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How to spot bad managers

Updated: Nov 23, 2022

Here comes the crazy train

Angry White Man with glasses yelling into phone

In life we're bound to come across them across every once in awhile...the dreaded bad manager. This creature is the person that leaves you with stories you can tell for decades. Being an independent consultant I've worked with plenty of people over the years & have been apart of many environments so I've dealt with my fair share of personalities. First off, be aware that bad managers come in many forms which means gender, race, class, etc. does not dictate whether someone falls into this category.

1. They always look out for themselves

If a manager demands to know who committed an error or caused whatever amount of trouble so they can have a scapegoat then this is a surefire sign of a terrible manager. Instead of focusing on why the issue happened in the first place & taking steps towards preventing it from happening again (such as employee training) they focus on what they can do in-order to safely dodge the incoming heat. This type of manager breeds a toxic environment where backstabbing is commonplace & teamwork is non-existent. They also will hardly ever have their employees' back in any situation. Credit also becomes an "I" thing instead of a "We" thing. Good managers give credit where credit is due & stand up for their employees. Good managers also will look at mistakes & seek ways to prevent them versus looking to inflict punishment.

2. They tend to misconstrue things & think the opposite of the norm

If a manager constantly thinks & acts opposite of what would be the norm then run fast. Examples include managers berating employees & talking to them as if they have worked there for years when it's their first week on the job or employees frequently having "miscommunication issues" with said manager. The way a person processes things mentally likely isn't going to change relatively quickly, especially if they are unaware if they have issues. It's best to move on from this situation as one miscommunication could make things very ugly.

3. They focus more on brown nosing vs. creating a good working environment

This manager will also never have your back. They typically don't have backbones & cave easily when facing other managers or employees outside of their department in general. This leads to other departments essentially bullying yours. It will also be hard to ask for promotions or raises as this manager will vehemently deny wanting to get involved in anything that will potentially "rock the boat." Be prepared to be thrown under the bus a lot as well.

4. They practice favoritism

Favoritism usually generates animosity among employees. After all, most people just can't turn off that jealousy emotion. It doesn't matter if Holly knows the manager from a previous job, the constant flow of Bears tickets that make their way into her hand while the other employees go unnoticed is a bad look. Good managers know how to manage the delicate egos of their employees by avoiding showing one person favor over the others.

If Holly is outperforming others & you want to show her love why not hold a contest? That way everyone can get involved & she can be seen as legitimately earning her Bears tickets. A good manager also knows that even though Pietr is their buddy, if other employees are complaining about him or if they notice a poor work ethic they take measures to correct the situation immediately. It's also best to immediately disclose prior relationships instead of awkwardly letting people find out (at which point they've formed their own stories.)

5. They are just inept

This one comes up way too often. Once you unveil the curtain behind what being a manager is, you realize management has nothing to do with actually being an expert on the subjects of those you manage work in. This can lead to some pretty clueless managers that have trouble handling issues between employees as they don't truly know how long certain tasks are supposed to take or if the job actually requires more than 40 hours to do in a week. This can also lead to others taking advantage of this by slacking off as the manager can't truly tell if they're working. If they are apart of the hiring process it can & will lead to bad hires which contributes to a toxic workplace once other employees are forced to pick up the slack.

6. They have poor self control

Part of learning how to manage others is also learning how to keep your emotions in check so that you can logically think through issues to come to the best possible conclusion. It's safe to say if a manager is constantly throwing tantrums, screaming (IE: I GAVE YOU A DIRECT ORDER!), berating others, etc. then that's a bad situation to be in. Managers are supposed to facilitate a healthy, stress free working environment for those under them so if they are the main cause of that stress run for the hills.

You can expect employees under these managers to dread coming to work or be fearful once they step through the front door which is not how you want to spend the rest of your life. A manager with no self control can easily bring out the worst in people, turning a bad situation into a nightmare. This is especially true if the manager takes resignations personally.

7. They don't work towards bettering their employees

Does a manager reject all your ideas? Do they not ask where you plan to be at in your career in 5, 10, 20 years? Is there no plan in place to build up an employee's skills? Well then you've met the manager that expects you to work the same job for the rest of your life. With no goals in mind it's hard to keep employees morale going & if the manager is shutting down any talk about moving onto a higher position in the future then they don't have your best interests at heart.

Good managers don't lack vision. They sharpen their employees into well honed blades. There are no worries about employees leaving once they learn new skills as a good manager works on creating an environment where employees don't want to leave.

8. Communication is not their strong suit

Ever had a manager hand you some work & not give any clue it was urgent? Welcome to your experience with a bad manager. In teams communication is everything & the key to getting projects done on time. If a manager can't effectively communicate and/or acts as if everything is on a "need to know basis" expect things to never go smoothly. Good managers try to be transparent & provide as much information as possible (answer the questions before they're asked.)

9. They aren't accommodating

Things happen. Sometimes those devilish kids of yours are sick so you opt to work from home as your job doesn't need you to be in the office. If a manager refuses all your requests, especially if you've worked unpaid overtime in the past then it's time to hand in your notice. Good managers know what is actually necessary for the job at hand & from time to time will allow employees to try out what works for them. After all, it's about performance & if a manager's unreasonable expectations is holding back employee performance & lowering morale then they are a indeed bad manager.

10. They micromanage

Employees generally don't like when managers hover & micromanage them. Employees aren't children & good managers are confident their employees can get the job done without having to watch them every step of the way. A question that must be asked is why are they hiring people if they feel they can't do the job? Sometimes this is an issue of control as well which is hardly ever a good thing. Control freaks can be tolerable when they have vision or are extraordinary people as their talent makes people more willing to listen. However if the manager has no discernible talent or redeeming trait whatsoever this situation becomes insufferable pretty fast.


Overall, there a many more traits of bad, but these are some that are easy to spot. There are other traits like being untrustworthy, inappropriateness & an inability to follow their own rules that are signs as well. If you have your own stories feel free to share them with me!

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