Mistakes Companies Make When Managing Bad Managers

In a previous blog, I described the three types of bad managers.

If you have a struggling people leader on your team, it’s crucial to know what type of bad manager you’re dealing with.

Even if you don’t manage any bad managers right now, understanding how managers develop is key to growing your leadership, no matter how large or small your company or team is.  

I also want you to understand that no people leader is terrible on purpose. No one starts the day with the goal of being a lousy manager or crappy leader. Believe me on this: dictators aside, no one wakes up saying, “Alright! Today I want to be a crappy manager!”

I encourage you to go back and read that blog!

So, let’s say after reading it, you’ve realize, “Oh, yeah. I need to figure out how to help Akiva. He’s a bad manager.”

While you may want to know what to do next, understanding what not to do is just as important.

I don’t want you to make some common mistakes, and there are 5 mistakes I’ve seen companies make again and again.

Here are five mistakes I see organizations make that lead to an environment ripe for bad managers to exist.

1.     Failure to move fast

2.     Failure to be honest

3.     Lazy follow up

4.     Failure to connect the dots

5.     Hesitancy to partner with the People team (HR)

Mistake #1: Failure to move fast. 

Failure to move fast comes from a good place: the desire to give people a chance and the hope that they will improve if they have more time. 

I get that good place. You don’t want to judge people immediately, and I don’t want you to do that, either.

So, most people move too slowly because they don’t want to judge people too quickly.

So that good place—that feeling of “they will figure it out!” is also the wrong place to be.

Leaders who have struggling managers on their teams make this mistake. And this is what they tell themselves:

They need more time.

They will probably figure it out, and I need to allow them to do that.

Maybe I’m asking too much. Perhaps I need to adjust my expectations.

I don’t want to rush into telling them they need to improve their leadership skills. I’ll wait a while.

Well, my friend, while you wait a while, top performers don’t wait (and sometimes clients don’t wait, either!). 

They move on. They leave. They’re like, I’m not going to work for this crappy manager. Forget this.

This mistake is about how you feel—the emotional baggage you’re carrying into situations when a people leader on your team is struggling.

This is a mistake and an excuse. 

Mistake #2: Failure to be honest.

Fear of honesty is a real thing.

There are two ways in which people fail to be honest. 

First, they avoid being honest with the bad manager. They don’t share how that person is not meeting expectations. They don’t discuss which behaviors are effective and how and which ones are ineffective or wrong. 

Secondly, they’re not being honest with themselves. 

This comes from a fear of being honest. It’s about being afraid to say something that will make someone feel bad.

More emotional baggage. Your baggage!

Identify if you have this fear and ask yourself if it is causing you to avoid being honest with a struggling leader.

When you are cautious about giving feedback to anyone, you may fall into the trap of using minimizing language. Watch out for this.

Avoid phrases like these:

  • It’s not a big deal.
  • I want to mention one small thing.
  • Don’t worry about it. It’s a tiny adjustment to what you’re doing. 

Those words and how they’re organized detract from the value of what you’re saying. You’re minimizing the impact of your words.

This tends to happen because you are afraid of being honest. 

If you’re coaching a struggling manager, you can’t say, “Don’t worry about it. It’s a tiny adjustment to what you’re doing.”

What they are doing wrong is a BIG thing. It’s causing problems—it’s impacting retention; it’s pushing clients away; it’s offending others. 

It’s a BIG thing. Don’t minimize it!

Also, watch out for hypothetical language like “would.”

Here’s what I mean:

  • This could be a good idea . . .
  • It would be so nice . . .
  • Maybe you should consider . . .

Someone struggling won’t understand this type of language because you’re not being specific. You’re not stating the behavior they’re using, what the impact is, and what to do instead—and by when—and how you’re doing to help.

I want you to watch your words. And watch the words of your team members and the managers you’re coaching to coach their bad managers. 

Mistake #3: Lazy follow-up.

I know you want to get hard conversations over with and check them off your list.

So, sometimes you have these feedback discussions—a solid attempt to guide a struggling manager—and you think, well, one and done.

Sorry, not one and done!

This is where individuals and organizations also fall down. 

They start to manage, but they don’t follow up. 

Watch out for this mistake. 

Mistake #4: Failure to connect the dots. 

Don’t assume one conversation—or two—will help a bad manager see, understand, and change their behaviors.

When you want someone to change a behavior, I want you to tell them a complete story.

Connect the dots for them. Share what the current state is, what the ideal state is, and the gap in between.

What are they doing now? What is wrong or ineffective—and why. Share details. Then, share what they need to do instead.

And, of course, you’re pausing and allowing them to ask questions. Making sure there’s time for clarification.

Connect the dots. Don’t assume that if you tell someone what they are doing wrong, they will know the right, best, and most effective way to do things.

Don’t make assumptions. And don’t assume others will figure it out.

Provide details—connect the dots.

Mistake #5: Hesitancy to reach out to the people who can help you! The People team! The HR team!

This mistake is often expressed like this:

  • I don’t want to make a big deal out of this
  • Well, if I talk to HR, then we have to document things
  • I don’t want anyone to think that it’s my fault
  • I want flexibility

I will break down those points for you:

  • This is a big deal!
  • You should be documenting anyway.
  • It’s not your fault if you reach out and ask for help. If you stall asking for help, well, then that’s something different.
  • You want flexibility? Well, you’re gonna have it when the top performers who report to the bad manager on your team quit! You’ll have open roles to fill! Is that the flexibility you want? Or how about your role being in jeopardy because you fail to manage the performance of your direct reports? How about that flexibility?!

I’m being cheeky and sarcastic because I don’t want you to make excuses about why you can’t go to HR and ask them to partner with you. 

Members of the People team are the #1 experts at your company. They know how to help you understand what to do and how.

They are smart and strategic thought partners when you’re coaching a bad manager. 

I want you to ask them for help. 

You’ll feel a sense of relief and also a sense of support in a tangible and strategic way.

Talk to HR! Partner with HR.

I’ll recap. Here are the mistakes organizations make when managing bad managers:

1.     Failure to move fast

2.     Failure to be honest

3.     Lazy follow up

4.     Failure to connect the dots

5.     Hesitancy to partner with the People team (HR)

Which mistakes do you think you make? Which ones do you think your company makes?

Don’t judge yourself. Don’t beat yourself up if you realize you’re not connecting the dots or are lazy with follow-up.

Instead, evaluate yourself. Review the list and if you’re making one of these mistakes, decide to do something different.

I hope this was helpful. I know you can change your behavior and, in turn, change the behavior of struggling managers on your team. 

Deep breath. You’re gonna get there! I will help you.

PS If you enjoyed this blog, you’ll love my new podcast, The Leadership Shot. You can listen to the episode that corresponds to this blog post here. Subscribe/Follow to get episodes each Tuesday.