Recently I finished up a teacher/counselor type position for low-income students. It was a combo summer program and then some Saturdays. I was with the program four semesters. This year we had a very nice wrap up ceremony with lunch, a talk from the big boss, etc., parents and students. A number of the students have been accepted into the college/university of their choice. Other students had gotten summer internships with the local university and others have gotten summer internships or jobs.
As a career counselor person, I spent endless hours with students telling them about community colleges, university, registrations, transfers, loans, grants, scholarships. Then, onto resumes, cover letters, presentations, interviews, selecting careers and how to physically get there. I was so happy to see that the students who stood up to get the rewards were primarily students from my class. Yeah!
My reward for all the hard work and preparation was a Starbucks gift card, lunch and a Go-Team speech. I had to think about this.
My thinking is that maybe the boss is scared if he rewards one (me) for good work, the others will get upset? Then, reward the others for good work too! Is that so hard? The end result is that I walk away from the experience feeling invisible and wondering why I tried so hard.
Although I am sure many students appreciated my efforts, I would really like to get some form of acknowledgement from the boss. Specifically, that I, as an individual (over and above the ‘team’) made a difference for these students and that they (management) recognize the contribution. I know I did a good job with those kids; but it feels like the sound of one hand clapping. Not good. So, that said, lets look as some of the ways (there are many) that managers fail to take care of their people. Ways in which managers…don’t manage. cew
25 Signs of a Bad Manager at Work in 2023
You found our list of warning signs of a bad manager.
Signs of a bad manager are undesirable leadership traits that cause friction between supervisors and employees. For example, micromanagement, conflict avoidance, and credit-stealing. The purpose of pointing out these qualities is to help managers avoid pitfalls and lead teams more successfully.
These traits are similar to bad leaders, the opposite of signs of a good manager and are examples of poor team management skills. Ineffective leadership can have a significant impact on employee morale and workplace toxicity.
This post includes:
- warning signs of a bad boss
- signs of a weak manager
- characteristics of a bad manager
- toxic manager traits
- incompetent manager traits
Here are the biggest red flags.
List of signs of a bad manager
From poor feedback to favoritism to conflict avoidance, here are qualities effective leaders avoid.
Micromanagement is one of the most-often-cited characteristics of a bad manager. Instead of giving staff the time, space, and autonomy to perform, micromanagers over-observe and dictate every part of the process. These bosses demand constant updates that can further delay the result and make the work tedious.
This approach can squash creativity and take a toll on productivity. Employees struggle to find joy and meaning in the work they lack ownership and control over. Not to mention, the need to oversee and sign off on every idea or action conveys a lack of trust.
Leaders are accountable for the team’s results. Anxiety about potential outcomes often leads inexperienced or insecure managers to monitor and control each step of the operation.
How to fix it: Trust your team! Dial back the checking in. Once you and the team decide how often updates should occur, try to stick to that agreement as closely as possible. Oftentimes when managers provide the staff with autonomy and space, employees repay that trust by meeting and exceeding expectations.
2. Failure to give feedback
Delivering feedback is one of leaders’ most important responsibilities. Managers’ primary role in the workplace is to evaluate and guide employees. A manager who neglects to provide performance insight ignores this duty, and the silence denies employees the chance to grow.
Some managers dread confronting staff with less-than-stellar reviews. Others only offer criticism without recognizing positive contributions. Then, some supervisors assume that the occasional “good job,” is sufficient without further detail. Some managers neglect to give feedback at all. Or, perhaps the comments are too harsh, or too unclear. Feedback is an art that many managers struggle to master.
How to fix it: Schedule regular formal reviews on a yearly, quarterly, or monthly basis. Also, make opportunities for more informal evaluations, like one-to-one check-ins or feedback Slack channels. Roleplay and practice delivering constructive comments outside of work to grow more comfortable with the process.
3. Inability to say “no”
There are a surprising number of individuals in management positions who are uncomfortable saying “no.” These individuals have trouble standing up to their bosses, other departments, and sometimes, even their own team.
The manager should be a voice of reason and should not be averse to provide pushback. A manager who is afraid of offending is more worried about keeping the peace than the long term effects of agreeing.
How to fix it: Realize that accommodating coworkers is not a zero sum game. Pleasing one party might inconvenience another. Make decisions out based on business interests, not politeness. Practice saying no so that you grow more comfortable asserting yourself and advocating for your team’s needs.
