How to Be an Unsuccessful Manager

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that in every career there must, at some point, be a bad manager. If you haven’t worked for a Bill Lumbergh, then you’ve encountered a Miranda Priestly, or that guy Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, and Dolly Parton kidnapped in 9 to 5. While these horrible bosses might be skilled at their jobs, and even at managing processes and production, they all have one thing in common: they don’t know how to manage people—flesh and bone, living, breathing human beings. The good news is that these experiences often teach you what not to do when you have your own team to manage. So in honor of all the negative reinforcement that all too often coincides with poor leadership, we decided to compile a reverse guide to managing people.

To give you this list, we caught up with Jennifer Fowler, Deposit Operations Manager at FAB. Jennifer is a seasoned manager who is known for organizing potlucks and outings. She also “manages” three pitbulls at home, so you know she’s the real deal.

To be an unsuccessful manager:

  1. Treat everyone the same.

This doesn’t mean playing favorites. The people you are managing are diverse. We all have different backgrounds and communication styles. It follows that people require different approaches when being critiqued or even praised. You have to be able to adjust as a manager so you can relate to them on a personal level. To do this, take the time to learn about the people you manage. There will be some with whom you can be blunt and others who are more sensitive. You should always be direct, but you need to respect their different communication styles. Know which people need critiques to be followed up by expressed appreciation of the things they are doing right. On the other hand, know which people are made uncomfortable by too many compliments and prefer to hear only necessary criticisms without fluff.

  1. Expect the people below you to do the work that is below you.

As a manager, you should never expect anyone under you to do something you wouldn’t do. Having an attitude that clearly tells your team what they are doing is beneath you will not grant you much respect as a leader. This also applies to unexpected work or tasks. Jennifer told us about a minor data breach that her team had to deal with years ago. To make sure it did not affect customers, they had to go into the system and do a bunch of manual work. While the work technically fell into the responsibilities of some of the people she managed, she went in right next to them and helped them through all of the unexpected work. Sometimes, there are going to be tasks that no one wants to do, but doing your fair share as a manager shows your team that you have their backs.

Similarly, if too many people on your team are out of the office unexpectedly for illnesses or emergencies, you should step in and help your remaining team members. These responsibilities will not be part of your everyday duties, but you should be willing to help when needed. Remember that managers aren’t above making sacrifices for the team.

  1. Define processes without input.

As a manager, you should be managing the work that goes on under you without actually doing it yourself. Because of this, you may not have the most up-to-date knowledge on the challenges that face the work your team is doing. So don’t start working up processes and enacting them without getting feedback from the people who will actually be performing them every day. Ask your team for input and ideas. It gives them a voice and makes the processes even better.

To take this further, you should encourage your team to avoid getting stuck in the same routine.  You want them to come to you with ideas for a better way of doing things. All workplaces see changes; adapting to them will make your team stronger.

  1. Talk to your team about the frustrating things that go on in the company.

You want to be upfront and open about the things that affect your team, but that doesn’t mean you need to tell them everything. You should be a sort of shield for your team, deflecting negative things that have no bearing on their jobs. If there is a conflict between managers and executives, don’t complain to your team about it. It will only foster negativity in the workplace. If someone in upper management has a negative view of your team, don’t rally your team against that person. Instead, defend them. You should have your team’s best interests at heart and fight for them. It’s much more productive than making them feel unappreciated. You know best what your team deserves, so be a voice for them amongst the rest of management.

  1. Make sure you don’t give your team too much training, lest they become too skilled for their positions.

This is scary for a lot of managers, because it might seem like training your employees too much will cause them to grow out of their jobs and leave you with an empty position to fill. Regardless, you should have employees who want to grow and build a career. They may be the riskier employee in terms of longevity, but they are more valuable. You are only as strong as the team you build. That’s why you need to allow your team to train and get the education that will help them, both in their current positions and in their future careers. Don’t feel threatened if someone knows more than you. Look at it as a great resource for the team. We’re seeing an increased rate of change in many industries and you want employees who are resourceful and can solve problems without coming to you. Allowing your team members to grow will allow your business to grow.

Also, you should always have someone right below you in a team lead, assistant manager role. All too often, managers try to ensure that only they can do their own jobs as a means of preserving respect from their teams. In actuality, though, it’s useful to have someone in the process of being trained for your role. When another employee can come in and do your job as needed, you have the ability to step away for emergencies or to work on special projects while knowing that your team is functioning properly.

  1. Assign tasks to talents.

When a manager discovers some hidden talent in a team member, it’s very tempting to immediately assign that person to use it regularly as part of their job. Before you do that, though, you should talk to them. People are frequently good at things that they don’t really enjoy doing, and you don’t want to push someone on your team toward something they don’t want to focus on in their careers; it could lead to burnout in a productive and willing employee. You should take the time to understand your employees’ career goals, so you can help them when opportunities for training and growth arise, instead of pushing them toward something that could cause burnout and harm your team’s overall morale.

  1. Only have one-on-ones when you have something specific to discuss or critique.

You need to keep communication open with your employees. It depends on your business and industry, but this will likely mean weekly or even daily one-on-ones. These don’t have to be formal; they can simply be five or ten minutes of your undivided attention to talk about them. You should discuss their strengths and areas they can improve, and anything else they want to tell you. Doing this regularly, regardless of whether there’s something pressing you need to talk to your team members about, will allow for an open door policy and give them an outlet to come to you with any problems in the workplace.

In addition to these one-on-ones, you should have less frequent but more formal reviews with each of your team members. Again, how this looks will depend upon your business, but a regular quarterly review is a useful practice to achieve this. These formal sit-downs are the best time to set goals for employees and review their performances as a whole. Be sure to involve them in creating their own goals. If you have kept your communication constant and open, it will be simple to determine what their focus should be.

  1. Don’t show appreciation.

This might be the most obvious point, but it’s also one of the most important. Make sure your team knows how much you appreciate them. This applies to both the work they are doing—celebrate when you hit important metrics or reach goals—and the people themselves. This can mean celebrating birthdays and other milestones that don’t relate to work. When a team member goes above and beyond, thank them with something that acknowledges the existence of their personal life—it could be as simple as a five dollar Starbucks gift card and thank you note, or as elaborate as taking them or the whole team to dinner.

It’s also important to give credit where it is due. You should be very careful to not only give credit to your team as a whole, but to individuals. Recognition encourages people to take pride in their work and motivates others to do better.

Another, more indirect form of appreciation comes from showing your team that you have their backs. Sometimes, things will come up in your employees’ personal lives. It’s important to have measures in place that will give them peace of mind if they need to be away from the office unexpectedly. This means cross training and explaining clearly that you cross train because you want to make sure the team can fill in and take care of people when needed. A master list of job duties with a designated primary, secondary, and tertiary person to do each task is extremely useful in this sense. Having your procedures written down clearly and a back-up employee labeled will keep your team working as a fine-tuned machine, even when people are out of the office unavoidably.


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*Special thanks to Jennifer Fowler for letting us chronicle her expert practices.