and tight deadlines? I don't think I could address a complex challange like that in a blog post comment. I'd have to start with asking a lot of questions - i.e., "why no support from the team?" What's up with that? That's the issue I would go after first.

Bob -

Thanks. Agree, a good coach can do all those things, given the manager wants to change.

skribe said...

Thanks for the response, Dan

These issues are disturbingly common in SE Asia. No support from upper management and the teams cliquey and resistant to change. Some of it's cultural and there are also language barriers but there can be institutional problems as well.

One of my Senior Manager friends was hired because the regional executive dictated a change in focus for the organisation but unfortunately the national management didn't believe in it. As a result no support from the SM's supervisors which allowed the teams to also undermine him. He ended up quitting after only six weeks. Fortunately he's moved on to a much more positive environment.

In a case like this is the only alternative for the manager to quit or do you feel there is a way around the barriers?

Dan McCarthy said...

Skribe -
Thanks for the additional info. That's why I hate giving advice, becuase there's always more to the situation the more you peel back the layers. Sounds like a no-win situation, and your friend made the right move. That's what I would have done too.

skribe said...

Thanks, Dan. I agree. I would have done the same thing.

I asked the questions because I felt the list, while well intentioned, didn't offer any solutions or exceptions.

Nobody sets out to be a bad manager. Bad managers are created just as great managers are. Either the organisation didn't offer you the necessary education and support or you're just not cut out to be a manager. How many organisations choose managers based on their technical ability rather than team building and people skills? How often does upper management care how you do it just as long as you exceed your targets? I was once employed by a company that was haemorrhaging staff - turning over half their workforce every six months - but they met their targets so nobody cared.

It's too easy to solely blame a bad manager. Yes, every point you made is important and everyone, not just managers, needs to be personally responsible for themselves and their own team members, but there are exceptions. And the solutions are not always forthcoming or obvious when you're neck deep in shit and struggling to stay afloat.


Dan McCarthy said...

Skribe -
Well said, thanks.
I hope you and others realize this blog is not about bad-boss bashing - there are already too many of those. It's written for managers and aspiring managers. The situations you've described are all too common. It's rarely just the manager's fault, and the reasons are always complex. The point is to get past the excuses and finger-pointing and make a committment to become a great leader. Every manager can make that choice, and if they do, they derserve a chance to improve.

skribe said...

100% agreed. Thank you for being an excellent host.

Troy said...

I can recall being put in situations, where I had to make a decision with no clear good path given the scenario presented. In the end, I can recall the defense of that position sounding a lot like an excuse. Is it different because I actively knew I was making the call, and I knew the consequences was going to be bad for some people, and also bad for my own reputation, but at least better for the greater good?? I find the greater good is usually ignored, and get labelled with "bad manager" titles in the end.

A lot of the time, my defense boils down to point #2, with it being the "systems" fault that the course of action was necessary.

Dan McCarthy said...

Troy -
Thnaks for sharing that. If we're being honest, we can all look back and recall decisions that we've made that didn't make everyone happy. Managers are paid to make those calls. Sometimes we even make mistakes that we end up regretting. It's only when behaviors become a pattern, in lot's of situations, where it can become a problem.

Angela Roberts said...

This article does a great job of letting managers know that they are not completely blameless for issues in their department or company. A manager’s focus should be on supporting their employees and finding ways to motivate their team to produce the highest quality of work.