Three Types of Bad Managers

Most of us have experienced bad managers.

Working for a bad manager is awful, right? Not only do they make it hard for you to do your job, but they also make it hard for you to want to do it.

It’s deflating. It’s depressing. You end up avoiding interactions—in person, via email, on Slack, or anything from this terrible manager. And before you know it, you start looking around to find a better place to be—a new job. 

Why do some managers act like jerks? Are they born that way?

No, they’re not. Just as great leaders are built vs. born, bad managers develop and grow. 

I want you to identify the bad managers at your company. And to do that, you need to know the three types of bad managers. That’s what I’m sharing with you today.

My experience coaching leaders around the world for over 20 years has helped me see that people leaders we describe and experience as inept, bad, terrible—you insert your words here—fall into three primary categories.

Knowing these different types will help you in your role as a leader.

First, I want to discuss something that comes up when I coach execs, founders, and teams in Awesome Leader programs.

Many people think bad managers are acting that way on purpose.

That they want to be a jerk. 

That they want to annoy people.

And that they want to avoid all people leadership responsibilities. 

In other words, these people CHOOSE to be terrible. 

So, do people want to be bad managers? 

Is this intentional?

I’m here to tell you—no.

It’s not.

A manager’s bad behavior is not intentional. 

I’ve never met someone who wakes up each day and says, “Wow, nice night of sleep. Feeling rested. Hmm . . . let’s see what’s on my calendar for today. Oh, yeah, I’m going to be a bad manager today. Just like I was yesterday.

Everything I say and do will show off how much of a jerk I am. 

I’m gonna be annoying, and I’m gonna be frustrating. My goal is to be a bad manager.

I’m gonna be a real asshole.”

No one does that!

It’s not malicious. 

I’ve never met a manager or leader who was bad on purpose.

I’ve never met anyone who came to work with goals like these:

  • How can I give feedback without specifics? How can I be rude as I share that feedback?
  • How can I share nothing about goals with my directs? Leave them in the dark. Never share any context. Never help them create SMART goals. Just leave them hanging and tell them to figure it out on their own. And then I’m going to give them a hard time about what they haven’t done, how they’ve failed. 
  • How can micro-manage today? 
  • How can I make people feel miserable?

Again, I’ve never met someone who starts off each day—whether in person or remotely—with the intention of being a bad leader.

The terrible leaders you’ve worked for—and I know you have worked for some bad leaders because I’m met them—many of them–they don’t think they’re bad. 

They don’t aim to be bad. They don’t want to be known as terrible leaders.

So, how does this happen?

Where do bad managers come from?

Here’s what’s going on:

They don’t know what they’re doing. 

People are promoted or hired into people leadership roles. 

They are thrown into a new situation. And people assume that since they are people, they will know how to manage others. 

But they haven’t received coaching or training. Or feedback. 

They simply don’t know what to do. And what NOT to do. 

And when they do end up demonstrating poor leadership, they are rarely given feedback. 

Or the feedback they receive is vague. And it comes infrequently. 

Their performance reviews are short. And their performance ratings are inflated. 

And they don’t know or understand the implications of their behavior. 

They don’t realize that they are creating a team environment where their team members feel they can’t rely on their manager or even go to them for help.

Without expectations about what management looks like, without feedback on their progress, and without coaching or training, these leaders continue doing what they think is the right thing to do.

And their own managers don’t hold them accountable. 

Or they learn from people who are probably bad managers. 

They learn from bad teachers. 

The core problem is under management. Many organizations seem to assume that once you grant someone the title of manager or leader, that—bingo—they get it. They understand what to do. 

Bad managers don’t know they are bad. And they aren’t held accountable.

We’ll cover accountability in a future post.

There are different types of bad managers, and that’s where I’ll go next.

Here are the three types of bad managers I see:

1. Doesn’t know how to

2. Doesn’t need to

3. Doesn’t want to

I’ll dive into each category now. As I walk you through the types, think of the people leaders—the bad ones—you work with. 

The first group: doesn’t know how to. This person doesn’t know how to do their job as a people manager.

They lack the skills to do their job.

