Successful Supervisor 17 – Leader or Manager

March 12, 2017

In my work, I do a lot with the contrast between leaders and managers. The topic takes on a special meaning for supervisors because the vast majority of time they are called upon to be great managers.

In this article I will contrast the difference between a manager and a leader, then I will make a case that supervisors need to be good leaders as well as managers for at least part of the time.

Here is a set of bullets that help describe the pure Manager’s mindset:

• Managers try to be a stabilizing force
• Make sure all rules are followed
• No waste – process perfection
• Minimize conflict
• Try to make people happy/satisfied
• Would like to be popular/liked
• Clone everyone
• Main tools – budget, MBO, accountability, process control, 6 sigma, lean
• Main objective – accomplish the mission
• Focus is on today

The mindset of a pure leader is very different. Here are some bullets on the Leader’s focus:

• Often a destabilizing force
• Are we following our destiny?
• Are people rising to their potential?
• Not afraid to be unpopular
• Get people out of their comfort zone
• Strives to be respected/trusted
• Always looking for potential – what could we become?
• Main tools – benchmarking, next wave, balance sheet, technology, resources
• Main objective – reach the vision
• Focus is on the future

If my contrasts are correct, the world of the pure leader is a very different place from the world of the pure manager. Supervisors naturally gravitate toward the management mindset because of their role.

Supervisors try to maximize the productivity of existing resources most of the time. They want everyone to show up for work on time. They want everyone to follow the rules, so the process runs exactly how it was designed.

Supervisors sweat the details of making sure everyone gets paid on time and that all workers are properly trained on their function. They also think about bench strength and make sure there is an adequate level of cross training.

Supervisors become the mediators when workers quarrel. They do the reinforcing and coaching of workers so they understand when they are doing well or need to pick up the pace.

Supervisors give the performance feedback and help to set organizational goals. All of these functions are management roles.


It would be a mistake for a supervisor to stop at this point, because there is so much more that could be accomplished by the same group of people if some leadership skills were also employed.

Supervisors are not usually tasked with creating a vision for the organization, however they should be driving how the vision applies to the group being supervised.

In other words, the translation of the big picture vision into a vision for the shop floor is incredibly important.

In reality all supervisors take on management roles at certain times and leadership functions at other times. If you picture a scale from one to ten with one being pure manager and ten being pure leader, supervisors will be at three (dealing with a habitual attendance problem) one minute and then bounce all the way over to eight (envisioning a new method of cross training) the next.

It helps to picture this dynamic variety and recognize it when going about daily tasks.

By the nature of her work, a supervisor will spend more time on average doing tasks on the management end of the scale, but there will be ample time to function in the leader role.

Try to pay attention to the roles you play during your average day, and you will be surprised with the variety of tasks you do. It will enrich your job understanding and satisfaction as you do this little visualization exercise.

This is a part in a series of articles on “Successful Supervision.” The entire series can be viewed on or on this blog.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of four books: 1.The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals (2003), 2. Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online (2006), 3. Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind (2009), and 4. Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change (2014). In addition, he has authored over 500 articles and videos on various topics in leadership and trust. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. For more information, or to bring Bob in to speak at your next event, contact him at, or 585.392.7763

Open Door Caveats

February 14, 2015

Listening 3If you are like most professionals, your company has an “open door” policy. This is one of the most commonly employed HR strategies to ensure individuals are not trapped under an ogre of a supervisor with no way to communicate their frustration.

Unfortunately, the strategy is often dysfunctional, and it can actually do more harm than good. Let’s put the “open door” policy under the microscope and see what makes it dangerous, then suggest an antidote that can help.

The Open door policy sounds so inherently right, few employees question it until they are embroiled in a problem and have to try to get the intended benefits.

It reminds me of an insurance policy. You think you are protected until you have a claim, then you find out what the fine print was all about.

Likewise many managers hide behind the open door as a kind of cure-all for organizational low trust. Both symptoms mask an underlying malaise that must be rooted out and destroyed.

On the surface, the open door leads to greater transparency and fairness, but in the real world there are several reasons it does not work that way.