4. Absence of empathy
A lack of empathy is one of the worst toxic manager traits primarily because this quality lays the foundation for other bad behaviors. A manager who fails to recognize feelings of employees may not think twice about gossiping, screaming, or overworking staff.
In its most extreme form, this quality appears as workplace abuse. However, more subtle manifestations of this trait include bosses guilting employees over taking sick leave or flaunting wealth in front of minimum wage employees.
How to fix it: Practice mindfulness and self-awareness. In times when you cannot show kindness, then give your employees space. Make an effort to observe and imagine other folks’ feelings. Search for the root of your lack of compassion. Trust yourself to draw the line between being nice and being taken advantage of.
Leaders should actively discourage gossip to promote a healthy team culture. Spreading rumors and hearsay does not set a good example for the staff.
Not to mention, the act tanks trust. Employees who overhear a manager speculating about a colleague may worry about becoming the subject of such gossip. As a result, teammates will not confide in the manager, causing a rift in the relationship. Managers cannot lend support when they are unaware of team members’ struggles, and team members will not admit those struggles when suspecting the manager will not keep a secret.
Gossip has no place in inclusive workspaces, and managers should strive to make the workplace welcoming and safe for all team members.
How to fix it: Don’t do it. If you would not make the statement to the subject’s face, do not say it to a colleague. When other coworkers begin to gossip while talking to you, either correct the employees or leave the conversation.
6. Poor communication
Good managers keep in touch. Bad managers go radio silent. This occurrence is a problem especially when managers are based in separate locations, travel frequently, or if the team is fully remote.
Or, if the leader does communicate, the conversation is one-way. The boss sends an email or instant message, yet never responds to follow-up questions. This manager promises to call back later but forgets to pick up the phone.
The occasional delayed response is understandable, but this manager makes a habit of ghosting the team.
How to fix it: Stick to a communication schedule, even if you have nothing new to report. Set deadlines for important conversations, for instance, replying within 24 hours. Use a communication tool to make reaching out easier and more convenient.
Here is a list of remote work platforms to help you communicate.
7. Over-reliance on employee self-management
There is a difference between giving employees freedom to do their jobs and forcing them to fend for themselves. Good managers give employees autonomy and defer to their judgment, yet still observe and give input.
Bad managers are often unaware that decisions are even being made. These individuals never implicitly command employees to take the reins, yet never make a decision that might mean otherwise. Employees assume that the issue will continue unless someone takes actions, so the staff steps up and solves the problem out of a sense of duty. There are no instructions from the manager beforehand, and often, no thanks afterwards.
This behavior turns employees into managers without the pay or title. Assuming too much responsibility can make the staff feel overwhelmed, unappreciated, and resentful.
How to fix it: Distinguish between manager tasks and employee tasks. For instance, staff can make shift swaps but should not create the schedule, and mediating conflicts between coworkers is a manager’s responsibility. Hold regular meetings and check-in’s and remain aware of the day-to-day happenings of the job. Do not take advantage of employees’ eagerness to help or prove themselves.
Disorganization is one of the main incompetent manager traits. There is a fine line between being slightly scattered and being consistently disheveled. Disorganization becomes a problem when managers constantly forget details, lose documents, and miss meetings. This behavior sets a poor standard for the department, and can also cause extra work and for other team members.
How to fix it: Find or create a system that works for you. Take an hour or two at the start or end of each week to organize. Evaluate whether you need an assistant, or just need to get your act together.
You can also use scheduling software to help arrange your day.
9. Conflict avoidance
Conflict avoidance is one of the main signs of a weak manager. Achieving team harmony is a manager’s goal, however trying to avoid any type of disagreement often has the opposite effect. When managers squash squabbles without addressing the underlying causes, resentment can build and an even greater argument may arise down the line. Instead of trying to stamp out any sign of trouble, leaders should teach teams how to navigate and resolve disagreements respectfully. It is the role of managers to lead mediation, diffuse the tension, negotiate, and steer the group towards compromise.
Ignoring the issues will only procrastinate the problem until the situation reaches a boiling point.
How to fix it: Establish a mediation process early to provide a structure for problem-solving. Encourage productive communication practices and teach teammates how to hold respectful dialogues.
