Four types of problematic managers – and how to help them succeed

This is especially true for senior managers when businesses go through a big change process, which can alter every aspect of our working lives. 

Managers are often responsible for the effective delivery of projects, instigating and driving change for the business. So when they struggle with the very thing they are employed to deliver, they can often hide their fears and worries. 

To support our managers, we need to be able to identify how they are coping. Part of this is to understand the personalities and characteristics of managers in our own organisations. After all, we know that those who need support the most, are the least likely to ask for it.

Here are some top tips for identifying different managers and how to help them effectively deliver change.

(1) Don’t avoid the avoidance manager

Managers who exhibit avoidance tendencies can be difficult to identify. Speak directly to them and you will find that everything is rosy. Their concern is about maintaining their own professional reputation and asking for support can often be construed as a sign of weakness. Feedback on 360° appraisals and employee engagement scores can help to identify managers who struggle with the very basics of strong people management. 

To support them, don’t be a leader who avoids the issue. Create a space, time to talk through the change project and break it down into bite size chunks. Give your manager clear parameters and deliverables about where they can succeed. Their confidence will come back and they’ll become positive advocates for the change process. 

(2) Get critical managers to reflect on their own behaviour

Overtly critical and often brusque, these managers will not tolerate any type of behaviour that does not meet their exacting standards. 

Rather than assess the situation and think about the most productive way to handle or address an issue, they will be forthright, frequently confronting in public, berating and belittling them in front of their colleagues and team.

Getting a bullish manager to understand that their approach might not be in the best interests of the company and team is tricky in its own right. Self-reflection is not their strong point and understanding that they could be the heart of the problem will indeed be a difficult conversation. But it needs to be done. 

A bullish manager might meet business targets initially, but their impact on the engagement and self-esteem of the people they work with means that they will often lose good people and projects can derail at critical junctions. 

(3) Delegating is essential for the micro manager

These managers will regress instantly to micro managing when they have an issue within their team. Instead of seeking to understanding “why” someone is behaving in a particular way, they will revert to “what” they can do about it. 

Delegation and coaching skills are important for managers who tend to micro manage. They need to learn that letting go is the best route to moving forward. They have to recognise that if they don’t give their people their trust, the team will become frustrated and talented people will leave. They need the skills to delegate responsibly and coach their people to better performance. 

(4) Prioritising people for the “too busy” manager

You know the type. They’re far too busy to handle problems. However, unlike avoidance managers, they will want to turn over any issues to another department. 

In our research, we found that the first point of call for 17 per cent of managers would be to ask the HR department to handle difficult situations. Well, at least we know there is an issue. But now we face the difficulty of persuading managers to let go of their to-do lists and prioritise their people. 

Organisations will need to put in place learning to help these managers reprioritise their workload and focus on what is really important  – and much of this is about effectively managing their people and their team to deliver change projects effectively.

Gary Wyles is managing director of Festo Training & Consulting.

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