1. The “Open Door” policy can be a sham – If an employee wants to use the open door policy it is usually because of some kind of rift with his or her immediate supervisor. There is something bad going on according to the employee’s interpretation, and the supervisor is unwilling or incapable of dealing with the situation.

During these times, trust between the individual and level-one supervision is at an all time low. Since talking it out with level one will only bring additional grief, the employee uses the open door and tries to clear the air by talking to level-two.

The level-two manager is not fully familiar with the issue, so the only recourse is to listen politely to the employee and then have a chat with the level-one supervisor.

In the process, the level-one supervisor immediately becomes aware that he or she has been “blown in” to the boss. Regardless of how professional both leaders are, this series of discussions usually results in a further reduction of trust between the three levels and the individuals involved.

Since trust was compromised to begin with, the poor employee is now under an even more ominous cloud.

2. The “Open Door” leads to games – I recall a discussion with my boss. He wanted to use the open door policy correctly and not jeopardize the employee, who was working for me.

So my boss told me one of my employees had complained that I was not treating the person fairly (he was careful to keep the discussion gender neutral to make it harder for me to guess who might have the issue).

I had taken over a new area, and the trust in me had not yet been fully established. My boss would not tell me who the individual was, or the specific area involved. He would only tell me that there was someone out there that did not trust me to treat him or her fairly.

He would not share the specific area of concern nor give me enough data to have a clue for how to fix it. This discussion served to put me on notice, but it caused me to start second guessing every interface or action attempting to uncover the problem.

In the end, I never did figure out who the person was or what the issue was. For months I went around like Sherlock Holmes trying to figure out what incorrect signals this one individual had been getting.

Meanwhile, the rest of the population, who were not concerned with my fairness, thought I was acting a little weird.

3. “Open Door” has a bad reputation on the shop floor – In many organizations employees are fully aware that the open door policy is something that makes management feel good and looks good in the employee handbook, but it is a poor vehicle to use if there is an actual issue on the shop floor.

If the symptom leading to the need for an open door conversation is low trust, then how can escalating the issue to the next higher level be helpful?

There are also folk tails of the poor soul who got so upset with a situation that he actually did use the open door and lived to regret it every day thereafter until he finally quit the organization.

Far better to suffer the current injustice than call in the big guns and ensure more pain.

4. “Open Door” failures lead to Ombudsmen – When the open door gets a reputation for causing additional grief and not resolving problems, organizations often resort to a third party grievance resolution mechanism called an Ombudsman.

Again, from an HR or legal perspective this practice seems reasonable and fair. It really can resolve some issues, but it is also fraught with cloak and dagger nonsense that usually further undermines trust as the clueless Ombudsman seeks to understand what is really going on without upsetting people.

Meanwhile the employee is on tenterhooks hoping the desperate action to call in a third party will not backfire.

Once again, since the root cause of the problem can be traced to a lack of trust, the Ombudsman approach is at best a last resort effort to save utter collapse.

5. What if the level-two manager is a jerk too? – If an employee has a problem with the integrity of the level-one supervisor, then the level-two supervisor is often in question as well.

From a shop floor perspective, all management is painted with the same brush.

Actually, there are situations where there is a bad apple in the middle and employees really do trust the second level more than the first level.

More often, all management is suspect if there are weak links. After all, if the big boss tolerates a bully in the supervisory ranks, then that manager is not doing his or her job either.

Why would employees feel high trust for that person? They more likely picture the big boss as a well intended but clueless manager who has no idea how miserable things are two levels below.

These are five very real symptoms of problems with the open door policy.

I am not saying it is a bad thing to have or that it never works. What I am suggesting is that there is a better way.

What if we taught managers at all levels to reinforce candor? Employees would learn that is not a career threatening opportunity to bring an issue to the immediate boss.

In fact, when they bring up scary stuff or perceived inequities, they are rewarded in some way. This would be regardless of the level. It would mean that the need for escalation would be significantly reduced in the first place, and for those few situations where a higher level discussion would be useful, then the employee is still reinforced.

