Leadership Lab

7 Management Traits You Want to Avoid

So often we discuss what managers should do, but what about the things you shouldn’t.

“People leave bad managers, not bad companies.” If this saying resonates with you, you’re not alone. While no manager is perfect, most of us at some point in our careers will encounter a manager that becomes a bad nightmare.

When bad management is present throughout a company, most likely a high turnover rate will follow. A Gallup study found that 50% of 7,200 adults left their job just to get away from a manager. That’s a big number! Why stay working a job 40 + hours a week for someone you don’t work well with?

At, we discuss what makes up a great manager. But, what about the traits that make a bad manager? This is equally important to understand, so here are the 7 traits you don’t want to embody as you take on a management role.

  1. Bad Communication Skills

They say communication is key — and oh is this true. More often than not, bad managers don’t provide well-defined direction. This results in so much wasted time (and money) going back and forth with deliverables due to misalignment and misunderstanding. Often a manager — especially one that is inexperienced at a rapidly-growing company, is moving so fast that instructions are inconsistent or incomplete. This forces direct reports to overanalyze what is actually meant, and to try and interpret by reading between the lines. Many times this can be solved by asking yourself one question: When the task is completed, what does success look like? By starting with a clear vision of success, you’ll be able to articulate what is expected.

2. Unapproachable

The unstated rules. Whether they intend to or not, managers can create an unsaid rule of “do your job and don’t ask questions.” These nonverbal cues, tone and dismissive approach, make it clear that you are not supposed to ask questions. This response, can make individual contributors feel inadequate and so uncomfortable with time that they no longer ask questions. If a manager is exceedingly unapproachable, necessary questions go unanswered and the quality of your work will go downhill. Not sure if your team feels this way about you? Ask them. (Tip: Try using an anonymous google form to receive accurate information).

3. Demanding vs. Challenging

Every high-achieving employee wants to be challenged and feel their work is meaningful. However, no employee wants to be handed demanding workloads that set them up for failure. For many managers, especially those promoted because of their impressive track record as an individual contributor, they have one gear — — — go, go, go! Pacesetting is commonplace with high-achievers, but a pacesetting manager can be a recipe for disaster. The intent if often positive, but not everyone can run through walls.

When you are delegating a task as a manager, it’s important to start with what success looks like, AND to align on:
1) Is the goal/task specific? How will you know when you’ve reached success? 
2) Is the task relevant to the big picture? We are all driven by autonomy, mastery and purpose. Connect the dots and show how this is relevant to a greater strategic goal or team/department/company purpose.

3) Is it attainable and realistic? Both parties need to align here. As a manager it will give you good insight into how confident your team member is in her ability to do the job.

4. Micro Manage

We’re all pretty familiar with this concept, whether it be from an overbearing parent or perhaps an overly organized and controlling friend (it may even be you — you know who you are). If you find yourself constantly asking questions, feeling more concerned with HOW your reports are getting to the goal versus achieving the goal itself — you may be a micromanager. If your manager is constantly watching you — in all honesty, for all you know it could be in admiration. Constant observation and critique could make some question their abilities, lead to a spike in stress levels, and erode a good rapport. As a manager it’s important to give direct reports a chance to complete work on their own without constant involvement and checking in.

5. Manipulative

It may sound a bit harsh, but a pretty common bad manager trait is manipulation. Some do it without even realizing it. It can be as simple as having a conversation with a clear yet, unshared agenda. Sometimes toying with emotions is a form of maintaining control — little outbursts with veiled threats juxtaposed against apologetic texts or notes later, is a tactic used to control. For some managers, their own fear of being outshined by their team members cause them to withhold key information, exaggerate truths or attempt to overwhelm with unnecessary red tape. These are all forms of manipulation. And these behaviors only result in negative emotions and lost time. Remember, as a manager, when your team looks good, you look good. You’ve taken on a role to lead; lead by example. Would you want your employees manipulating you?

6. Bullying

Although you though you wouldn’t hear about this after leaving the middle school playground, it is still alive and well in the professional world. Bullying is more commonplace than most would like to admit. Managing through intimidation creates a sense of fear in their direct reports. There is a common, but not often talked about “intellectual bullying” where an individual uses knowledge as a point to leverage — taking advantage by declaring data points that you can only presume are true. This increases their self-importance and only fosters an environment with distrust, anxiety and constant worry. Many times there is an air of “or else”, where you feel that questioning authority will result in failure and the potential to lose your job. The office should be a safe environment for all employees’ period — and bullying is intolerable. Remember the golden rule here — treat others as you would like to be treated.

7. Never Wrong, Always Right

We saved the best for last, folks. A few managers out there hold the “I am always right” attitude. Even worse they make a point to shine a light on others doing something wrong. It becomes a competition of one-upmanship. Since managers like this are “always right”, as an individual contributor you can’t dare question their judgment. Unfortunately, when a manager embodies this type of attitude you learn early on to keep those lips sealed. Whenever you have an opposing idea or want to challenge your boss’s initial thoughts you most likely won’t speak up. It’s their way or the highway. Eventually, this will decrease creativity and innovation since only one perspective is coming into play. It inhibits growth for the manager and also her team. We all appreciate a human approach, the reality of which is we’re all prone to mistakes sometimes. Be upfront about your mistakes and people will respect you for it.

No one wants to be a crappy manager, but guess what… some are. Regardless of intention, it is important to think about how you are showing up in the workplace and for your team. Ask yourself not if, but which of these bad behaviors you may exhibit. You can’t change it if you don’t see it.