15 unmistakable qualities of bad managers

Linda Le Phan

There’s a quite popular saying that goes: “employees don’t quit their jobs, they quit their managers.” And there’s a lot of truth in that saying if you think about it.

Your manager – or boss – typically has a HUGE influence on what your job actually looks like from day-to-day, how you feel about coming into work, and what your career path will be in the foreseeable future. Your relationship with them is so crucial that you often have to manage them to some extent too, as an employee, to keep things going smoothly (read about how to manage your manager – and yes it’s a thing).

 

 

We can’t say that this popular saying (that people quit managers, not jobs) is 100% true at all times though: there are many different things that impact any employee’s happiness at work, plus studies have shown that there are other reasons besides their manager that are just as likely to drive employees to quit. But all things considered, you still can’t overlook the impact your manager typically has on your work-life. It couldn’t be more true than if you’re so unlucky as to have a bad manager.

Since we’ve already done a roundup of qualities of great leaders that people really love (it’s one of our best articles of all time), we figured why not do something similar…except this time a roundup of top qualities that make a bad manager.  To do just that, we went and asked a couple of dozen experts to weigh in on this one simple question:

“What are some unmistakable qualities of a bad manager?”

 

Their answers all boiled down to 15 undesirable qualities that, when exhibited in the workplace, wreaks havoc on employee happiness and morale… and yes, drives employees to quit. Keep in mind that these don’t include obvious negative qualities that you likely wouldn’t want to find in anyone you work closely with let alone your manager, such as lack of ethics or morale compass, arrogance, and self-centeredness. 

 

15 unmistakable qualities of a bad manager:

 

1. Takes credit for others’ work

“A good manager always takes responsibility for the performance of their team and won’t throw any of their team members “under the bus” while still providing the team members with all the praise in public, even for ideas that the manager would’ve come up with themselves. A bad manager is the opposite. They take all the credit and blame their employees for the failures, which obliterates trust and leads to the team starting to also cover for themselves as opposed to working for the best of the company.”

-Jesse Nieminen, Co-Founder of Viima 

 

“There’s nothing worse than working for a manager that’s willing and happy to claim any big wins the team achieves, but deflects responsibility when times are tough and losses come around. Team wins and losses should be shared together, with management leading the way to ensure wins are multiplied and losses minimized.”

-Kris Hughes, Senior Content Marketing Manager at ProjectManager.com

 

2. Doesn’t show appreciation or give recognition to employees

“We all like to be told we’ve done a great job, and some managers may overlook that when leading a team. You should always let people know when they’re doing a good job, it’s extremely motivating and shows you respect them professionally.”

-Matt Reaney, Founder of Big Cloud 

 

“They see you, their employee, as simply a set of hands and feet paid to get a job done. They don’t ask about you personally, because they don’t care. If it doesn’t have to do with getting the job done, they don’t care.”

-Michael Wilkinson, CMF, CPF, Founder and Managing Director of Leadership Strategies, Inc. and Author of “The Secrets of Facilitation”

 

“A manager is the one leading their team and will also be the one that knows when to give credit where credit is due. If they cannot appreciate instances where their team exceeds their expectations, it will be a source of demotivation. This will also worsen if the manager does not give credit to their team while also taking all the credit for themselves.”

Sean Si, CEO and Founder of SEO Hacker, Qeryz, Sigil and Workplays

 

3. Micromanages

“A poor manager will micro-manage his or her team. They will see only one way to accomplish a task and will not value the input of others. Team members are not encouraged to grow, mistakes are frowned upon and unless a task is completed exactly as the manager wants it completed (even if completion in another manner achieves a positive outcome) the manager won’t recognize the success.”

-Cynthia Corsetti, CPCC, SPHR, Executive Leadership Coach at Cynthia Corsetti Coaching, LLC

 

“Bad managers fail to give their team personal independence. They over-delegate and over-assign. Employees who feel they don’t have freedom will become disillusioned and frustrated.”

