Good Manager, Bad Manager. Which Are You?

Bad managers cultivate a toxic culture that drives away talented employees, or worse, creates disengaged employees performing at much less than their best.
5 min read | by Kaleem Clarkson

If you’ve spent any time in the working world, you’ve surely encountered managers of all stripes. Organizations entrust individuals to execute upon their managerial duties, but the results speak to varying degrees of success. Too frequently, employees are promoted to management positions based on tenure or excellence as an individual contributor, without regard to whether they have the skills and desire to be a manager. Too many organizations lack the infrastructure to provide training and support to employees who assume those roles. Too many people look the other way as bad managers cultivate a toxic culture that drives away talented employees, or worse, creates disengaged employees performing at much less than their best.

We’ve all heard (or experienced) the “bad boss” horror stories – managers who have no idea how to handle a difficult situation, who micromanage to the point of madness; at worst, they engage in discrimination, bullying, harassment, intimidation, and unethical or illegal behavior. 

There are countless ways a bad manager can fail employees, and their organizations, too. They fail to listen, discourage dissent, don’t provide support or resources, take undue credit or misplace blame, pit employees against each other, fail to develop talent, don’t value diversity and inclusion, fail to set clear expectations, make assumptions. And that’s by no means a complete list of bad manager traits. 

On the flip side, a good manager can make such a positive impact on an individual that it can change the trajectory of their career, if not their life. Good managers recognize and develop talent. They advocate for their employees and encourage promotions, putting them on the path to success. 

Good managers have the right combination of skills to lead their teams through the good times and the bad times. They create a culture of trust and accountability; set clear expectations; engage, motivate, and reward their direct reports; listen first; coach and mentor; follow through; treat people fairly and with respect; are compassionate, genuine, and self-aware. Again, that’s not an exhaustive list. 

With a remote workforce, it’s all the more critical to employ managers who are adept at engaging employees who don’t report to a physical office every day. Managers must have a keen awareness of how to engage those employees and keep them connected to the culture in the absence of in-person interactions. It can be harder to pick up on non-verbal cues through Zoom than it is in person, so managers need to have the emotional intelligence to connect with their direct reports and be aware of their day-to-day challenges.

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Having a sense of psychological safety is critical to employees. While employees derive great satisfaction from having the opportunity to perform challenging work, they also need to feel supported while they do it. They want an atmosphere where they are comfortable proposing new ideas and where they feel heard. They need to learn from each other and feel safe in giving and receiving honest feedback. They need to know that their leadership is vulnerable enough to admit their own mistakes and learn from them. Managers have a responsibility to help build a culture that makes everyone feel safe and included. This will build trust and lead to more innovation. 

Employees want a manager who advocates for them. It contributes immensely to that feeling of psychological safety for employees to see their future with an organization, to know that someone is going to bat for them, that someone cares about their growth and development, that someone is looking for opportunities and recognizing their potential. It doesn’t take away from the burden on employees to advocate for themselves, but it sure helps to have another perspective that might even push them in a direction they hadn’t considered.

As outlined here, managing people is a great responsibility. This only brushes the surface. There’s a reason there’s an entire industry of books, classes, workshops, podcasts, and more telling you how to be a great manager. No one is perfect, and there is always more to learn. Organizations are best served when they provide a network for managers to support each other and mentor new managers as they first assume the role. 

But most of all, managers must be humble and know that they can’t go it alone. They must seek input from others and be open to learning from the feedback they receive from their team. They must listen to diverse ideas and dissenting voices, and welcome being respectfully challenged.

They say people leave managers, but people leave bad work cultures, too. Managers certainly have a responsibility to contribute to and influence the culture of their workplace. But it is incumbent upon organizations to retain talent by creating a culture where managers are empowered to let employees thrive and flexible enough to adapt to the needs of an increasingly remote workforce.

Originally Published by Kaleem Clarkson on Tuesday, April 26, 2022 | Updated on Thursday, April 28, 2022

We would like to thank Brett Perceval for her contributions to this article. 

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