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.

Tyrant or Bully?

September 11, 2011

If you had to give one adjective to describe your boss, which one would you choose? Many people would select a positive adjective such as benevolent, caring, trustworthy, empathetic, passionate, or loyal. Others would choose a more neutral word like efficient, logical, helpful, kind, or fair. Still others (perhaps too many) would use an extremely negative word like demeaning, overbearing, spiteful, hypocritical, tyrant, or bully. In this article, I wanted to put the last two words under the microscope and examine what they mean and how leaders can take steps to avoid being viewed as either one of these adjectives.

In contrasting the two words, let’s first look to the dictionary. Here are the official brief definitions:
Tyrant – cruel or unjust ruler.
Bully – one who hurts or threatens weaker people.

The two concepts are not the same for sure, but they do overlap. It is easy to think of a leader who is a tyrant as someone who is also a bully. Can you imagine any tyrant who is not also a bully? I cannot. Likewise, a bully may or may not also be a tyrant. Most of us would agree that too much of a tendency in either of these directions will lead to low motivation or fear among the workforce.
The distinction in my mind is that a true tyrant needs to rule the roost, but a bully can be satisfied just pushing people around mentally or physically. The bully does not need absolute control to do his or her damage. In the everyday exchanges between people, the bully simply fails to take the feelings of others into account and insists on his or her way. The bully resembles a bulldozer and has a distorted mental image of what it is to be a leader. The bully feels superior to the “little people” and is convinced he or she is justified in pushing through the chosen decisions. Reason and analysis are generally not accepted by the bully.

If you have a boss who is either a tyrant or a bully, which one is easier to change? Changing the mindset of a tyrant is nearly impossible. It would take a life-changing event or some kind of miracle to reverse the aberration. Reason: the tyrant simply has no inclination to change and will not do so unless dethroned by edict or coup. The bully may be more curable by reasoning that often this person is operating at cross purposes to what he or she really wants to achieve (I will use the male pronoun for the remainder of this article to simplify the text).

In the workplace, the bully boss pushes people around as an expedient to get things accomplished without having to explain, rationalize, or debate. The bully also has a habit of blustering at people in order to get them to back off. Often, this pattern is a carryover from playground encounters as a child. The bully who has perfected his methods has an easier time in life at the expense of others. The impact of working for a bully boss usually leaves people in a state of very low motivation. This means that the more a boss bullies people, the less cooperation he will get, and eventually his goals will be compromised. If you can get a bully to recognize that he can get more of what he wants by taking a different approach, then you might have a more coachable person.

The most a bully can expect to get is tepid compliance, when to do well in this environment, any boss needs passionate enthusiasm. By training the bully to change his approach to people, we actually can educate him that there is a better way to get what he really wants in the long run. Sure, for the bully, being more participative may not be as much of a sport, but if it ultimately means more money in his pocket, there may be impetus to change.

If you work for a tyrant, chances are this person is also a bully. You can gain on the situation by helping the bully side become less dominant. That is real progress, and when the bully sees the positive changes in attitudes and improvements in productivity that accrue from reform, it may go a long way to softening the tyrant inside. It is a kind of momentum that can take over. When the bully really understands that a better existence is possible, changes in behavior follow easily. If you reinforce the new behaviors and ascribe them to the boss’ different habits, then he is likely to want more of the benefits, which will result in lower tendency to be a tyrant.