Six Boss Behaviors that Drive Your Team Members Bonkers

Tense discussion with manager
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The senior leader I worked for was a brilliant engineer with dozens of patents to his credit for life saving products. If there was a Hall of Fame for people we don’t know who have saved scores of lives with their inventions, his picture would be near the entrance. He also had some interesting management habits that stretched our deep admiration and respect to the breaking point.

He preferred the open outcry form of summoning his minions to his office. Instead of using the phone or getting up himself and walking over to our workspaces, he would let go with an ear-piercing cry of, “ARRRRTTT!!!!” or “SUUUUUUZZZZZAANN!!!” guaranteed to create an adrenaline surge for everyone in the office, particularly the intended victim.

More than a few cups of coffee were spilled in the surge of energy that followed this aggressive summons to the office of the great leader.

Another fascinating habit of this bona fide genius was to suppress staff member contributions to his divisional meetings with the admonishment, “Don’t talk when it’s my meeting.” This would be invariably followed by the feedback a few days later of, “You sure didn’t have much to say the other day." The unwitting recipient of this feedback was left speechless yet again, for lack of any way to intelligently respond to the contradictory guidance.

Last and not least, in what was a low-point in self-identity in my career, this man escorted a group of his team members around an industry trade-show, introducing us everywhere he turned as his "little group of chicklets." I am not certain if he was referencing the candy or some form of young chicken, but regardless, it was a humbling moment.

 

While the benefits of working for and learning from this individual ultimately exceeded the pain created by his management quirks, for many of us, our boss’s bad habits are real morale busters. Here are six of the most annoying behaviors you might want to consider eliminating from your management toolkit.

Six Behaviors Guaranteed to Drive Your Team Bonkers:

1. Filtering Every Decision Through a Spreadsheet

I have worked for more than a few corporate types who cannot think without referencing cell C26 or building complicated worksheets complete with pivot tables. Yes, understanding the numbers is a part of the job, however, the view from the spreadsheet obscures reality and results in a nice, precise world that truly never emerges. And truth be told, anyone can arrive at the result they require in the spreadsheet simply by creatively adjusting the numbers.

Behavior Change: Yes, run your numbers, but look up from the screen, soak up the facts and nuances of the situation and recognize that the spreadsheet is just one view and one tool. Don’t use it to distort reality, assuage realistic concerns over risks or build a future that will never emerge. 

2. Engaging in the Relentless Pursuit of False Precision

I once worked in a global conglomerate where the senior managers required a crystal clear, detailed view of the business plan on a running three year basis. While this doesn’t sound overwhelmingly stupid, the level of detail required included in-depth monthly sales and expense forecasts for each month extending out the entire three years.

As you might imagine, these long-range fantasies had a habit of becoming subsequent year’s budgets in spite of the complete disconnect from market realities in the here and now.  Most firms struggle with accuracy beyond the next quarter. Most sales managers struggle with the forecast for the month. 

Behavior Change: Recognize that the time and energy consumed by the ridiculous pursuit of false precision burns critical time for refining strategies, meeting customers and exploring innovation opportunities. Strive to build processes that improve forecasting accuracy and yes, hold your teams accountable to building plans that have a basis in fact, but quit striving for false precision.

 

3. Stalling on Making Decisions

I had the confusing opportunity to report to two senior executives at one point in my career. Mary was a quick-to-decide manager with the perspective that nothing happened without a decision and wrong decisions were mostly easily corrected moving forward. Her counterpart, Bob, was incapable of  deciding where to go for lunch and for business decisions, he agonized for months over the smallest of issues. Imagine the fun when my issues crossed the boundaries of both of these bosses. Mary’s team flourished and Bob’s team members were reduced to clandestine meetings and secret decisions that deftly avoided drawing his attention.

Behavior Change: Accept that decisions are the life-blood of actions on your team. Focus on developing your decision-making skills by learning and employing deliberate processes to gather and assess data, frame options and evaluate risks. Engage your team members in the process and where possible, delegate decision-making authority. Just do not hold your team hostage to your own inability to make timely decisions. 

4. Acting Like a Wrinkly-Shirted Bridge Lizard

In researching my first book, I learned of the less than flattering label: "Wrinkly-Shirted Bridge Lizard" at one of the firms where we were interviewing managers. This particular retailer maintained an upper-deck in their stores hidden from customer view by one-way mirrors. The "Bridge Lizard: in question was the manager who would sit up there all day observing every move of the staff on the floor while drinking coffee and then write blistering memos on their missteps. Of course, this character never ventured further than the restroom and had no real idea what it was like to truly deal with customers in the store.

Behavior Change: Instead of serving as a critic, get involved with your teams, particularly in their interactions with customers. Spend time learning about and practicing coaching skills and learn the art of delivering effective constructive feedback. And don't forget positive feedback as well. Leading from on high is a sure-fire strategy for destroying credibility. 

5. Avoiding Tough Discussions

I was called in to coach an executive who struggled with confronting difficult issues. She was technically competent and incredibly experienced and well-educated, however, her aversion to ever talking about business problems or needed improvements was driving a wedge between her and her team. The common description of her approach was, “That’s an important topic and we will absolutely talk about it at the right time.” As you might imagine, it was never quite the right time.

Behavior Change: Provide ample opportunity for your team members to voice concerns and share ideas on improvements. While some of the conversations might be challenging, your role is offer support and to help knock down barriers to progress, not to be the barrier. 

6. Storing Up Feedback and then Dumping it All at Once

This particular manager is the one who shows up at your annual performance review and unloads everything you did wrong starting with the time period immediately following last year’s review. This “dump truck” feedback is not only worthless, but demoralizing to the receiver.

Behavior Change: Recognize that feedback has a short-lived shelf life. And remember that the purpose of feedback is to eliminate or improve negative workplace behaviors and to strengthen positive behaviors. Deliver feedback as close to the observed behavior as possible and always focus the behavior on the business, not the person. 

The Bottom Line:

The role of manager is challenging and frankly it is not a popularity contest. However, all of us have our quirks when it comes to engaging with others. You will be well served to seek out some objective feedback on your own habits and strive to eliminate those that stress your staff members unnecessarily. After all, you are all on the same side rooting for the same team.