Imagine the poor Ombudsman with less work than the Maytag Repairman.

Imagine an entire workforce concentrating on the mission of and vision of the organization instead of constantly negotiating their way through minefields of bureaucratic protectionism.

Imagine running an organization based on trust instead of fear. It is possible if we simply teach leaders to reinforce candor.

Build More Trust with Your Boss

July 13, 2014

Threatening boss.How much better off would you be if your boss trusted you more in the future? There are literally hundreds of things you can do to increase the trust that your boss has in you.

Here are ten of my favorite ideas to consider. If you do all ten of these things, chances are you will enjoy a healthy trust level with your boss.

1. Be Trustworthy.

In every situation, you need to show integrity and commitment to do the right thing. If there is a lapse, the boss might not pin you down immediately, but each minor slip or major gaff is going into the cerebral cortex of the boss for evaluation.

You can tell when things are not going well by the way the boss acts toward you. It is almost like that instinctive feeling you have when your mate is angry with you.

Nothing needs to be said overtly; you just know. Pay attention, and if there is the possibility of damage, get some remediation going quickly.

2. Show More Trust.

My “First Law of Trust” states that if you want to see more trust coming your way in a relationship, you need to extend more trust to the other person.

Trust is reciprocal, and normally extending more trust will cause an automatic reaction in the direction of higher trust toward you.

3. Increase Communication.

Voids in communication work to deteriorate trust for several reasons.

First, the boss may become distracted by other things and not feel as close to you.

Second, if there is some doubt about how you are reacting to things, many bosses will assume the worst.

Third, the boss may hear things from others about you that are not true or are distorted in some way. You need to ensure there is enough air time to keep the relationship fresh and positive.

The caveat here is to avoid being a pest. It is a fine line from not having enough interface to over communicating.

If you are in doubt, just ask your boss if your pattern of communication is close to optimal.

4. Clarify Expectations.

You may be doing great work but not be dead center on the objectives of your boss. That actually puts your efforts slightly at cross purposes to the boss.

If you start getting some pushback or more micromanaging than in the past, you are likely off on a tangent relative to your boss’s desires. Get this corrected as soon as possible.

5. Don’t Assume.

When we presume to know what the boss is thinking, we sow the seeds of lower trust.

Human beings have a unique way of not divulging full intent, so by assuming you know exactly what the boss wants without verification, you are taking a big risk.

You may be able to get away with it for a while, but sooner or later you are going to disappoint. It is far better just to verify you understand the intent of your boss whenever there is a potential lapse.

6. Call Out Trust Issues.

Do it delicately so as not to offend. If your boss is taking shortcuts or doing marginal things in terms of ethics, it is important to have a channel to ask questions.

Use Socratic Questions rather than accusatory statements as a preferred approach.

For example, rather than saying, “I think you are wrong to move some of the inventory into the sales category for this month,” a far wiser approach might be, “In what ways might the auditors misinterpret our motive if they discover we moved some inventory into the sales category?”

7. Admit Mistakes.

Occasionally you will make a mistake. When you do, it is usually a good idea to admit it to your boss.

I learned that lesson early in my career when I made a serious blunder that my boss would not have known about if I did not reveal it.

I immediately blew myself in by saying,

“You would never know this if I did not tell you, but here is what happened…”

That little speech made a material difference in my career for the next 25 years. Nothing shows integrity and builds trust faster than to fess up to something that would never be discovered if you did not reveal it.

8. Watch The Body Language.

Most of the clues that you are going off course with your boss in terms of trust will not come verbally or even in e-mails.

The information will come “in between the lines,” and you must be adept at picking up the signals. Particularly watch for changes in body language.

In electronic communication, the body language is there if you know how to read it.

Watch for the use of pronouns and distribution changes. Those areas often contain vital information. Also watch the speed of returned messages.

A change there is a signal that needs to be understood. Sometimes it is a simple case of overload, but other times it is a manifestation of lower trust.

9. Show Appreciation.

Do not go overboard and become an overt sycophant, but do have an attitude of gratitude when the boss does positive things for you.

