Silly Missteps Managers Make

“I don’t trust my boss.” How often have you heard that as a coach?

Gallup has tracked employee engagement for years and in the U.S., 70% of workers are disengaged.  Surprised? Not surprised?  LinkedIn just released their 2020 Global Talent Trends and they predict the era of employee experience as the key priority for workplace culture.  And there’s no lack of data – good managers and leaders matter.  I’ve coached managers and leaders.  I’ve coached workers that have managers and leaders.  Here are silly missteps that managers make beyond the insensitive drill sergeant or egomaniac and ways to pivot in order to unlock the talent in all of us.

  1. Company person – maintains status quo. Often, my clients are afraid to broach the topic of career development with their boss – the person explicitly tasked with that responsibility.  Intuitively the coachee knows their boss doesn’t want the hassle of coaching, hiring another person, and training (and research confirms this!).  Yes trust is not there but also the social contract is one sided – performing trumps developing.  And forget about rotations, job crafting, internal recruiting, or 20% projects.  The company boss likes boxes, has the rubrics from HR memorized, and likes thinking inside the lines
  2. Acting more like an individual contributor than a manager. This is the boss that is busy with their own initiatives, launches, visibility, and “managing up”, and pays little attention to team development, 1:1 meetings, cascading information, or strategy.  I’ve had clients step in as the team leader but without the credit or the pay.
  3. Self-focused and forgets appreciation. I will never forget this client.  She wanted help looking for another role because she was tired of her boss hijacking their 1:1 meetings for her own therapy – venting about her husband or children or skip level politics – and leaving mere mins at the end for her agenda.  Evolution makes us self-centric and other people matter too, especially your direct reports.
  4. Unorganized, “ideas or creative” types. Brainstorming is great fun. Innovation and ideation is critical for success.  But overused, these strengths show up as no meeting agendas, lack of strategy, disinterest, boredom, and neglect in the problems of today, unending chasing the dragon for the next shiny object without regard to the problems and projects of today. And god forbid you are the brave Debbie Downer that challenges this energy.  Unchecked creative energies that lack pragmatic moderation can be stifling instead of generative.
  5. Lack of communication. The skip levels have a big strategy meeting.  There was an all hands.  There was a leadership team change.  Something launched and no one knew about it.  This is the client that feels siloed, disconnected, and has no idea what is going on in other teams or with leadership.  Information is not passed or bridged by leaders.  Coachees also have no sense of where they stand, how they are performing or what direction their boss sees for their future.  Mind-reading would be ideal here but alas.
  6. Tone deaf, doesn’t hear let alone listen. This is a personal story.  I had a white male manager talk about hiring during a team meeting.  I suggested / requested that we make sure we focused on diversity.  He said, “Good idea – let’s make sure someone diverse is interviewing”.  Listening is hard.  Hearing is even harder.  Don’t be the manager that is surprised to hear about someone leaving on your team or surprised to hear about dissatisfaction.  Your people are constantly telling you how they feel if you listen.
  7. No network value. I’ve had many clients left to their own devices for career growth because their boss simply had no connections, no contacts on other teams or no knowledge about the variety of teams and work in the organization.  How do they get anything done cross functionally then let alone get to become a manager?
  8. Microeconomic thinker. They slave over powerpoints.  They micromanage you.  They sound rehearsed and unhuman during townhalls.  Process reigns over people.  Perception management reigns over authenticity.  A microeconomic boss may be the worst – stifling potential, missing horizon planning, and balancing the thriving of others on the tip of a fontsize.  They don’t personize as Edgar Schein likes to say.
  9. A ghost or too hands off. This is an extreme riff on #2 where the manager is literally not in the office, unavailable, and unresponsive to email.  One client indicated that their boss proudly boasted about this environment; that they don’t do performance reviews or development and you are responsible for your own career.  Imagine their parenting style?
  10. The bureaucrat. This is a special breed – ancient and seductive. They hypnotize you with jargon.  You realize that after 10 minutes of listening, you’ve actually learned nothing and heard nothing and nothing’s been done and you don’t know what you’re suppose to do.  These are master evaders, deflectors, or magicians that disappear behind an iron curtain of buzz and verbosity.  Good for looks but not for getting things done.

Theories are yours – systems are at fault, leaders, I’m missing all sides of the whole story, this is just an American thing or a tech thing or HR’s problem.  But ask yourself if the above is worth risking employee goodwill and shareholder value?

For the courageous manager who wants to change, first get some data and then get a coach.  Hold a 360 feedback review, partner with your HRBP, complete some personality assessments, and review the shadow side details of your defaults.  Then ask: how am I contributing to the problem I am seeking to solve?  Who owns culture here?  What don’t I know? What are my blindspots? What is the bigger purpose of my role – to serve, to take, to tell?  Is this the job for me?  How would I like to be treated?  What is my relationship with nurturing and giving? How can I macro-manage?  Then show your appreciation.

For the suffering worker, this is not victim blaming but empowerment cultivating, ask instead: how am I contributing to the problem I am seeking to solve?  Who owns culture here?  How willing am I to share feedback, ask for my needs, escalate?  What are my red lines?  What is the highest and best use of my time?  How is this situation helping or hurting?  What is a positive reinterpretation of the situation?  What am I learning for my future as a leader?  Then get a coach.

It’s 2020 and the earth is asking for more of our people developers.  How can they become gardeners instead of mechanics? How can they drop the armor, be vulnerable and dare to be human?  How can they perfect whole person management?  And for workers, how can you learn from these mistakes?  How can you get into the arena and grow in spite of the barriers?

How can we all gamble it all on 100% GDC – gross domestic caring?