Skip to main content
managing

Here’s a disturbing thought: “Unfortunately for many managers, behaviours that undermine creativity are more natural than behaviours that stimulate creativity,” according to Harvard Business School professor emerita Teresa Amabile.

And another: In a U.S. survey earlier this year, 20 per cent of workers said they would replace their boss with a robot. And that’s actually a low figure. When entrepreneur Kevin Kruse asked about a “friendly humanoid robot,” 30 per cent favoured a robot over their boss. And when they were offered a robot such as Star War’s C-3PO, programmed for etiquette and protocol, that climbed to 50 per cent.

It would be simple to dismiss that survey by saying it’s easy to diss the boss. But there’s something deeper here. Managing is extremely difficult. And many managers are messing up – perhaps even you.

So let’s look at some of the many ways we can go wrong. Consider it a checklist of bad behaviours. You’ll likely admit to some, perhaps many.

Start with excessive restraint, the No. 1 destroyer of creativity, according to Dr. Amabile in her interview with Harvard’s Working Knowledge. That approach traces back to the management practice of the middle of the previous century, but it is still around. “When people are supposed to be coming up with new ideas or solving complex problems in new ways, they need to be given a lot of autonomy. But it’s very hard for some managers to change their command-and-control management style, even when it’s creativity and innovation that they’re after,” she says.

She also cites paying lip service to innovation but being wedded to protecting the status quo; an aversion to risk; and an inability to give people meaningful work or help them to find meaning in work.

Trainer Dan Rockwell recently came up with a top 10 list of toxic behaviours of lousy leaders: neglecting to build relationships with colleagues; tolerating bad apples and thus infuriating others; avoiding tough conversations; making feedback conversations personal, about someone’s character rather than behaviour; spending too much time on fixing problems, a backward-facing activity, rather than seizing opportunities; never apologizing; failing to see the good side of bad qualities in others (a slow decision-maker working for you, for example, can be great with details); defending your weaknesses by saying you are unable to change; listening too little and talking too much; and listening with a critical fault-finding attitude. How did you fare on those?

Psychologist Travis Bradberry titles his equivalent LinkedIn list “Nine bad manager mistakes that make good people quit” (or, I might substitute, seek a replacement robot). They overwork people; don’t recognize contributions and reward good work; fail to develop people’s skills; don’t care about their employees; don’t honour their commitments; hire and promote the wrong people; don’t let people pursue their passions; fail to engage creativity; and don’t challenge people intellectually. Career coach Lea McLeod offered a mere three frustrating boss behaviours on the Muse: Changing his or her mind constantly; equating face time with results; and keeping job objectives a secret.

It’s interesting that none refers to being downright nasty or unbearably arrogant, although some hint at the latter. Other common complaints such as being thoughtless, or playing people off against each other, or discriminating against a group of people are also not mentioned. Maybe the worst offence is assuming you are special – wonderful – and none of this applies to you.

We all have flaws – and strengths. A friend with enormous strengths recently e-mailed a group of us to help identify his worst weaknesses. These days strengths are exalted by many consultants and psychologists, and we are told to downplay our weaknesses and focus on strengths. There’s some truth to that – but only some. Weaknesses can drive people away. And why do that, particularly repeatedly, if the bad behaviours can be addressed?

It starts with recognizing those flaws. Enlisting others can also be a smart approach. Then you must deliberately work at improvement. Don’t take on more than one issue at a time. Be modest – kind to yourself – on your ability to change; it will take time and effort, and you will slip, repeatedly. You may want an accountability partner, a technique noted executive coach Marshall Goldsmith employs for himself: Paying somebody to call him every night to ask a series of questions about his behaviour that day. There are also many habit tracking apps.

Bad management is endemic in society. But bad management is us, not just the other guy. So be careful or a robot will replace you.

Cannonballs

  • Xerox’s takeover bid for HP – rejected by the latter company’s board – led Bryant University management professor Michael Roberto to note the history of mergers between two weakened companies is not a positive one.
  • When brainstorming and developing ideas, make sure you include frontline staff such as sales and tech services, says innovation consultant Adam Molofsky.
  • Sharon Armstrong, in The Essential HR Handbook, offers these questions to identify a leader in an interview. Give an example when you demonstrated good leadership? Describe a situation in which you had to change your leadership style to achieve the goal. Have you ever had difficulty getting others to accept your ideas (followed by what was your approach and did it work)?

Stay ahead in your career. We have a weekly Careers newsletter to give you guidance and tips on career management, leadership, business education and more. Sign up today.