In this area, the observation of body language is particularly critical. Watch for changes in gestures to recognize if you are laying it on too thick.

10. Care About Your Boss.

In the hubbub of daily activities, it is easy to forget that your boss is a person with hopes and dreams.

Get involved in his or her personal goals in a prudent way. Find out about the family situation, if that is acceptable, and inquire about how things are going.

Do not do this in a manipulative way but in a sincere caring way. People do nice things for people they like. If you truly care about your boss, that will encourage a reciprocal feeling within that person, and the relationship will grow stronger.
There are dozens (perhaps hundreds) of other ways you can enhance the trust level with your boss and build a strong relationship that will endure.

Follow these ten rules and you will be well on your way to a healthy relationship. That philosophy the cheapest and most effective insurance policy you can acquire in any organization.

Why Some Bully Managers Last

July 5, 2014

aggressive businessman bullying colleaguesA student in one of my graduate leadership classes posed an interesting question. If bully managers cause so much grief, why are so many of them allowed to remain in power?

The question got me thinking of the many reasons bully managers, even the extreme ones, seem to hang onto their positions. Here are some of the reasons.

1. Weak Leadership Above – If a bully manager is allowed to remain in place, it means the leaders above him or her are not doing a good job. If those in charge look the other way while a manager is abusing people, then they are the real culprits.

It is rather easy to spot a bully manager when doing a 360 degree review process, so once one is identified, if the person is allowed to stay in a management position year after year, I blame the top leadership.

Also, weak leadership might look the other way because the bully has powerful allies. Bully bosses intimidate people at their own level and higher in the organization. They know the buttons to push or people to pressure in order to get their own way. If a weak leader is afraid of the bully, that can be a reason this person is allowed to continue.

If the bully is the top dog and not beholden to anyone, there is no force from above to curtail the negative behaviors. In this case, barring some kind of epiphany, the bully will keep on with the same conduct until he or she leaves.

Attempts from below to enlighten this person will usually be fruitless; they may even exacerbate the problem.

2. Sufficing –

A bully manager does elicit compliance because people are fearful. The unit reporting to this manager will perform at a credible level, even though people are unhappy and underutilized.

The crime is that the unit could be so much better, and the lives of the workers could be richer if the manager was replaced by someone with higher Emotional Intelligence.

Many units get by sufficing on a culture of compliance and avoidance and do not even realize the huge potential they are missing.

3. Being Clueless –

I have written on this before. The idea is that most bullies simply do not see themselves accurately. They would view themselves as being tough or having high standards of conduct.

My observation is that most bully managers are genuinely proud of their prowess at getting people to behave. They have no impetus to change, because their twisted logic reinforces the behaviors that elicit compliance.

They often view themselves as smarter than the people working for them and bark out orders because they sincerely believe they know best.

Another clueless possibility is that the entire corporate culture is stuck in this Ebenezer Scrooge mentality.

Hard as it is to fathom, there are still old style companies where management likes to terrorize. The same holds for family businesses where one generation intimidates the next.

4. Lack of trust –

A bully manager trashes trust on a daily basis without realizing it. When trust is low, all other functions in the organization operate like a car would run on watered-down gasoline.

The irony is that when the bully manager sees things sputtering and not working well, the logical reaction is to jump in with combat boots on to “fix” the problems.

That bullying behavior perpetuates the problem in a vicious cycle of cause and effect. If there is no external force to break the cycle, it will just continue.

5. Short term focus –

Most bully managers have a fixation on short term actions and do not see the long term damage being done to the culture. They would describe “culture” as some squishy concept that is for softies.

If you propose ideas to improve the culture to a bully manager, he or she will start talking about performance and accountability. Holding people accountable is a very popular phrase in management these days.

Imagine a world where there was less need to talk about holding people accountable because the culture they worked in was one that automatically extracted their maximum discretionary effort.

If the vast majority of workers in a unit habitually performed at the very peak of their potential because they wanted to, then accountability would take care of itself.

6. Lack of skills –

Bully managers often have not had good leadership capabilities built in through training and mentoring. You cannot blame a tyrant if he or she has never been shown a better way to lead.

