Why do we tolerate bad managers?

Why do we tolerate bad managers? 150 150 Jason Lauritsen

Based on all the evidence I’ve seen both quantitatively and qualitatively, we have a real epidemic of bad management.  This may be an obvious and almost cliché thing to say.  It seems that everyone is feeling the pain.  Employees complain about lack of leadership, recognition and coaching–not to mention just plain bad behavior of our managers.  Our HR departments are about twice as big as they need to be in an effort to protect our companies from the liabilities that bad management creates.  Research on employee engagement continually reports that over half of our employees are disengaged and at least some of those people passionately hate their employers.  All of these signs seem to point, at least in part, to really bad management.

It’s no mystery how this happened.  We promote our top performers (who love to perform) to managerment (something they have no skill at or interest in doing) because in most cases that’s the only path they have to increase their salary due to our compensation beliefs.  Once promoted, if they are lucky, they get a little supervisory training.  This is the same training that all of the other bad managers have been getting for the past 40 years that clearly doesn’t help managers become good at managing.  There’s not a lot of coaching available because the more senior managers are just the bad managers who have been managing poorly for a longer period of time.  So, how would they know how to coach a new manager on the skills they need?  It’s an incestuous and vicious cycle.

But, here’s the real question, why do we tolerate bad management?  It seems like we’ve all come to accept bad management as a part of doing business, despite the obvious damage and suffering it’s causing.  Enough is enough.  At some point, we’ve got to draw a line in the sand and take a stand.

Here are some thoughts about what that means.

  • Confront it.  Whether you are an HR manager, employee or a manager of managers, when you experience bad management, it needs to be confronted.  Most bad managers aren’t bad or evil people, they are just incompetent at managing in part because they never get any real feedback (it’s likely their managers aren’t great managers either).  When you confront bad management behavior by sharing with the perpetrator how their bad behavior impacted you or others, it gives them the opportunity to learn.  I was fortunate enough to manage people through my career who would tell me when I was being an idiot.  There isn’t a much faster way to learn management.
  • Get clear on what it means to be a manager.  We need to be crystal clear that management is a profession, a role that is critically important.  That’s why the title is called “Manager.”  You don’t have to be a genius to figure out the root word of manager.  Management within your organization should come with a clear set of expectations.  When you hear from a manager that they don’t have time to perform these expectations (“I don’t have time to meet with all of my people each week”), then they aren’t delegating or managing.  And that’s not okay (proceed to next bullet point).
  • Zero tolerance.  When managers don’t or won’t meet the expectations of being a manager, they should be relieved of the title and the additional income they accepted when they took the job.  Period.  We are quick to hold front line employees to this type of standard (performing the expectations of your role), but we continue to overlook repeated failures of managers to manage.  This has to stop.  Unless there are real consequences for bad or absent management, the cycle will never end.
  • Reward great managers richly.  There are great managers–those that cultivate talent, build up people, create loyalty, and get great results.  We need to make sure these managers are celebrated like heroes within our cultures.  They should be overpaid, and rewarded handsomely.  By putting the spotlight (and the love) on these managers, it sends a pretty clear message to the rest of the organization of what kind of management is expected.  One caveat here.  This will only have true impact if you are doing the first three things on this list effectively at the same time.

Bad management needs to stop.  It’s not okay.  And we need to stop acting like is.

  • Joshua Symonette


    This is a great question. I think your first bullet is important. More people need to confront managers and given some idea for how to do it. I think fear of losing your job if you speak out is a big factor.

    Thanks for this post. I’m with you 100%. I look forward to reading more of your posts.


    • Jason

      Joshua – I think you are right that a “fear of being fired” is what holds people back. But, the ironic thing about that is that in my 10 year corporate HR career, I never even saw any paperwork to attempt to fire anyone for giving their manager constructive criticism. I’ve been that employee many, many times and I have never lost my job over it. We often exaggerate the negative consequences of taking a risk in order to justify staying in safety. Confronting bad management takes courage, but isn’t it worth it?

  • Kent Julian

    One of my #1 keys to success in practically any situation is to run at problems and challenges instead of running away from them. Your thoughts here are very similar to that principle.

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