-Nicholas Hobson, Workplace Psychologist and Co-Founder of PsychologyCompass.com

 

“Controlling your team in minute detail is a terrible trait for a manager. You should hire a team you trust to do the work and give them the freedom to carry it out. Micromanaging leads to a lack of motivation and creativity!”

-Matt Reaney, Founder of Big Cloud 

 

“Treating employees like school children is a surefire way to demotivate your team. The best way to avoid micromanagement is to set up clear KPIs.. If your team is consistently hitting their numbers, there’s no reason to monitor/manage how they get things done. For example, if your sales employees are consistently hitting their goals, there’s no reason to monitor their customer communications or make a big fuss about what time they come into work and leave each day.”

-David Scarola, Vice President of The Alternative Board

 

“A clear-cut sign of a bad manager is someone who jumps in and takes over every time there is a problem, even the slightest one. If your employees are resistant to bringing problems to you, because they fear you’ll take it over, there’s a good chance you are doing something wrong. A great manager rejects the dependence of the their teammates and instead asks “how would you solve this problem if I wasn’t here? The #1 role of a manager is to grow people, and when you solve a problem for them nobody grows.”

-Kevin Armstrong, Owner of The Alternative Board – Vancouver

 

4. Unable to trust (control freak)

“There are managers that are unable to give projects completely to their juniors. The junior will do the work, but everything needs to be funneled through to the manager for approval – which is ok on some things, but when a manager refuses to let anything go without approval, it results in bottlenecks. You’ll have juniors sitting around waiting for their manager to approve their work, so there’s a huge loss of productivity. Managers need to be able to trust the people they employ to do their work correctly.”

-Michael Sunderland, Managing Director at Full Stack Talent

 

“Similar to micromanagement, the untrusting manager wants the employee to get the work done, but is excessive in checking timing and details. They may feel that employees who are very successful are a threat, and so place greater emphasis in trying to catch them doing the wrong thing.”

-Richard Pummell, Human Resources Lead at DevelopIntelligence

 

5. Plays favorites

“Managers that pick out certain team members as their favorites are…bad news. Often there are some members of the team that are more similar in terms of culture, values or even work ethic, so it’s easy for managers to relate more easily to these people. However, when this results in them promoting their work over others, giving more weight to their opinions, or giving more assistance, it crosses the line. Other team members are quick to notice and can easily become disengaged as a result.”

-Fiona Adler, Founder of Actioned.com

 

“It can be hard to be recognised in the world of work, but even more so if your manager favours certain members of the team.

Staff can feel really unmotivated if they have a manager with favourites; it means their hard work goes unnoticed. Showing favouritism towards specific employees also leads members of the team to feel frustrated with the company dynamic when it comes to completing deadlines and making complaints about those certain members of staff.”

-Chris Wain, Sales Director for Africa Travel

 

6. Doesn’t provide clear or realistic direction

“A bad manager is one who does not clearly define for employees their responsibilities. This can lead to confusion amongst team members and work not getting done if no one understands that the tasks are their responsibility.”

-Nate Masterson, CEO of Maple Holistics

 

“[One thing you’ll find from bad managers is] setting unrealistic expectations with no guidance. There could be a lack of teamwork that is needed in order to complete a project. It is important for managers to know the difference between overworking their employees and challenging them. It is important for employees to be resourceful and learn their own way through a project, but it is also vital to show them the vital resources.”

-Jacob Dayan, Esq., CEO and Co-founder of Community Tax

 

7. Is unavailable or avoids tough conversations

“As a business owner, your door should always be figuratively and literally open to employees. It’s up to you to foster a collaborative environment, where team members feel comfortable approaching you with questions, concerns, new ideas, and even criticisms. If you set a tone of being too busy or too important for employees, you’ll likely miss out on the valuable insight they can offer.”

-David Scarola, Vice President of The Alternative Board

 

“Dealing with conflict is part of the job description for managers—in fact, a study from the American Management Association found that 24% of a manager’s day is spent managing conflict. It’s a challenging task that demands emotional intelligence along with an arsenal of conflict resolution techniques—and a manager simply isn’t doing their job if they shy away from conflict management responsibilities.”