Bully managers are often accused of having a “my way or the highway” attitude toward people, but I would contend that many of these misguided individuals simply feel “my way is the only way I know how to get things done.”

For these leaders, some intensive reprogramming can be an effective antidote only if they come to the table eager to learn new ways.

7. Fear means people will not challenge –

Most workers are not going to be willing to challenge a bully boss. The fear of getting their heads chopped off for leveling with the boss makes the prospect of telling the truth feel like knowingly walking into a lion’s den.

Every once in a while there is a person so foolish or confident that he will just walk into the lion’s den because there is little to lose. This person can help provide shock therapy for bully leaders by providing data on how the behaviors are actually blocking the very things the leader wants to accomplish.

These people might be called “whistle blowers” because they provide an errant manager, or the leadership above, with knowledge of what is actually happening.

Occasionally, a bully manager is so extreme that he or she must be removed and replaced by a more people-oriented manager. Unfortunately, it is also true that many bully bosses have the ability to remain in place for long stretches.

This adhesion to power is extremely costly to the organization in terms of current and future performance along with a prime cause of high turnover. If you have a bully manager reporting to you, get him or her some help through training.

If that does not work, move the bully out of a leadership role and put in someone with high Emotional Intelligence.

Increase Span of Control

December 2, 2012

span of controlHow much span of control should a particular manager have? Years ago, I was taught that any manager who has more than 6 direct reports cannot do a proper job of supervising the individuals. On the other extreme, with a very flat organization and self directed work teams, it is possible for a manager to be directly responsible for over 100 people.

This article describes some of the issues when considering optimal span of control and also shares some key behaviors that allow managers to broaden their span of control without loss of effectiveness. This is helpful information for leaders because most organizations are heading in the direction of flatter structures.

An overarching question is why we call it “control” at all. The idea that one must have control over people in order to influence or coach them properly is outdated. I agree that the total entity needs to be in control so the goals of the organization are met and the customer is well served, but the individuals within the organization do not need to be controlled like marionettes in order to perform well.

Most of my professional work centers around the concept of trust. If an organization has a culture of high trust, then the individuals within it do not need to be controlled to be effective. If upper management is transparent with information so that all workers at all levels know the goals and are trusted or empowered to do the right thing, then the conventional hierarchy of: group leader, supervisor, manager, vice president, group vice president, president, and CEO is way more structure than is needed.

Let us look at eight manager behaviors that will allow one individual to provide the needed guidance to numerous other people.

Delegate well

When managers back off and let people figure out the best way to accomplish the tasks required to meet goals, less direct supervision is required. The opposite of delegating well is micromanaging the work of others. Few people I have met appreciate, or even tolerate, being micromanaged for very long. It is debilitating to motivation, and it drains the productivity from people.

Trust others

Most managers would like to see higher trust within their group, yet few managers realize the key to having more trust within the organization is to show more trust in the people within it. I hear all the time, “but what if my people are not worthy of being trusted.” There is a simple answer. If people are managed properly and are treated with respect and dignity, nearly all of them will be worthy of being trusted. So, a supervisor who cannot or will not trust the people in his or her group is really the person who needs to change, not the workers. If someone is really not worthy of being trusted, then why are they tolerated in the workforce at all?

Fewer Rules

Standard operating procedures are really helpful guidelines for employee actions. They are vital whether you are preparing a detailed battle plan or trying to run an error-free hospital. But operating procedures should not be confused with constraining rules on how to react to circumstances that arise on a daily basis. Managers who attempt to figure out every possible challenge and invent rules to cover them will find themselves frustrated.

You simply cannot anticipate all the things that can go wrong. Rather, it is better to have some broad operating principles and solid values but let people figure out how to react to each situation at hand. Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos said, “We trust our employees to use their best judgment when dealing with each and every customer.” They do not need detailed procedures to figure out what is right.