Managers may not be available to staff during all hours of the day. However, if teammates consistently feel as if their supervisor does not have time for them, then there is a serious problem.
How to fix it: Block out “office hours” and be available to staff during these times. Regularly check in with staff. You can also schedule regular one on one meetings to ensure all employees receive individualized attention.
11. Lack of delegation
The non-delegator is a bad boss in disguise as a good boss. The “jump-in-the-trenches” approach can earn staff’s admiration and loyalty during busy times, yet can also earn the team’s ire in slower seasons. Managers who insist on taking on tasks that teammates are capable of handling are one step away from micromanagers.
How to fix it: Realize that your role as a boss is to coach and guide employees, not to do everything yourself.
An ideal manager treats all team members equally. Bad bosses play favorites. These leaders may have personal relationships with direct reports, for instance, being related. Or, the boss may just like one employee more than the others. Preferences are not a crime, however special treatment is a cardinal manager sin. These leaders give out opportunities and privileges not based on merit or skill, but rather on personal feelings. Preferential treatment is discouraging and demoralizing for non-favored employees. There is no incentive to try or strive if reward and regard automatically go to the manager’s pet.
How to fix it: Be mindful of interactions you have with your staff. Make notes about privileges. If an employee pushes you for special treatment, then have a frank conversation about your need to stay impartial despite your close relationship.
Credit-stealing is one of the most obvious warning signs of a bad boss. These managers pass off employees’ ideas and efforts as their own, or fail to mention team members’ contributions. Sometimes, bosses behave this way by accident, merely forgetting to give staff a shout-out. Thanking employees in private yet never bringing up their name in public is not sufficient either.
Nobody wants to feel that their work goes unnoticed, nor that someone else is reaping the rewards of their intelligence and effort. Employees have aspirations and ambitions and are not simply a tool to make the boss look better. Staff deserve the chance to advance their careers. Hoarding the applause is unfair.
How to fix it: Be realistic in your role in the project and honestly evaluate who had the most influence on the end result. Pass along the praise and name your employees. Give your team credit, and they will likely give you credit in return. If you struggle to share the glory, then use the phrase “it was a team effort” as a baby step.
Most folks would agree that a manager who calls employees morons is not a good boss. Toxic leaders feel entitled to belittle staff and call employees names. Tearing other folks down masks their insecurity and makes the boss feel more in control.
How to fix it: Avoid name-calling. If making the comment to your own boss would result in your firing, then do not say it to your staff. Focus on solutions to the problem at hand instead of hurling character attacks.
There is a difference between accountability and blame. Accountability is action-based and focuses on the future. Blame revolves around labels and deals with the past.
A good manager holds teammates to high standards and points out when staff fail to meet expectations. When a misstep occurs, effective managers focus on finding solutions instead of hurling accusations. Good managers assign fault only in service of fixing an error, not to make a judgement on the employee’s capabilities or character. Bad managers harp on mistakes and can sink morale and productivity. These bosses’ first instinct is to point fingers and shame rather than analyze the issue.
How to fix it: Prioritize a solutions-based approach. Focus more on how to fix the problem than who caused it.
16. Excessive anger
Type “bad boss” into a Google Image search, and approximately half of the results will show managers screaming at employees, often with a megaphone. The cartoonish stereotype of a mean manager is always in a foul mood, waiting for an opportunity to yell at employees, usually for an issue that is not the employee’s fault.
Plus, when the boss explodes, the delivery overshadows the message. Employees will dwell on the confrontation instead of considering the message.
How to fix it: Learn to pause before reacting. Practice meditation, breathing exercises, and other anger management techniques. Plan an escape route in case you need to cool down before responding. If the anger persists, then consider seeking professional help.
17. Poor listening habits
Bosses are busy. Managers can easily get distracted when there are one hundred things running through their minds. However, when poor listening habits become a pattern, problems arise. Employees are unlikely to feel heard or valued when managers interrupt or make team members explain for the fifth time. Having repeat conversations wastes time and causes frustration. Plus, half-listening can lead to misunderstandings and mistakes. Most importantly of all, bad listening hygiene sends the message that managers do not care about the staff.
How to fix it: Practice active listening tactics, such as repeating phrases back to the employee. If busy or distracted, then reschedule the conversation for a better time. Make an effort to hear and understand employees.