-Ben Aston, Founder of The Digital Project Manager 

 

8. Lack of empathy or compassion (low emotional intelligence)

“Effective leadership at any level requires the ability to recognize and control one’s own emotions. It also requires the ability to show empathy, recognize and influence the emotions of others. A poor manager lacks this skill.”

-Cynthia Corsetti, CPCC, SPHR, Executive Leadership Coach at Cynthia Corsetti Coaching, LLC

 

“Another quality of a bad manager is not caring if their employees are overworked. An employee’s mental health is crucial to the employee’s life as well as their productivity at work, and a boss who is not in tune with what their employees are experiencing does not value the needs of their employees.”

-Nate Masterson, CEO of Maple Holistics

 

“When a manager fails to make a concerted effort to understand the needs and desires of their employees, and how they can help them reach both individual and group goals, morale suffers. This causes lowered productivity and a higher turnover rate.”

-Kieran Canisius, CEO & Co-Founder of Seuss Recruiting, Seuss Consulting, and Zocket

 

9. Unable to listen and respond to feedback (poor listener)

“This is probably the most damaging characteristic that a manager can have. They won’t listen to a person speaking and therefore they never truly get to the route of the issue. Instead, the manager hears a few words and begins to interrupt with a solution, which may not even be the right solution because they didn’t truly listen to the problem. The manager with poor listening skills has no chance of having a productive and effective team.”

-Cynthia Corsetti, CPCC, SPHR, Executive Leadership Coach at Cynthia Corsetti Coaching, LLC

 

“The number one thing that defines a bad manager for me is an inability to listen and respond to feedback from staff. Individual team-members are always a rich source of information – they could hear real-life feedback from customers, for example, or have insights into where processes could be refined.

A manager who’s too arrogant to realise the value of this information not only misses out on opportunities to improve things; They also alienate the staff by failing to listen. As a consultant who’s zipped around numerous companies for over a decade, I’ve encountered a great many managers like this.”

-Ben Taylor, Founder of HomeWorkingClub

 

“[With bad managers…] One way communication is rampant. In any meeting they lead, their voice dominates the air waves. They don’t care what you think, they don’t ask questions, and when you give input, their focus is explaining why you are wrong.”

-Michael Wilkinson, CMF, CPF, Founder and Managing Director of Leadership Strategies, Inc. and Author of “The Secrets of Facilitation”

 

“Bad managers speak more than they listen. When you’re the loudest voice in the room, it’s easy to forget that you hired a bunch of smart people that are more qualified to do their jobs than you are. Managers sometimes consider employee silence to be an indicator of agreement or an absence of ideas.

However, employee silence is more likely due to feeling uncomfortable speaking. Perhaps they don’t want to interrupt a manager who leaves little room for others to speak, or they think their idea will go over poorly, or they don’t want to point out flaws in a manager’s plan.”

-Dave Lane, CEO of Inventiv

 

10. Doesn’t lead by example

“I’m sure everyone’s seen a manager who talks to their employees about the times being tough and everyone having to work longer hours for the same pay, then leaving the office early to play golf. While hypocrisy often isn’t this obvious, it’s a common problem with far-reaching consequences for the morale and performance of the team, as well as the credibility of the manager. A manager always leads by example, whether they want it or not.”

-Jesse Nieminen, Co-Founder of Viima 


“Pitching in with the ‘grunt’ work, being one of the team and showing up is so important for leading others. No one wants to work for someone who never shows up, doesn’t do work themselves or acts superior. Be someone they can follow in the right path!”

-Matt Reaney, Founder of Big Cloud 

 

“[Also known as a] “do as I say, not as I do” mentality. As an employer, all eyes are on you, which means, you need to be your model employee. You can’t expect your employees to be chipper, if you’re bringing in a bad attitude every day. You also can’t expect your employees to conquer challenges, that you don’t know how to conquer yourself. Knowing the ins and outs of your industry is paramount to good leadership, as is setting the positive tone for company culture.”

-David Scarola, Vice President of The Alternative Board

 

“[Similar to those who micromanage their team), managers who  require excellence from their team members, but do not produce excellent results in their own daily work – leading by example – are sure to fail in time, because they simply will not earn respect from their team.”

