It’s difficult to be a boss. Let’s say you’ve been managing a team now for a while, and you think things are going well. Work is getting done on time, your people seem reasonably content, and nobody is flagrantly shirking their responsibilities. You’re working hard, your people are working hard, and that’s all you have to go on.
Then, someone on your team announces they’re leaving. Or you find out about a review on a third-party website that mentions “poor management” as a negative element. Or your next performance review talks about a lack of direction. Or maybe you just get a feeling that while everything seems OK, there’s something you can’t put your finger on, and it’s not good.
First, don’t panic. A manager’s job isn’t easy; it’s full of ups and downs, and without proper guidance, feedback, and encouragement, there can be a lot of unanswered questions and a lot of anxiety when something goes wrong.
We’re not saying you should disregard small issues and forge blindly onward. We’re saying it’s normal to experience bumps in the road, but if you take the time to check your behavior from time to time, you’ll likely be more of a good boss than a bad boss. And what better way to check your own behavior than with a checklist of bad manager behaviors?
We’ve created a list of common management traits that might be creating a less-than-awesome perception in the eyes of your employees. We’re skipping the obvious ones, like anything that might be an HR violation, in favor of more subtle offenses you might not even be aware you’re guilty of committing.
Instead of stressing yourself out with trying to eliminate all of these behaviors at once, think of this as a place to start increasing your self-awareness. If you look through this list and take an honest inventory of yourself, you might identify whether you have some bad boss behaviors that are preventing you from going in the right direction. From there, you can start taking steps to improve.
11 Common Behaviors of Bad Managers
So, start asking: Am I . . . ?
Being too hands-on (micromanaging)
Do you touch every project that comes through your department? If so, is it for a legitimate reason (like a big, public presentation), or is it because you don’t fully trust your people to get it just the way you like it? If it’s the latter, and your people are smart, independent workers . . . you might be micromanaging them. That can make them feel stifled, anxious, and unable to grow because they can’t claim anything as their own.
Being too hands-off (not enough direction)
Do you even know where your employees are right now? Just kidding—that would be a real issue. But seriously, do you know what they’re working on, what challenges they’re facing, and what they need in order to succeed? Do you have a plan to help each of your employees improve and progress? If not, it’s possible they’re yearning for leadership, recognition, and guidance . . . things they might seek elsewhere if you don’t provide them.
Being authoritarian and/or insensitive
When it’s time to make a decision, do you seek input from your employees or just hand down a decree that suits your own narrative of what your people need? You may be smart, and you may even be right most of the time, but if you’re not seeking input (or disregarding the input you receive), you might come across as uncaring or authoritarian—pretty undesirable traits in any organization aside from a dictatorship.
Being too democratic/sensitive/indecisive
On the other hand, if you can’t make a decision without consulting your people first, or if you take forever to provide a ruling because you’re worried about stepping on toes or making a mistake, you might not be doing enough leading. People want to look up to their leaders for direction and reassurance. If you can’t take the reins, the wagon is bound to run off the road.
What’s worse than being authoritarian or indecisive? Combining the two in an unpredictable way: saying or doing one thing, then contradicting yourself with hypocritical actions or decisions down the road. That’s not to say you should be inflexible or rigid; it just means that if people can’t rely on you to be consistent, they won’t be able to trust your leadership when it really matters.
Treating everyone alike
You don’t treat every one of your friends and family the same way—at least, we hope you don’t—and while employees aren’t as close as family, they, too, deserve individual treatment. How do you act when you speak with the introverts on your team, compared with the extroverts? Do you consider things like an employee’s personal space, sense of humor, hot buttons, and reward centers? If you don’t, you probably have a decent relationship with some of your employees—the ones who fit the communication mold you’re using—and a big communication gap with the others.
Showing unconscious favoritism
While you should respect employees’ individual differences, it’s a good idea to be careful about treating certain employees in a way that could be seen as preferential. There might be one employee you go to lunch with often, gossip with about relationship issues, or spend time with outside the office—and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Just remember that favoritism can be just as much an issue of perception as one of actual unfairness, so as you manage your team, take extra care to show that you are even-handed with everyone.
Being a “buddy boss”
If someone you consider a friend started telling you how to run your life, you’d probably think they were overstepping their boundaries—and you’d probably take their instructions with a grain of salt. Well, the same thing can happen if you don’t maintain a level of professionalism at work. Employees who see you primarily as a friend might have a harder time following your direction when it’s time for you to be a manager, whether you’re making sure everyone shows up on time or offering critical feedback to help them grow. While it’s great to maintain friendly relationships with your people, be careful about being overly casual about work, or it may rub off.
Losing touch (too busy/aloof)
On the other end of the spectrum, there’s the unrelatable, distant manager—the one who’s a mystery to their employees. If you put yourself in the mindset of an employee, it’s easy to see why it would be hard to approach a complete stranger with issues and concerns; you don’t know how they’ll react, because you don’t know them. Going too far in the direction of professionalism can create too much distance between you and your team. It can also leave your team guessing about what your organization expects of them, and make them afraid to put a foot wrong. If that’s what you want, OK—but be prepared to receive less communication about problems until they’re too big to ignore.
Complaining too much
Misery loves company, and negativity is contagious. When there’s a bad situation affecting your team, it may seem like an opportunity to bond with your people by sharing your frustrations, but it’s important to remain positive. Managers who gripe alongside their employees are giving them tacit permission to harbor negativity about their jobs, and that undermines the entire organization.
Not providing career development opportunities
Lastly, it’s critical that the people who work for you not feel like they’re simply treading water. If your organization isn’t offering a clear plan for advancement, and you can’t offer them opportunities for growth, they’ll start looking for it elsewhere. You may not be able to give out raises and new titles, but you can probably offer constructive criticism, goals, and additional responsibilities that will challenge your people to become better than they are today.
OK, what now?
So, how did you do? Did you ace the list, or did you recognize some behaviors you need to work on? If it’s the former, congratulations: you’re either a great boss, or you’re at least convinced that you’re a great boss. If it’s the latter—or if you’re like us and you recognized some part of your personality in every single negative trait on the list—don’t freak out. You, too, deserve congratulations of a different sort: You’re self-aware and humble enough to identify your imperfections, which is the first step towards improvement.
By realizing you have areas that need work, and by pinpointing those specific parts of your personality that might be creating a negative perception amongst your team, you have the building blocks you need to form a plan of action. The point isn’t to become the perfect manager; that’s impossible. The point is to build better relationships with your people by showing you care, both about them and about being a better boss. That’s what creates a loyal, effective, and dedicated team, which is the best result any manager can hope for.