Making Lemonade: What Bad Manager Types Taught Me

May 29, 2018 | Sherrie Niedermeier | HCI
Share This

Ask anyone to share a story about a bad manager they once had and you will probably get a lot of cringe-inducing, “How did this ever happen?” details.

I’m no exception to this and have experienced (IMHO) more than my share of crazy, power hungry, clueless, and just plain incompetent behavior from managers that I’ve worked for. But, in the spirit of making lemons from lemonade, here are three of my best stories about some poor manager types and the critical lessons I took away from working with each of them, which (I hope) have made me a better leader.

Manager Type: The Discourteous Diva

One of my very first jobs was working in the public relations department of a world-renowned orchestra. My manager generally ignored me as I spent my time looking for articles about the orchestra, cutting them out of newspapers (it was the 80s), and pasting them in a three-ring binder.

That is, until she noticed her office door was dirty. In front of the entire office, she commanded me to clean her door daily and also added that she would inspect it. It was one of those situations wheneveryone averted their eyes because they felt embarrassed for me.

While I did, in fact, clean her door daily for the rest of my time there, I immediately started looking for another job.

Lesson learned: Most jobs include some menial tasks. There is a difference, however, between asking someone to do such work and intentionally trying to make someone feel small for having to do it. Managers must consider how they assign employees tasks – tone matters, words matter, and R-E-S-P-E-C-T is an expectation that every one of us has no matter where we sit in the hierarchy.

Manager Type: The Aloof Administrator

I once worked in an office next to my manager’s for several years. In all that time, she only stepped foot into my office once, and that was to deliver bad news. I couldn’t even count on her to say “hello”back to me on a consistent basis.

Her silence made me worry that she had a personal issue with me, and so I ran the scenario by my peers. I got explanations such as “She’s just not a people person,” to “She only talks to ‘Joe’,” to “It’s best that she ignores you.” By the end of my tenure, the only time my manager had a personal conversation with me was in the ladies’ room.#Awkward!

Lesson learned: If you are a manager, be prepared to have your behavior scrutinized and discussed. How do you want to be talked about?  Social niceties - saying “good morning” and “good night,” asking about a colleague’s likes or interests, etc. humanizes you and builds relationships with your team. How you treat other people sends a message to everyone who sees or hears about it. It’s up to you to determine what that message is.

Manager Type: The Big-Mouthed Buddy

On the other side of the spectrum was a manager I worked for who shared everything, and I mean everything. At some point, I knew what underwear he preferred, why he divorced all four of his wives, and how much his American Express was overdrawn by (a shocking 5-figurenumber).

While I genuinely liked him, at some point I had difficulty looking at him. It became harder and harder to separate what I knew about him personally to what I expected of him professionally.

Lesson learned: Being a manager is all about balance. If you share too many details of your life with your team, you risk them judging you by those details, rather than by the work you do. If you only discuss work topics, your team may not find you relatable or empathetic. Focus on making your conversations about your team and not you. You don’t want to be that person who is accused of sharing TMI!

Good leadership is hard, but it’s not impossible. Think of the managers you’ve liked or even loved. How did they act? What did they do? Most importantly, how did they make you feel? Use your own experiences and these lessons as your template moving forward and you will be on your way to becoming a more effective manager. Enjoy the lemonade.