Top 10 big bad boss blunders

Lately, I've received a rash of reader correspondence about mistakes managers make. What do your employees really think about you? Check it out. Could one of your employees have written in about you? If you recognize yourself in this top ten list, don't get even, get better.
Here are the Top 10 Big Bad Boss Blunders:

1.    He or she says, "Do it because I'm the boss and I said so!" Believe it or not, there are still managers out there who resort to this retort. They don't like employees who question them or challenge their ideas. They tend to be insecure about their position and don't know how to get people to do things. When an employee pushes back with a concern or question, they feel personally threatened.


Manager's tip: You will win more respect and cooperation by listening closely to challenges from your employees. Usually, they aren't meant to be an attack. Most employees are questioning the idea because they really don't think it will work or they don't understand it. Taking the time to understand their concerns will pay off in cooperation and successful implementation.


2.    He or she flip-flops on decisions. Since the manager is the one who sets direction for employees, it can be very disruptive and frustrating to report to an indecisive manager. Projects start and stop, decisions are made and not followed through, promises can't be relied upon, and trust and confidence are inevitably lost.


Manager's tip: Spend time with your team to develop a core strategy and objectives. This will help them know what general direction to take, in spite of shifting priorities. Determine which strategies are "absolutes". Use your team to help you think through issues and priorities. By keeping them well informed and making them a part of the decision-making, you will benefit from their collective wisdom and they will be able to help you chart a course.


3.    He or she micromanages employees' jobs. Micromanaging can be an effective technique in certain situations, such as when a new assignment is given to an employee. But when a manager hovers over employees on every detail of their jobs, it is stifling and irritating. They second guess their decisions, force them to make endless revisions and question their every move.


Manager's tip: Do a good job on the front end when setting expectations about the results you expect. Then back off and let your employees have some room to do the job. If the employee is new or the project is difficult or high risk, set up some checkpoints to follow-up on progress.


4.    He or she steals credit for employees' ideas. Although most employees recognize that the work they perform for a company is community property, they hate it when they don't get any recognition for their contribution. The biggest blunder here is when a manager presents an employee's hard work to senior management and passes it off as their own. Eventually, the smart employees will leave or find a way to circumvent their manager and make sure the right eyes see copies of their work.


Manager's tip: Rather than look smart, you will look sleazy if you steal credit from the people you are supposed to be coaching and leading. You will look like a great manager if you are quick to deflect personal praise and attribute it to your team or employee, even if you really did do some of the work yourself.


5.    He or she doesn't learn enough about what their employees do. In today's workplace, it's typical to find managers leading a technical area they know little about. The problem isn't that the manager doesn't have the technical skills or background. The blunder occurs when the manager doesn't make any effort to learn enough about the new area to lead it effectively. He or she ends up using the wrong vocabulary, misrepresents the team's ideas, makes the wrong decisions...and ends up losing respect.


Manager's tip: Take the time to sit with employees and ask them what they do. If possible, shadow them on the job or in the field. Admit when you don't know an answer and use your team as a collective advisory group. The advantage of not having the background is that you are forced to rely on the wisdom of your team. If you recognize their expertise and tap it, productivity and ownership will soar.


6.    He or she practices "divide and conquer". Some managers are uncomfortable or insecure in front of their own group of employees. They feel outnumbered or exposed. They're worried that they won't know how to handle the dynamics of the team meeting. They fear looking stupid or out of control. Consequently, they tend to meet one- on- one. But it can really get ugly if they go to each person and say things about the others, in an attempt to win people to “his side”. Another blunder is to approach each person until someone agrees with the manager's idea and then announce that "everyone agrees". Employees talk to each other and the manager will be exposed as a manipulator.


Manager's tip: The best teams are built by working together and struggling through issues as a group. The richness of team interaction is what produces the group's best decisions and buy in. If you aren't comfortable running a team meeting, let others in the group help you. Rotate the facilitation role, bring in an outside facilitator, if needed, or just struggle through it. You won't get better at it by avoiding it.


7.    He or she makes commitments for the team without checking with them first. These managers are afraid to say no to anyone, especially top management. They promise the world and worry about how they are going to fulfill their promises later. Unfortunately, when their employees protest that the promise is going to be impossible or difficult to deliver, the manager just shoves it down their throat. What's worse, when problems occur later, they are the first to point the finger of blame at their own employees.


Manager's tip: There is nothing wrong with a stall tactic such as, "Let me get back to you on that. I want to make sure we can do a good job on this request. I wouldn't want to promise something to you, only to let you down later."


8.    He or she throws around past experience, or whatever they think makes them look smart. These managers are setting themselves up for a fall. They never miss an opportunity to remind their employees about their past company or lofty degrees. Then, when they make the inevitable mistake, their employees are smirking behind their back.


Manager's tip: No one likes to hear someone boast or brag about how great they are. In fact, it prevents your own employees from wanting to help you. They think, "Well, if he's so smart, let's see how he'll get out of this one." Rather than averting disaster, they will be tempted to let you stand in the middle of the tracks bragging, while a freight train approaches.


9.    He or she is patronizing or backhanded with rewards and compliments. This manager hands you your obligatory gold pen on your 10th anniversary and proclaims, "There now, hasn't it all be worth it?" Or, she says, "Here's your bonus. It would have been more if you had completed the Morgan Project."


Manager's tip: People aren't dogs who need to be patted on the head and thrown a bone. Rewards such as anniversary celebrations simply mark time an employee has chosen to dedicate themselves to the job. They should not be a substitute for genuine gratitude that is expressed every day for results, both for little things as well as big accomplishments. Make monetary rewards meaningful and let the employee bask in the glory of their contribution, without adding a negative qualifier.


10.He or she does a lousy job with feedback and performance reviews. Horror stories abound. One manager said, "Here. This is your performance review for the year. Sign it and give it back to me." Another rewrote the performance review after a disagreement with her employee and even downgraded the category of "general company knowledge". In another case, the Human Resources Department was notorious for never providing their staff with performance reviews, even though they held the rest of the organization accountable for doing them.


Manager's tip: Employees want to know how they're doing. And they want more than fifteen minutes devoted to talking about it once a year. They knock themselves out all year long, their contribution deserves some careful thought and discussion about what they did well and how the manager can help them grow to reach their goals in the future.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616,, or 
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