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19.03.2014Ten Things Only Lousy Managers Say

Sometimes it takes years to recognize the power in the leadership advice our former, lousy managers imparted.


Liz Ryan, Forbes.com

God bless the bad managers we’ve struggled under, those toads and zombies who taught us valuable lessons about leadership (How Not to Lead department). We still remember them years later, with their tempers and idiosyncracies.

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Sometimes it takes years to recognize the power in the leadership advice our former, lousy managers imparted.

Roman is a Finance leader. He came to one of our leadership workshops.

“Our twenty-two-year-old new Carmen hire asked me ‘Do you want to see this email message before I send it out?’ and I said ‘No, I trust you, go ahead and send it’ and she said ‘Oh, that’s great, my old boss made me show him every email before I sent it out.’

I said ‘Well, I trust you’ and I had a visceral memory of my first boss, John Finley, who wouldn’t let me send a two-line memo to another department without showing it to him before I sent it. John’s leadership style was oppressive. He micr0-managed everything. I learned from the hellish experience of working for him that unless somebody wants another set of eyes on their correspondence, it’s insulting and a waste of time to micro-manage your team members’ email messages. That’s what John Finley taught me, so hats off to him!”

Each of the wretched managers in our past was also a teacher, but that doesn’t mean we enjoyed the hours we spent surviving their supervision. Here’s our 2014 list of Things Only Lousy Managers Say, to remind you how not to communicate with your team and to cheer you on if you’re living under a less-than-sensational boss right now.

Ten Things Only Lousy Managers Say

I don’t pay you to think.

This tired wheeze is the calling card of a sub-par manager. As a matter of fact, you do pay me to think; it might be more accurate for you to say “I don’t like to hear what you think, because it makes me feel insecure when people are smarter than I am.” Just saying.

Sounds like a personal problem.

Lousy managers say this when they don’t want to hear about whatever’s on your plate or on your mind. Funny how last weekend, they were all “Bro this” and “Dude that” when they wanted you to come in on Sunday morning to finish the report the lousy manager couldn’t get done on his own. Keep these words in mind the next time the phone rings on a weekend.

It’s work – it’s not supposed to be fun.

Interesting theory. What are you going to tell the shareholders at the next annual meeting: “Here at Acme Explosives, the work isn’t fun but the employees have to do it, because they aren’t qualified to be hired anywhere else?” I’m not sure your shareholders will go for that Talent Management philosophy. In fact, work is meant to be fun and it has to be fun before anything interesting or investor-pleasing can happen. Every good manager knows this. Every lousy manager struggles with the concept.

You are not my only employee.

This means “I can’t handle my job,” but it might not be wise for you to point that out, or at least not until you’re safely employed somewhere else.

I’ll take it under advisement.

This is an archaic phrase that is only used in modern times but incompetent managers who don’t know how to say “I don’t really understand the idea you’re proposing, but I’d hate to expose myself for the idiot I am by saying so.” Consider your idea dead when a lousy manager says this, unless s/he can figure out a way to steal your idea and claim it as his or her own.

I don’t care what your priorities are – this is your new priority.

What wretched managers miss in their confusion is that all the work you do (and everything your co-workers do) is entangled and interdependent. When your manager says “Forget your old priorities” s/he’s betraying an ignorance of the laws of physics. That which gets pushed to the side will hurt you later, but sometimes it’s easier to grin and bear it and update your LinkedIn profile for a job search.

I didn’t make the rules. I just enforce them.

The rallying cry of weenies and bureaucrats everywhere, this is Lousy Managerese for “I try to kiss the appropriate tushes whenever I can; it’s actually my career strategy.” Everyone understands that their individual supervisors didn’t make the policies. We still expect them to voice an opinion, either “I’m sorry, I’m not going to bat for you/your idea” or “I love what you’re proposing, and I’m going to strategize how to get it sold upstairs.” That’s what a human being would say. Lousy managers delude themselves that there’s a setting on the dial halfway between Human and Zombie, but there isn’t.

If you don’t want the job I’ll find someone who does.

This is the mantra of the passive-aggressive lousy manager, who uses threats to keep his employees in line. The idea is that if you complain, you’re risking your job. This is the definition of fear-based management. Take any job to get away from a manager who says this, unless s/he’s quoting nineteen-forties movie dialogue.

This is the way we’ve always done it.

And God knows if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

In this economy, you’re lucky to have a job.

Sadly for lousy, fire-breathing managers everywhere, this isn’t true. Smart and capable people are in huge demand (Google the term “talent shortage” if you don’t believe me). Life is too short to work for cretins and reptiles. You are qualified and responsible, but not everyone will see what you bring. Only the people who get you, deserve you. Why waste your time with the rest?


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