Self Development

Much of the administrative and coaching energy that takes the time of managers involves the development of people. Many professionals have government mandated training requirements that cause supervisors to administer training classes for compliance reasons. Beyond the legal mandates, many organizations insist on forced career development discussions and detailed forms to fill out along with specific training hours per employee each year. These details are all well meaning efforts to bring out the best in people. What if we shifted the emphasis to recognize that nearly all people have an interest in doing the best they can?

Given the right encouragement and support, people are fully capable of figuring out how they can be more valuable to the organization in the future. The concepts of coaching and mentoring will help encourage employees who are timid or confused, but we do not need mandated programs that paint all employees with the same brush.

Think of it this way. You can mandate 40 hours of training for each employee each year, but you are not going to be successful at building capability into an employee who does not see value in training. It is far better to encourage employees to become involved in the extent and types of training they receive because they will learn much more. In turn, the organization will benefit much more as a result of employees using the new skills.

Better Mentoring

The power of mentoring is immense, yet the majority of corporate mentoring programs produce tepid results at best. Reason: the mentor selection process is usually done with a third party or a computer program creating the matches from lists of skills and interests of potential pairs. Since a great mentor relationship is based on a foundation of excellent personal chemistry, the number of perfect matches made by third parties will be low. Mentors and protégés go through the motions for some period of time, but they drift apart eventually due to a lack of reciprocal chemistry to keep the benefits coming. A far better approach is for the corporation or HR to encourage mentoring, but let the selection and administration be up to the individuals involved.

Reduce “Administriva”

Many of the supervisory functions that take time are really not necessary or at least could be made much more efficient. Have an audit of the forms and paperwork that managers are forced to fill out and vow to cut in by at least 50%. In most organizations that could be accomplished with no loss of vital information. Cut managers free to do the vital face to face coaching by reducing the Mickey Mouse forms and procedures that leave little time for communication, strategy, and reflection.

Improve Online Communication

It is a rare manager who does not feel buried in the avalanche of e-mail, texts, and social networking notes. The load is way too much to allow time for walking around the area to actually interface with people live. It is possible to reduce the online load significantly without losing vital information. Get help from someone who specializes in efficient online communication and create a culture where these tools are useful but not albatrosses.

Clean house

One reason why managers can only handle a narrow span of control is because there is usually some dead wood in any group. It is well known, by the Pareto Principle, that 20% of the individuals are going to take up 80% of the time of managers. Make sure to cull out the dead wood or disruptive individuals from the organization. That will create more time and allow the managers to serve more people better. Removing just one problem employee can make a huge difference in the entire atmosphere in a work group. It also shifts the balance of management attention from those who cause trouble to those who are doing great work. That will improve the quality of work-life for everyone.

Increasing the span of control is good for the efficiency of any organization. Following the eight tips above will shift the burden for most managers and allow them the time to have broader influence. This saves the organization money and provides a more rewarding environment in which managers can thrive.

Mentor Power

July 29, 2012

If you do not have at least one active mentor, you are missing a lot. In my experience, having a strong mentor at work made a huge difference in my career. Even in my ripening old age, I am still gaining benefits from the lessons and ideas planted in me by my mentor when I was younger.

There are obvious benefits of having a mentor in an organization.

1. A mentor helps you learn the ropes faster

2. A mentor coaches you on what to do and especially what to avoid.

3. A mentor is an advocate for you in different circles than yours.

4. A mentor cleans up after you have made a mistake and helps protect your reputation.

5. A mentor pushes you when you need pushing and praises you when you need it.

6. A mentor brings wisdom born of mistakes made in the past so you can avoid them.

7. A mentor operates as a sounding board for ideas and methods.

Many organizations have some form of mentoring program. I support the idea of fostering mentors, but the typical application has a low hit rate long term. That is because the mentor programs in most organizations are procedural rather than organic.

A typical mentor program couples younger professionals with more experienced managers after some sort of computerized matching process. The relationship starts out being helpful for both people, but after a few months it has degraded into a burdensome commitment of time and energy. This aspect is accentuated if there are paperwork requirements or other check-box activities. After about six months, the activities are small remnants of the envisioned program.

