“There are soooo many bad managers,” the VP of Human Resources lamented.
“Well then . . . do something about it,” I said.
As you might imagine, the conversation went nowhere because HR wouldn’t take action unless a manager had done something illegal.
That’s right. Crossing the line of human decency wasn’t enough. A supervisor had to cross a legal line before HR could “do” something about it.
Here are some examples of how managers abuse their power. They do it because they can, not because they should. These examples are in no particular order.
Managers abuse their power when:
- They periodically remind you that you can be fired . . . “heh, heh, just kidding.”
- They humiliate you in front of others.
- To their team or department they’re yellers, screamers, or cursers and when called on it say “Everyone knows I don’t mean it when I do that” and they clean it up nicely when meeting up the chain of command.
- Their primary exercise is jumping to conclusions because they have a “busy desk.”
- They don’t want to be confused by the facts after they’ve made a decision.
- They openly play favorites with members of their team and isolate themselves from those they don’t like.
- They get angry if you propose an idea to one of their peers they can’t take credit for.
- They exclude you from meetings on projects you are part of.
- They withhold information you need to do your job, saying “I’ll tell you when you need to know.”
- Even though they’ve approved your vacation time and it’s on the calendar, they want you to remind them of your vacation the week before.
- They concoct false emergencies while you’re on vacation or traveling for business and then berate you for not having answered your email or phone while you were gone, even after you told them you’d have limited or no access.
- They forever place you on their mental S-list. And no, S does not stand for special.
- They retaliate against anyone who does not agree with them, or in their eyes, makes them look bad.
- They laugh at you when you share good news about a project.
- They grudgingly express gratitude for a job well done because “that’s your job.”
- The few accolades they do give sound forced or disingenuous.
- They don’t listen to your warnings about adverse consequences of their decisions because “you’ll do as you’re told.”
- They let you know leadership “stuff” is well . . . stuff. It clearly it doesn’t apply to them, because after all, do you know who they ARE?
- They treat you like the “hired help.”
- They base your performance review on what they remember you did last week or if you’re lucky, last month. Reviews are done on a last in first out basis.
- They use performance reviews as a thinly disguised mechanism for justifying a predetermined raise or denying a raise and it has little to do with your actual performance or contribution to the company.
- They play games with performance reviews and raises, making sure you sign your review before the raise goes in effect to make sure you don’t add any comments their boss might see.
- They collect negative feedback in a “Pearl Harbor” file and dump it on you during an annual performance review instead of providing real time feedback when you can explain what happened (see further item #4 above) or take corrective action.
- They view management as a game of “gotcha” instead of a collaboration and opportunity for joint problem solving.
- They’re not beneath lying, attributing words to you you never said, and actions you never did.
- They don’t update you on important developments and then blame you for not knowing about them.
- They discourage you from asking questions with their condescending or intimidating behavior.
- They like to brag about how rich they are and who they know.
- They don’t enforce company policies evenly.
- They sneer at the notion of anyone desiring or deserving career development or advancement, except their own.
- They don’t really care about the work you do.
- They trivialize important problems.
- They believe asking for help makes them look weak.
- They like to remind you how lucky you are to have a job.
- They would throw their grandmother under the bus to save a dime on their budget and increase their bonus.
- They put the company’s best interests second.
- They believe they’ve garnered enough influence within the organization to become untouchable, and their word will be believed over yours.
- They display zero empathy or compassion when your spouse dies; but, suddenly give an Academy Award worthy performance the second they hear their boss asked for directions to the memorial service.
- They physically throw objects at you.
- They only respect you in proportion to your ability to afford them a political advantage.
- They love watching the parking lot at starting and quitting time and would make ankle monitoring bracelets mandatory for all employees if they could.
- They believe working remotely means you’re watching Oprah reruns and eating bonbons.
- They assume you’re goofing off anytime you’re not in the office.
- They make you feel compelled to use vacation time for your doctor’s appointments.
- They expect you to come to work if you have a pulse, never mind if you’re sick, could infect the entire office, or inclement weather makes roads treacherous or impassable.
- They are masters at turning a Friday business trip into a weekend boondoggle paid for by a vendor who also arranges “dates.”
- They don’t like your “attitude” but offer no concrete examples of what they don’t like or what they’d like you to do to fix it.
- The only transparency they value is the kind used on an old school overhead projector when their PowerPoint or Keynote dies.
Perhaps you’ve experienced a few of these boorish behaviors in the workplace or have other examples you’d like to share in the comment section.
When called out for their bad behavior these manager often say “it’s a lie” or “you’ve got nothing on me.” Its straight from the Best Defense is a Good Offense Playbook.
It reminds me of the old Columbo TV show when the bad guy says “you can’t prove anything” after the rumpled detective accuses him/her of a heinous deed. The viewers always knows its the culprit Columbo would nail before the closing credits. But somehow, too many corner offices and boards of directors are short-sighted and prefer to take the manipulator’s word for it instead of conducting an independent investigation when a complaint arises (see further item 37).
Enough of the Mr. Magoo oversight
It doesn’t pay for organizations to permit managers to abuse their positional power in the long run.
Unreasonable behaviors aimed at intimidating, degrading, humiliating, or undermining others is bullying and eviscerates trust. Yet, trust is what fuels employee engagement and employee engagement ignites productivity and innovation. Who’s hurting now?
Managers whose disruptive behavior raises people’s defenses instead of their game is why employees admit they can get by at the office with 70% of effort. It’s a pretty sad state of affairs. When I was in school that was a failing grade.
Every company mission and vision statement talks about respect, but few businesses hold their employees accountable when they act unreasonably, or try to get to the root cause of why they acted unreasonably.
Is the behavior due to a lack of understanding about what is unreasonable? A lack of training about what is acceptable? Ignorance about how to communicate more constructively? A deep seated insecurity? A reaction in kind to someone else’s provocation?
Persistent psychological assault creates a toxic, fear-based culture with unhealthy levels of stress, its associated diseases, increased absenteeism, and employee turnover. Those consequences benefit no one.
A number of states have already proposed anti-bullying laws for the workplace and eventually they will get enacted. In the meantime, it shouldn’t be open hunting season on employees. A creative plaintiff’s lawyer could stir up enough trouble today without anti-bullying laws to embroil a business in an expensive lawsuit, regardless of whether the company ultimately “wins.”
Why wait and play an expensive no win game?
Smart employers can start requiring more integrity and respect from their supervisors before it becomes mandated by their state. Make it part of your on-boarding process and your promotion process. Give your managers the support they need to be successful.
Help create a workplace where employees can thrive instead of merely survive and your business will grow and prosper too.
Her ground-breaking book, “The Business Guide to Legal Literacy,” shows organizations how to extract the highest value of both disciplines to ignite better decision making and achieve more business success. It’s been cited by Wikipedia to highlight the value and importance of legal literacy in business.