20 Annoying Things that Successful Managers Do


Published 1/10/2015

Most managers think of themselves as decent managers, if not pretty darn good managers. We judge ourselves by our intentions, not our actions and results. We take too much credit for our success, and place too much blame on others or circumstances for our shortcomings. This isn’t bad or good, it’s just human nature.

When it comes to how we come across to others, including our employees, we are usually clueless – actually delusional.

Most “annoying” people have no idea that they annoy others, and if anyone ever dared point it out, they would most likely reject the feedback, rationalize it, or find even more serious faults in the person providing the feedback. This is especially true for successful managers. In fact, they may even attribute their success to their most annoying behaviors.

Bosses usually don’t get good, constructive feedback regarding their behaviors. No one likes giving or receiving feedback, and managers become more isolated from candid feedback the higher they rise in an organization.

If a manager does get constructive feedback, it’s usually job related and somewhat serious. After all, their bosses would not bring things up if they were just minor annoyances or pet peeves. In fact, they are advised against it by management “experts” like yours truly and HR. See The Difference Between Performance Problems and Pet Peeves.

Marshall Goldsmith, in his classic book What Got You Here Won't Get You There (a must read for any manager), did a fantastic job of describing, with real-life examples from his coaching practice, 20 of the most annoying things that successful leaders do. I would encourage any manager to do a self-assessment against these 20 behaviors.

If you don’t find yourself guilty of at least one of them, then you truly are delusional. I can assure you, if you anonymously asked others, they would find a few opportunities for improvement for you to work on.

Marshall Goldsmith’s 20 annoying behaviors of successful leaders:

1. Winning too much.
The need to win at all costs and in all situations - when it matters, when it doesn't, and when it's totally beside the point.

2. Adding too much value.
The desire to add our two cents to every discussion.

3. Passing judgment.
The need to rate others and impose our standards on them.

4. Making destructive comments.
The needless sarcasms and cutting remarks that we think make us sound witty.

5. Starting with "no," "but," or "however".
The overuse of these negative qualifiers which secretly say to everyone, "I'm right. You're wrong."

6. Telling the world how smart we are.
The need to show people we're smarter than they think we are.

7. Speaking when angry.
Using emotional volatility as a management tool.

8. Negativity, or, "Let me explain why that won't work."
The need to share our negative thoughts, even when we aren't asked.

9. Withholding information.
The refusal to share information to gain or maintain an advantage over others.

10. Failing to give proper recognition.
The inability to praise and reward.

11. Claiming credit that we don't deserve.
The most annoying way to overestimate our contribution to any success.

12. Making excuses.
The need to reposition our annoying behavior as a permanent fixture so people excuse us for it.

13. Clinging to the past. 
The need to deflect blame away from ourselves and onto events and people from our past; a subset of blaming everyone else.

14. Playing favorites.
Failing to see that we are treating someone unfairly.

15. Refusing to express regret. 
The inability to take responsibility for our actions, admit we're wrong, or recognize how our actions affect others.

16. Not listening. 
The most passive-aggressive form of disrespect.

17. Failing to express gratitude. 
The most basic form of bad manners.

18. Punishing the messenger.
The misguided need to attack the innocents who are only trying to help us.

19. Passing the buck. 
The need to blame everyone but ourselves.

20. An excessive need to be "me". 
Exalting our faults as virtues simply because they're who we are.

So did you recognize yourself in any of these? I hope so, because if you did, you are on your way to becoming a better leader. The really good news, according to Goldsmith, is that these are all easy to fix – you just have to stop doing them.