The more productive programs seek to educate professionals on the benefits of having a mentor and encourage people to find their own match. This strategy works much better because the chemistry is right from the start, and both parties immediately see the huge gains being made by both people. It is a mutually-supported organic system rather than an activities-based approach. It is pretty obvious how the protégé benefits in a mentor relationship, but how does the mentor gain from it?

Mentors gain significantly in the following ways:

1. The mentor focuses on helping the protégé, which is personally satisfying.

2. The mentor can gain information from a different level of the organization that may not be readily available by any other means.

3. The mentor helps find information and resources for the protégé, so there is some important learning going on. The best way to learn something is to teach it to someone else.

4. While pushing the protégé forward in the organization, the mentor has the ability to return some favors owed to other managers.

5. The mentor gains a reputation for nurturing people and can thus attract better people over time.

6. The mentor can enhance his or her legacy in the organization by creating an understudy.

Encourage a strong mentoring program in your organization but steer clear of the mechanical match game and the busywork of an overdone process. Let people recognize the benefits and figure out their optimal relationships.

Don’t Tolerate Dud Managers

July 2, 2012

Look around your place of work and identify a manager who is clearly a dud. It is not hard to spot these individuals. Of course, you can find a spectrum of problem managers, from mildly annoying to completely abusive. These managers take advantage of people, work at cross purposes to their true objectives, destroy trust, beat down people, obliterate the culture, and habitually turn in poor or even disastrous performances. The simple question for this article is why they are allowed to continue.

Bosses have numerous reasons for leaving an incumbent dud manager in power. Below is a listing of some of the more common reasons. This is a representative list, and it is not an exhaustive one.

1. Nepotism in its various forms is one cause. If the boss’ son is a jerk, he will cause a lot of damage and still (usually) keep his job. Any kind of “fair haired” manager who has favor with the decision makers can remain employed while being a dud.

2. The halo effect can be in play if a manager had a wonderful opportunity and really did a great job when conditions were ideal. In a more challenging atmosphere, the manager could struggle, but the reputation from an earlier time seems to carry through.

3. If the manager’s boss is just weak or fails to hold the manager accountable, then the dud can remain in power for years with no corrections. In this case, you have a dud working for a dud of a different kind.

4. There may be no other candidate who is trained or has the desire to take the position. I recall one area that was particularly difficult for any manager. The environment had been abused for so long that the people were hardened and would “eat up” even excellent managers brought in to try to change the culture.

5. The dud manager may be a Subject Matter Expert (SME) who is in position because he is the only one who knows the correct procedures.

6. The manager may be new and under extreme pressure from above to perform, so the abuse seems like the only way to manage. He or she does not realize this approach is really dysfunctional in the long term.

These are a few examples of why an incumbent manager who is not doing well may be allowed to sap the vital life force out of the workers. Let’s take a look at some ways to deal with this situation if you have a dud manager.

1. Some managers can be reformed and trained into being enlightened managers. This process takes good mentoring and patience from above. It is rare to actually change the stripes of a manager in place, but it can be done for some small percentage of the dud managers. Training and coaching are the answers.

2. Special assignments can help get this individual out of the environment long enough to create a transition to a new leader. The special assignment would be as an individual contributor rather than a leader of people.

3. Honest appraisal. Here, the senior manager needs to have the courage to let the dud manager know he is not cutting it. Often the dud realizes things are not going well but does not have the fortitude to change behaviors without a kick in the pants. He may not realize there are more productive alternatives.

4. Job rotation. Generally, it is not a wise idea to move problem managers around because they can contaminate other areas that were performing well. Occasionally a change of scene and the ability to work with a different senior leader can bring the manager around to perform better.

5. Removal is always an option. This tactic has a double benefit. First, the whole population breathes a sigh of relief and prays for a better manager coming in. Second, the actual performance of the unit will be significantly higher as a result.

Do not let a dud manager stay in an assignment. He or she is not going to improve over time. In fact, conditions will probably worsen. Since the capabilities of managers often follows a kind of “normal distribution,” there is always the opportunity to do some helpful pruning on the low end of the scale.