Recently I posted an article entitled “The Price of Bad Management”.  In it I focused on the impact bad management practices have on the productivity of an organization and on those who work for and must interact with a bad manager.  The July 4-10 issue of “Bloomberg Businessweek” added a sense of scale to this problem that I believe is worth sharing here.

An article entitled “This Guy Kills Me” (pp. 98-99) contains a review of a new film being released this week entitled “Horrible Bosses”, starring Kevin Spacey, Jennifer Aniston, and Colin Farrell among others.  But what especially caught my eye in this article were the following statistics — drawn from a series of reputable sources and recent studies — documenting just how widespread some subordinates believe the bad manager problem is:

  • According to a recent finding by the non-profit Conference Board, “only 50% of Americans are currently satisfied with their supervisors; a notable decline from 60% in the initial 1987 survey.”
  • A 2010 “Bosses Day Survey” conducted by Spherion Staffing Services and found “that more than a third  of workers are dissatisfied with their managers.”
  • And research published in 2007 by Florida State University professor Wayne Hochwarter —  which characterized the employer-employee dynamic as often akin to an “abusive relationship” — found that many workers claimed: “their supervisors gave them the silent treatment (31%), failed to keep promises (39%), and spoke ill of them behind their backs (27%)”. (Click on author’s name to read more about his findings.)

Most of us who manage, or have managed, would probably not characterize ourselves as bad bosses.  To be sure, all managers make mistakes and have left subordinates angry, frustrated, and feeling poorly served from time to time.  But the above date suggests there are quite a few members of the management cadre who fall short of acceptable on a far more regular basis.

I return to this subject simple to emphasize the importance of a manager’s staying attuned to the most legitimate source of feedback on how well they are doing their job:  THEIR SUBORDINATES!

Many organizations today have instituted formal, upward feedback exercises that present managers with concrete data regarding how their subordinates view their performance.  Of special importance are subordinate perceptions regarding open and frequent communication, respect, inclusion, trustfulness, integrity, and the reliability of commitments.  In a nut shell, the best managers are essentially described thusly:  “what you see is what you get”.

In the best of these exercises, managers must meet with their subordinates and discuss their feedback.  This makes the exercise less punitive and provides the manager with deeper insight into how subordinates perceive her or his behavior, regardless of the behavior’s intention, or whether it was conscious or unconscious.

But what if you do not manage in an environment where such exercises exist?  Invent your own.  Find a way to regularly elicit feedback from those your supervise regarding the important characteristics highlighted above and how they perceive your performance.  Discuss with subordinates what you hear, gain the understanding you need, and make the adaptations you must.  You will not always hear the best of news but the gift of bad news allows you an opportunity to grow, adapt, and change where necessary.  And nothing is quite so powerful a message about yourself, as you willingness to hear a constructive criticism and then translate it into constructive action.

Even better, demonstrating that you are truly open to hearing how your subordinates judge your performance as a manager helps build the very trust, respect, sense of inclusion, and open two-way communication that are the hallmarks of the best managers.  They also help you avoid being one of the negative statistics cited above.

Categories: Managing & Leading, Managing People, Self-Management

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3 replies

  1. I, too, fall into the group that is not please with their current supervisor. As a result I ended up creating a top ten list of characteristics of horrible bosses that I wanted to share with you and your readers. I thought you would appreciate and enjoy the post, so let me know what you think.

    • Keith…I really enjoyed your article. Your list sounds all too familiar to me. As you know, I have written often on various aspects of this topic. It is a chronic problem in many workplaces. Over time, I have lived through every one of your ten bad practices. Unfortunately, I have found that those who really need to pay attention to what your article has to say, are often precisely those least likely to do so. Anyway, very nice job. Cheers. TERRY

  2. Nice list. I had a mentor long ago tell me to make a list of the ten worst things done to me or colleagues by a bad supervisor and ten best things. She then said if I never did a single one of the things from the worst list and practices all the best list, I would be successful. I still remember that years later.

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