Bad managers: the rule rather than the exception

(Wanted, dead or alive: decent fucking management!)

“People leave managers, not companies.” ~ Marcus Buckingham & Curt Coffman, First Break All The Rules

I can count on one hand the number of good managers I have worked for. Not so bad, you say, until I tell you this: I have been working more than 30 years, and change jobs on average every 12 -18 months. So that’s around 30 jobs, with over 30 managers (as they move on and up). So say around 40 managers, give or take. If you do the math, around 15% of my managers have actually been good. And by good, I mean they had not only the hard skills like planning, strategy and financial management, but also the soft skills of having a high EQ (emotional intelligence), and excellent people and communication skills.

Monash University and the Australian Institution of Management surveyed employers and their staff a few years ago, and sadly, the results were similar to my experience, albeit with more rigour built into their research. Every year Seek conducts an annual survey which, without fail, states that the number one reason people quit their jobs is because of the management. In this country, at least, good management is sadly lacking.

What I don’t understand is why. This is the 21st Century. Now, more than any other time in history, we have access to knowledge, information and education. There is no excuse for bad management or poor leadership. My changing jobs so often is because the management is so bad, and generally, in organisations, no one (as  in the manager’s manager) wants to do anything about it. It simply goes into The Too Hard Basket. The bad managers stay, and are often promoted, and great staff usually leave, because experience tells them that nothing changes. Ever.

But back to my original point. Why – with all the management education available, all the inhouse leadership programs people are put through, all the mentoring, and performance management – is bad management still the rule, rather than the exception? Why – with all the rigour that goes into selection and recruitment – is bad management still the default position in an organisation? I currently work in learning and development, so I KNOW how much is spent on leadership and management education. Let me tell you: it would clear the national debt of a small African nation.

I’m probably oversimplifying, put it down to a couple of factors: individualism (as in self-interest) versus the culture of the organisation for whom managers work. Of the people around me in my workplace who are promoted, those that generally get ahead are the ones who don’t rock the boat; the ones who go along to get along. I call them The Beige People. If you ask them for their opinion on something, they will be very vague and politically correct. These are the people in management positions, who model how the organisation should behave. These are also the people who have had literally thousands of dollars spent on their leadership education while working for the organisation.

So there is something in the dominant culture of the organisation that is preventing the learnings of the education being implemented in the workplace. There is something in the upper echelons of leadership that filters down through the hierarchy which says loud and clear: “Don’t rock the boat!” or “It’s ok to be a bully!” or “Don’t even try to implement what you learn in your managmenet course here!” or “Forget about being an empathetic manager – that’s not how we do things!”. The dominant culture is a powerful, unseen force.

I would say in most of the organisations in which I have worked, there has been a problem with culture. Or more specifically, there has been a problem with culture that the leaders of the organisation have created and sustain. I would say that most people who leave their jobs because of the poor management can point to a culture that is inherently unhealthy. And given who has created and sustained the culture, it wont change, because there are vested interests involved. It is much easier in the scheme of things  to find a new job than to change the  culture of an organisation. I know. I’ve tried.

And unfortunately, despite all the research in the world, it is impossible to know what a manager is like to work with until you do.


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0 thoughts on “Bad managers: the rule rather than the exception

  1. I know all too well about the manager’s manager not doing anything about it. They stick up for the person they hired – you don’t have a hope in hell so you leave a job that you were good at and quite enjoyed.

    1. I hear ya, Jen! And I’ve been there! I also think that one of the worst things about having a bad manager is the whole reference checking thing in the recruitment process of finding a new job…!

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