Skip to main content

In 1972, I agreed to be co-campaign manager for a friend's federal election campaign. After Justin Trudeau's father called the election, all the campaign workers were aflutter over an opinion survey claiming unemployment was the biggest issue. Pollsters had learned what issue respondents felt should be the most important issue. Strikes and labour disruptions, when offered as a possibility, headed the list.

Similarly, an opinion survey today might tell us the biggest issues facing the country are unemployment, treatment of Indigenous people, free trade, climate change and Donald Trump.

I'd be interested what would happen, however, if respondents were asked to choose from a list that included "bad management." I expect that it would soar close to the top, if not the top, when brought to mind.

Story continues below advertisement

Most of us suffer from bad management. There are few working people who don't complain about management – their immediate supervisor, or the big bad bosses on top who can't seem to get anything right.

If we're a manager or supervisor, and honest with ourselves, we would admit to many flaws, miscalculations and screw-ups – or at the minimum, doubts (if you don't admit to that, probably you are a lousy manager). Even if we're retired, we might suffer through bad management or perceived bad management in volunteer groups we immerse ourselves in, the supermarket we frequent or the many "customer service" helplines we get trapped in.

We can't easily improve management, just as we can't easily wipe out the problems of unemployment and climate change. Management seems simple – even alluring when we're hoping to become a supervisor – but it's complicated stuff. I have written over the years on a litany of intelligences it requires, including intellectual, emotional, social, executive, innovative and cultural.

Business consultant and author Jim Collins told us it requires humility and resolve. It requires caring about your unit's and organization's needs and goals – but also caring about the people you work with. It requires balancing demands from customers, colleagues and subordinates. It's like walking a tightrope through a thunderstorm.

I've been writing since 1999 with helpful ideas, in the belief that many managers want to improve and many who thirst to be in management can better prepare. Our complaints about bad management are usually about "them." But in some ways, this is about us, both as managers and as sometimes intolerant or needlessly demanding followers.

Sometimes the problems stem from mistakes – or if not mistakes, being thrust by the job into touchy or explosive situations. Mary Albright and Clay Carr covered some of that in their 1997 book, 101 Biggest Mistakes Managers Make, one of the books I usually suggest when asked for a recommendation for a new manager (rarely, it's interesting to note, by the manager-to-be, but from a boss, colleague, friend, or often, parent). Note the modifier in the title: Biggest. There are many more we can make.

But personality quirks and behaviour – amongst the latter, often, instincts grounded in traditional masculinity – can also create bad management. Strengths taken too far, notably under stress and pressure, can become weaknesses, or derailers, such as arrogance, volatility, excessive caution, aloofness, perfectionism and eagerness to please, a list taken from Why CEOs Fail by David Dotlich and Peter Cairo.

Story continues below advertisement

Professor Mark Lipton recently highlighted the nastiness of some entrepreneurs in Mean Men: The Perversion of America's Self-Made Man. Executive coach Marshall Goldsmith catalogued 20 destructive habits, many stemming from the failing that heads his list: Wanting to win too much.

It's time for a conversation – a conversation, not a debate – and a new awareness of the role bad management plays in our lives.

Cannonballs

  • Wal-Mart’s position in the public mind is “low cost.” So its plan to introduce high-end fashions, albeit online, goes counter-brand. The company is large enough to turn dumb moves into successes, but don’t bet on this one.
     
  • Seventy-six per cent of workers say they have been aware they were annoying a colleague but continued nevertheless, research from Olivet Nazarene University found.
     
  • A point of view is the difference between being a cog and making an impact, notes entrepreneur Seth Godin, but having a point of view is different from always being correct. Nobody is always correct.
Mark Mortensen of INSEAD discusses his findings about teamwork and how knowing what teams others are on can improve workflow Special to Globe and Mail Update
Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Tickers mentioned in this story
Unchecking box will stop auto data updates
Comments

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • All comments will be reviewed by one or more moderators before being posted to the site. This should only take a few moments.
  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed. Commenters who repeatedly violate community guidelines may be suspended, causing them to temporarily lose their ability to engage with comments.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.
Cannabis pro newsletter