65 – good vs. bad – managers, that is

If I were actually working at a job yesterday, I would have gone home at noon and not gone back to the office. Having no one to report to that would care if I was gone for half a day, I just laid down and stayed there until about 4:30 when I felt better.  Guilty, but better. Got me to thinking about what some of the managers I’ve had over the years would have said about the situation.

Side Note:  The phone rang twice while I was asleep – but there was no one there by the time I answered it. Call this afternoon again if it was you. 😀

Back to my subject, it would be so much easier to deal with people if we could pigeonhole them, you know? The honest truth is that few of the managers I’ve pegged as “bad” were all bad, and the ones I’ve canonized as great managers weren’t always perfect either.  One of the best managers I ever worked with on both the personal and professional level still struggled with how to keep people motivated and productive–but she and I together built a great team together. Taught me a lot. Still love that woman–one of the truly good people in this world.

Looking back down the years, I can come up with only one thing that good managers have and bad managers do not. Good managers question themselves, and internalize the responsibility to manage well–they believe there is room for improvement, and they search for ways to do so.  Even more important, they involve their employees in that search, and take on board the employees’ suggestions for change.

On the other side, first–very few people in this world look in the mirror while they’re brushing their teeth and cackle gleefully about the chaos and dissent they plan to sow throughout their work day. They only exist in telenovelas and soap operas. Most bad managers honestly believe they are good managers. But, the one thing they have in common is that they tend to externalize those things that go wrong, rather than believing they may be the problem.  It’s always the company’s fault, their manager’s fault, the employees’ fault, anyone or anything that isn’t them. That externalizing of the responsibility leads to statements that may SOUND like they’re taking blame. Anything but: “Perhaps I just hire the wrong people! They all just seem to fall apart, get sick all the time… they’re unable to complete a project, they never come back to me to tell me that things are going wrong, and not one of them will step up to lead. I don’t know what’s wrong with them!”

Few people past 30 are ever going to tell a bad manager what is actually happening. Most of us, in the first flush of idealistic youth, end up saying what no one else will say. Once. What we learn from that is that telling a bad manager they are a bad manager basically signs your pink slip. For that matter, telling anyone on your team that your manager is a bad manager will also earn you dismissal; it is just a matter of when you’re going to be gone, not if. While a bad manager will never acknowledge that you are correct, they will not tolerate the presence of a truthteller any longer than they must. Unfortunately, I took a lot longer to lose my idealism than most.

Aphorism for today: ♦ Sometimes you’re the windshield, sometimes you’re the bug. ♦

Not even sure why I’m talking about all this–if there’s one thing that I’ve found, it’s that the good managers don’t read something and say “hey, I’m a good manager!” and, on the flip side, bad managers don’t believe they are, either.   I’ll leave it that–spending too much time in that headspace is discomfiting.

What I have finally learned is that your expectations of yourself and others are paramount in anyone’s drive to be the best possible manager.  It’s much like the emergency instructions from the flight attendant at the beginning of each flight–in an emergency, get your own oxygen mask on and then assist others with theirs. The only one who’s going to make you a good manager is you.  And the only way to truly help your team, your department, your company and your own career, is to never rest on your laurels. Keep trying to be the best manager that you can be. You’re going to make mistakes, we all do–but you can’t win if you don’t play.

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