This person lacks the soft skills—we should call them power skills—to lead a team. 

They don’t know how to set goals, share feedback, delegate, manage performance challenges, or create action plans.

This is a lack of knowledge and also an execution gap. Not only do they need to develop the skills, but they also need to be coached on how to execute them—how do they need to demonstrate the skills?

This person needs training. And coaching. Coaching from a manager who will hold them accountable.

They need active role models. They need to see good leadership in action. Their own managers need to say something like this: “Did you hear how Will gave direct feedback in that meeting? That is a good example for us to walk through.”

And then the leader walks them through it. 

This bad manager also needs support and encouragement. 

So, that’s the first group: doesn’t know how to. This person doesn’t know how to do their job as a people manager.

They lack the skills to do their job.

This group is coachable. I’ve seen many, many people in this category. They can develop into good managers and strong leaders through training, coaching, and support from their own leaders.

I find that many of the bad managers in this group want to change how they operate—once they hear what they are doing wrong and the impact it has. 

The second group: doesn’t need to. This person doesn’t feel the need to be a better manager.

This is a lack of awareness and expectations. 

For this bad manager, they need to develop their skills. They need training.

This is also an engagement gap. They may not feel engaged in their role. 

Gallup has great information—lots of research and helpful books—about employee engagement. One of my favorite books is 12: The Elements of Great Managing.

This leader needs to see how they contribute. They need to see how their daily tasks, meetings, actions, and words contribute. They need to see the impact they have.

Organizations need to apply consistent pressure on this bad manager. Their own leader needs to hold them accountable—that’s where it starts.

This type of bad manager may also be in the wrong role. They may not have the desire to be a manager, and it’s starting to show.

That’s the second group: doesn’t need to. This person doesn’t feel the need to be a better manager.

Again, this is a lack of awareness and expectations.

This group is also coachable. It’s more of a lift. It takes more effort, coaching, and training. 

It takes consistent pressure—professional and polite—to change some of the bad behaviors of this type. 

Then, the third group: doesn’t want to. This person doesn’t have someone holding their feet to the fire (professionally, of course).

This is a lack of accountability and role clarity. 

This is the type where coaching and training may not work.

That’s because this person doesn’t have their head or their heart in it. They aren’t engaged, or they are actively disengaged. 

Again, check out Gallup’s book and website for details about employee engagement. I’ll cover that in a future post, as this is an important topic for companies and teams of all sizes. 

OK, this group of bad managers doesn’t want to do their job. 

And to make matters worse, their managers don’t hold them accountable. Their manager isn’t explaining what they need to do and why.

That’s, again, a lack of accountability and role clarity.

It may also be a hiring mistake. Did the hiring manager for this role ask questions to learn about the situations, actions, and results this person used in the past—as a leader?

Were enough details gathered to understand best if this person has the management skills and wants to use those skills in this new role?

And did they write a robust job description?

I’m guessing the answer to those questions is no. 

This third category—the bad manager who doesn’t want to be a manager—is one where coaching may not work. 

This person may not be coachable.

They’re not a bad person. They don’t want to be a terrible manager. But they don’t want to manage. Or don’t want their current job.

So, to their team and peers, they come off as a bad manager. Someone we assume is doing it on purpose.

Once again, here are the three types of bad managers I see:

1. Doesn’t know how to

2. Doesn’t need to

3. Doesn’t want to

I want you to sit back and think about the people leaders you work with.

Do they know how to do their job?

Do they feel a need to do their job? A pressure to demonstrate their skills?

And do they want to be there?

Asking yourself these questions will help you coach them. Asking yourself these questions will help you consider the next steps to help these leaders. 

I want you to feel confident and capable in your role as a leader. 

I hope it’s been interesting and helpful for you to think about the three types of bad managers. My goal is to make it easier for you to be a leader.

You’re going to work with terrible managers—and you may have some on your team. I hope you have some ideas about what to do next!

If you want to learn more about how I help people become awesome leaders, check out this blog post.

PS If you prefer listening to content like this, check out my new podcast, The Leadership Shot. You can listen to the episode that corresponds to this blog post here.