How to tell if you have a bad manager

Over the years, many of my clients have asked me the same question:

Alex, how do I know if I have a good manager?

To help them answer that question, I often use a framework from legendary football coach Lou Holtz. It’s composed of three questions which he originally applied to coaches and players but today, I’ll show you how to apply it to your manager.

1. Can you trust your manager?

Trust comes first as it is both the easiest to understand and the most important since it is impossible to have a good relationship with anyone without it. Whether you realize it or not, you are continually making deals with your manager. These range from large deals such as “I agree to pay you $X” all the way down to “If you send that email out, I will make sure it gets addressed”. If you can’t trust that your manager will keep up their end of these deals, that can put you in a very difficult situation. Especially so if you can’t trust the bigger deals you’ve made around salary, benefits, vacation etc.

Here are some questions that show that your manager is not trustworthy, have they:

  • promised you one thing and done another?
  • told you that you were doing well but then you found out they told their manager something different?
  • consistently not held up their end of various agreements you’ve made with them?

2. Is your manager committed to excellence?

Top quality employees always want to work for a manager that is committed to creating a team that functions at its “best”. I put best in quotes because best can have different connotations for different companies, groups, products etc. A sales team may have a very different “best” than a customer support team. The difference is secondary to the point that the manager is constantly striving to improve not only themselves but the rest of the team.

One thing to keep in mind about excellence: it refers to a measure of quality that you both agree on. For example, if your manager’s goal is to be excellent at getting themselves raises and promotions while your goal is something else, that’s a pretty good indication that you and your manager may have some issues going forward.

Again, here are some questions to ask yourself to determine if your manager has issues with excellence:

  • Do they have two sets of standards: one for you and one for themselves?
  • Do they value and measure the key items that you value or only the items that make them look better?

3. Does your manager care about you?

While last, this point is certainly not least. Many years ago I was watching an interview with a motivational speaker that went something like this:

Interviewer: Wow, I can hear my producers in my earpiece saying “This guy is so intelligent”

Speaker: People often say that to me but I disagree. It’s not about intelligence. I care about people. Caring is more important than intelligence. Real change only comes from understanding someone’s needs and helping them to meet those needs. Intelligence may help me figure out the best way to do that but I still need to care to want to take action. Plus, even if I’m not intelligent, if I care about the outcome, I can always find someone intelligent to help me reach my goals.

Multiple studies over the years have shown that employees value acknowledgement and appreciation over even financial rewards. A manager that cares about you will not only acknowledge and appreciate you, they will go out of their way to provide you with what you need to accomplish your goals. A good example of this is when managers provide you with key resources that you require that are easy for them to provide. For example, if ten minutes of your manager’s time would save you hours and they take that time to help you, that’s a big win.

Some questions to help you identify that your manager doesn’t care about you:

  • Do you get task/assignments/projects that your manager knows are difficult and where you get the blame if it fails and they get the credit if it succeeds?
  • Does your manager consistently demonstrate that they don’t value your time e.g. showing up late for meetings, not answering emails promptly?
  • Is it very difficult to get them to do things that are relatively easy/quick for them and incredibly helpful to you and your team?

So how do you deal with a bad manager?

Helping you deal with bad managers is one of the services I offer as career coach. If you would like to hear more about how we could work together to help you “manage up”, better deal with difficult bosses and get what you want when it comes to your career, you should check out my career coaching service.

Check it out and we can get started on helping you get a better career.

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