-Kris Hughes, Senior Content Marketing Manager at ProjectManager.com

 

11. Lacks humility or self-awareness

“I believe lack of humility is a trait of a bad manager because, even though they are in a position of leadership, managers don’t have all the answers. If they pretend like they do (and I have seen many managers/leaders do this), then they end up wasting time and valuable resources. A good manager realizes they can’t accomplish everything on their own and that’s when they’re able to leverage the strengths of their team.”

-Tyler Hanna, CEO and Co-Founder of 8-bit Rex

 

“[Some bad managers] have such low self-awareness that they blame others for their own failings. They don’t see how their action and inaction contribute significantly to the problems they have.”

-Michael Wilkinson, CMF, CPF, Founder and Managing Director of Leadership Strategies, Inc. and Author of “The Secrets of Facilitation”

 

12. Manages with fear, not fairness

“The manager [who leads with fear] wants employees to feel they are lucky to have a job, and whenever a request is made it includes a tacit threat that if the request isn’t delivered, there will be ramifications down the road. This can also include the manager who selects favorites and gives others the cold shoulder – and will frequently change how they treat an individual employee. Employees never know where they stand, and generally dislike any interactions with the manager.”

-Richard Pummell, Human Resources Lead at DevelopIntelligence

 

“The old-style “my way or the highway” mindset of management has no place in modern society, but there are still plenty of managers out there that try to lead this way. While a fear-based style might get some short-term results, the long-term negative impact will always be more substantial. Servant leadership is the only way to drive consistent results in a business world now that is as complex and dynamic as it’s ever been.”

-Kris Hughes, Senior Content Marketing Manager at ProjectManager.com

 

13. Is complacent about poor performing or toxic team members

“Keeping a bad teammate on the team is poor decision. It’s not doing any service to the weak team member and it’s not fair to all the other teammates. It is the most dangerous and most common sign of a weak manager by suffering a poor performing team member and not cutting them loose before it’s too late.”

-Zach Hendrix Co-Founder of GreenPal

 

14. Doesn’t follow through or recognize their own responsibilities

“One of the main qualities I see in a bad manager is that they think they get more freedoms, when in fact they actually get more work. I’ve seen it time and time again, someone becomes a manager and thinks they don’t have to follow all the rules or do the small duties it takes to maintain a team. In short, they get lazy, and there’s no quicker way to get your team to quit on you than by being egotistical and entitled.”

-Nick Glassett, Founder of OriginLeadership.com

 

“Countless managers receive requests, questions, concerns etc from their team and either 1) never respond or 2) respond and then fail to follow through. This can be very demotivating for team members and sets the tone for a company culture of dropping the ball. Great managers are so organized, their team knows they can count on them to follow up.”

-Kevin Armstrong, Owner of The Alternative Board – Vancouver

 

“This person is the opposite extreme [of a micromanager]. They think that they can get everyone working at capacity with just the very occasional bit of guidance. They often arrive late, take long lunches, and leave early on a regular basis. They over-value the contribution of their strategic thinking and are quick to take credit for their team members’ work. Pretty soon, people resent these types of managers.”

-Fiona Adler, Founder of Actioned.com

 

15. Doesn’t live up to workplace values

“Bad managers will demonstrate inconsistencies in the values of the company. They might advertise the principles as part of the mission statement, but their day-to-day actions say otherwise. And of course: Actions speak louder than words. Research shows, inconsistencies in values is recipe for employee burnout.”

-Nicholas Hobson, Workplace Psychologist and Co-Founder of PsychologyCompass.com

 

 

Do you agree with these bad manager qualities? Is there one that we missed but you think is worth mentioning? Let us know @kununu_US!

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Linda Le Phan is the Senior Content Marketing Manager at kununu US, a place where job seekers can get an authentic view of life at a company and where employers have a trusted platform to better engage talent. When she’s not creating content about the modern workplace, company culture, and life & work hacks, she is probably going out to get an iced coffee (even in Boston winter), raiding the snack drawer, or jamming to kununu’s Spotify playlist.