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Stories of Bad Managers and How Not to be One

Updated: Mar 15, 2022

When someone agrees to accept the honor bestowed upon them in accepting a management role, they should be very cognizant that it comes with great responsibility. Unfortunately, many times over, we do a poor job selecting managers and leaders. Researchers have learned approximately 50% of managers and senior leaders are unsuccessful in their work efforts, and half of that number will be fired! Additionally, approximately $45B is spent yearly on developing leaders, and much of that money is considered a waste for many reasons, including targeting the wrong people.

What is the quote about the definition of insanity… it is doing the same thing and expecting a different result? It’s critical we change this. Immediately. We have a leadership crisis that needs a robust response.

Don’t be disheartened. There is a solution. So what is the secret sauce of picking leaders? Comprehensive research indicates that these four components best predict potential - intelligence, personality, learning agility, and motivation.

Here are five examples to illustrate what we don’t want, so we can get more of what we do – exemplary leaders.

Example 1 - Indecisive Bob

One of the most difficult dynamics for employees to manage is a leader who is poor in decision-making. Slow decision-making, no decisions, or constant change. This deficiency is evident very quickly to employees and can be a large factor in employees leaving organizations.

Solution: Decision-making can be developed. The start of solving this is to determine the root cause. Is this a confidence issue? A competence/skill issue? Is this a risk tolerance issue? Isolating why the person struggles with decision-making will accelerate your ability to help them address this issue. While I don’t recommend hiring an individual who is not a decision-maker, especially at the most senior levels, the good news is this is an area where a leader can change. This is a coachable skill unless there is a deep derailing personality attribute such as risk tolerance or fear of being wrong.


Example 2 - Unstable Paula

The stories of this individual are so over-the-top that most you wouldn’t believe it if you read them. The organization hired her based on her high-energy style. Under the glare of daylight, her style isn’t high-energy; it’s manic. The control she exerts over anything said or done, her extreme paranoid episodes, her wild swings in emotions, and her complete abdication of ownership over any behaviors are mind-blowing. She has had a significant and repeated turnover on her team. She has created an alliance with another executive on the team and has eviscerated anyone who tried to come close to the CEO. There have been ethical complaints, petitions to the legal function, and other formal concerns expressed about her. The biggest head-scratcher is why the CEO continues to employ her based on the tremendous destruction and risk she brings to the organization? This example illustrates three potential issues - one with Paula, one with the CEO, and likely a systemic issue on addressing organizational conflict.

Here are five examples to illustrate what we don’t wan, so we can get more of what we do – exemplary leaders.

Solution: There is only one solution to this situation - fire her. However, the CEO needs to be addressed as well in this situation.


Example 3 - Volatile Victor

Volatility is a treacherous dynamic to manage. It’s a double whammy of 1. behaviors that are difficult to change and 2. behaviors that typically have significant negative repercussions through the organization. Volatility in a leader erodes trust. People shut down and are hesitant to offer input or feedback (just keep your head down and get out of there is often the goal), and ultimately this impacts results.

Everyone who reads this article knows of someone who is highly emotional and demonstrates explosive negative emotions in the workplace. I have a list a mile long – many CEOs and CFOs, a Head of Asset Management, Head of Development, Head of European Supply Chain, and Head of Sales, to name a few.

Solution: Do not hire anyone who has these derailing personality traits. If they are in-house already and have potential in other ways, it is worth it to try to assist the person in developing stress management tactics and alternative ways of working. But put a cap on how long you will work on these behaviors because they often return and are detrimental to organizations. Employees will look at senior management and assume you know and consequently lose faith in you because you seemly support a hostile work environment. That’s a slippery slope, so these behaviors should be shut down and eliminated completely one way or another.


Example 4 - Unaccountable Jason

Top talent and high performers become extremely frustrated when they are surrounded by underperformers and take it personally when they perceive managers are not holding people accountable. There are many reasons that one doesn’t hold people accountable. They are too busy, they haven’t evolved from an individual contributor to someone who gets results through others, they have a personality who is very “nice” and don’t want to rock the boat, or they simply haven’t gotten the joke on talent and the critically of doing this well. One member of a C-suite is brilliant. He’s incredibly hard-working. He’s also soft-spoken, non-confrontational, and extremely passive. He struggles mightily in holding people accountable largely because he is afraid to lose them. Another lovely man who is a CFO has stated he simply won’t hold people accountable. Another hard-charging head of marketing has been known to say she is too busy to babysit people and hold them accountable.

Solution: For leaders, there should be no doubt about this requirement for the job. It’s non-negotiable in creating a high-performance environment. This is an extremely learnable skill set. Fundamentally it is strong performance management skills coupled with the ability to have courageous conversations…all very learnable. Unless a leader refuses to be held accountable for holding people accountable, this is a training and coaching situation.


Example 5- No Strategy Sydney

Organizations need a strategy. Strategies dictate where we are going, and when done correctly, cascades through the organization and is the catalyst for goal setting. People need and want clear expectations. A clear strategy that also links to your talent plan enables you to have the talent you need for your business demands. One of the top reasons people leave organizations is they do not know how they contribute to the bigger picture. You would be shocked at the number of companies that do not have a strategy.

I’ve had many CEO clients, especially those who have not had a longer-term strategic plan, and it is felt throughout the organization.

Solution: There is a mystique associated with the idea of being strategic, thinking strategically, or creating a strategic plan. Some of us are more inclined than others to have a strategic mind, but that does not need to prevent everyone from having a strategic plan. This process is about the expansion and contraction of sourcing data and making decisions about it. There is so much help available in creating strategic plans, from good books to good consultants. The trick is to not make it so arduous that it takes months and months and becomes the job rather than a roadmap on what the job should be. The solution to leaders who don’t have one is to help them develop a process on how to create one, get them a coach to assist them, or hire a consultant to help. The money and time invested pays in the future dividends it brings in through coordinated and intentional growth.


Using the four criteria correctly, each of these examples would have been more accurately diagnosed and likely avoided.


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