The Leadership Hole

Article number 45, words 500 apx, The article has been written by Carmen Codreanu, I would like to thank her for writing the article.

We all had our share of incompetent or bad managers. An incompetent manager has a direct impact on one’s motivation and productivity. When mismanaged, employees will complete their tasks with minimal effort or fail on their assignments, and although they might not walk out the door, they will mentally check out.
Because it’s not that obvious, it’s important to understand the contextual forces that contribute to bad leadership.

Like all people, managers have strengths and weaknesses. To assess manager quality, we need a good metric. But unfortunately, we are lacking such metrics, collectively. The business environment doesn’t foster good leadership because ‘making’ good leaders takes time, it’s hard and expensive. It would take a tremendous effort to create the right context for leadership and invest in people. Let’s consider company A that identifies eight criteria for leadership. Will this company train a number of people and promote as leaders only those who meet the respective criteria? If yes, how would this approach fit with today’s reality, where companies grow more rapidly than they once did? When companies grow at a fast pace, it creates a managerial vacuum that pulls people upwards. This is how people get promoted beyond their capabilities, and exactly because they lack what’s needed to succeed in such positions, leaders are set up to fail.
Let’s take the case of company B, listed on the stock market. The company has public reporting obligations (disclosing its financials regularly) which affects the investors’ confidence, and internally creates pressure on the leadership to deliver fast results. This has deep repercussions on the game played by HR, Marketing or Sales, for example. Under the pressure of delivering fast results, managers will not think strategically long term, nor will they bother to invest in people. Instead, they will use the people to get quick profits in this predetermined game which becomes a game of survival. People do what they are incentivized to do.

A good leader holds a strong belief in human potential and development – both their own, and their people’s. Being a successful leader requires energy, grit and courage. A good manager knows his area very well (technical expertise) and is capable of managing the complexity of the status quo and initiating change on issues in and beyond his direct area. He is emotionally intelligent. He is a strategist with a vision and drives his team towards achieving it. He cares about his people and supports them, managing to align individual behaviour with organizational goals. Great leaders have no interest in proving themselves.
A bad manager can take many shapes, from being insecure, incompetent,a poor communicator, can have a fixed mindset or use the company as a vehicle to prove his greatness. He fails to support and engage with his team, but still avails the benefits conferred by his title. He may have a big ego or vested interests, which always trumps his people. The most common types of bad managers are those narcissistic, micromanagers and absentee leaders. Let’s zoom in.

a. Narcissistic
The narcissist manager thinks he’s at the center of the universe, seeing himself superior, and spends a lot of time grooming his fame. He needs constant attention and admiration. His goal is to achieve power, influence and success. He has an exaggerated sense of entitlement and is quick to claim others’ achievements. He has a hard time if criticized. He is insensitive to employees’ needs and aspirations. The consequences on the team: stress increases, productivity plummets, and the overall job satisfaction is diminished.

b. Micromanager
The micromanager tells employees what to do and how to do it and then control every little thing along the way. He disempowers his team members and deprives them from freedom. Consequently, the employees grow dependent and their confidence is undermined. Given that the authority lies with the micromanager even on most trivial matters, micromanagement results in inefficiencies such as delays and constant project bottlenecks. And in some cases, in burnout.

c. Absentee leader
These leaders are disengaged, providing little to no sense, direction, feedback. The absentee leader doesn’t act like a leader, simply being absent from his responsibilities, does not build teams and struggles to engage talents. He can be someone who doesn’t know how to lead or does not care, or has some vested interest, communication is not their suit. Under his leadership, teams will feel demotivated, lost and directionless.

Working for a bad manager can take a toll on one’s health and happiness. It’s key to unhook from emotion and get to a point where it’s just the situation, and understand that you don’t have to be miserable because of it.

Look at the situation objectively
When we label our managers as incompetent we tend to close off and we no longer approach them as someone who might have valuable ideas. We see them as lesser minds, lose empathy and consequently disengage with them. Despite all your instincts, try approaching from a place of inquiry (rather than angry) and see what happens.

Give solutions (rather than candid feedback)
Because of the power dynamic, it’s not easy to tell your manager what he’s doing wrong and how it’s hurting you. It’s important to be honest, but we need to take the possible consequences of our honesty into account. Direct feedback puts the person in the spotlight, causing him to get defensive. Instead of reinforcing what he is doing wrong, try to give solutions. Tell the manager what he could do to make your life easier, what you specifically need from him for you (or your team) to operate effectively.

Understand if there is a value mismatch
Sometimes it is not just the manager, but the organization as a whole that makes us unhappy. So seek to understand the culture: do they appreciate what is really important in terms of values, proper behaviours and technical depth, or do they rather reward glibness and polish?

Lastly, it is better to quit strategically, not emotionally. Your relationship with your manager determines your path of success, but it’s not the yardstick for your value. If you know you are doing a good job and you have people to endorse you, you are doing well. Make peace with the situation while you are there, and decide when is time to move on. Think about what a good future looks like? What kind of things do you enjoy doing and what credentials do you need? Get a plan and get out of there.


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