18. Tunnel vision
Managers serve as links between teams and the rest of the company. Effective managers act as liaisons that translate and compromise between the organization and the group. No department operates in a vacuum. Decisions that inconvenience or may not make sense to one team might exist to keep operations running smoothly. Managers are often privy to information that employees are not aware of. Part of a manager’s duty is to relay the reasoning behind these choices to the team and help direct reports understand the bigger picture.
How to fix it: Think on a grander scale. Pretend you’re getting transferred to a different department tomorrow, and ask yourself whether or not your new colleagues would welcome you if you acted this way. Build relationships with coworkers in other departments and communicate regularly. Forming a rapport will help you empathize with colleagues more.
The role of managers is to unite the workforce around a common mission, yet some bosses pit co-workers against each other. This behavior sometimes comes from a misguided notion that rivalry will elicit the team’s best performance, when in reality over-competition among peers prevents proper teamwork.
While this sort of aggressive persuasion can be quite effective, it comes at the expense of eroding employees’ trust. Real managers motivate, not manipulate. The difference between the two tactics is that motivation is rooted in honesty and benefits employees, while manipulation is sneaky and self-serving.
How to fix it: Be mindful of staff’s reactions and signs of resistance. Don’t ask them to do stuff beyond job description, and accept no when they do– Don’t beg– be clear and transparent– can also appeal to them by explaining reasoning–
20. Unquestionable authority
Authoritarianism is often cited to be the least effective leadership style. Bad bosses operate like dictators, demanding respect and obedience and punishing anyone who challenges their authority. The boss’s word is the way, and discussion or disagreement is not allowed. Employees become order-takers and learn not to ask questions or offer opposing ideas.
This atmosphere stifles innovation and creativity. A lack of checks on authority is also bad for the health of the organization. Bosses are not infallible at making poor choices, yet employees will not bring up concerns when conditioned not to speak up.
How to fix it: Foster two-way feedback and give employees advice. Acknowledge the ability to be wrong. Encourage debate and conversations. When enacting authority, explain your reasoning so that employees understand the logic behind decisions.
21. Unprofessional behavior
Unprofessional behavior is a catch-all for bad bosses. Sexism and racism are the most extreme iterations. Other examples include disregarding the dress code, slacking, disrespecting higher management, and excessively tending to personal matters on the clock. Left unchecked, these behaviors can embolden other employees to misbehave and ignore the rules. Such actions can also cause unnecessary conflicts and stress for staff.
22. No team building
Neglecting team building is not the worst thing a manager can do, but is also not the best. Ineffective managers make no efforts to help the staff get along. These bosses treat team members like individual employees, and ignore the lack of camaraderie or teamwork in the workplace. While any team member can take the initiative to plan outings or spark up conversations, it is ultimately the manager’s responsibility to turn the group into one cohesive unit.
These managers care more about reputation than reality. Shallow and insecure, these bosses are more concerned with being popular and well-liked than being effective. This leader may push the team to hit numbers and quotas just to look better to the big bosses and company at large, with no regard to worker wellbeing. Or, maybe these managers fudge the numbers altogether, or stage a setup that makes the workplace appear more functional than normal. Perhaps these managers pretend to be nice to staff only when higher ups or coworkers are around.
On the more innocent side of the scale, the manager may try to be a “cool boss,” and gain approval. These individuals aim to be well-liked rather than respected. They believe that their image and reputation take precedence over actual results.
How to fix it: Choose meaningful standards of measurements. Angle for results over good advertising, even if those results take time to materialize. Also, solicit honest feedback from peers and staff. When you receive feedback regularly, you will be less obsessed with impressing others or avoiding scorn.
24. Date or hit on staff
Many companies have rules against managers dating subordinates, for good reason. The power imbalance between bosses and employees means that the pair can never be on equal footing. Skeptics say that companies primarily aim to avoid lawsuits, yet organizations also try to protect staff who might feel obligated to date a boss to avoid career repercussions.
Bosses who date employees against company rules almost universally fall into the bad manager category. This behavior is dishonest and endangers the employee and the company.
Also, a manager serially dating subordinates can signal a lack of boundaries and professionalism.
25. Quiet firing
Quiet firing is when a manager disengages from an employee’s happiness and growth in the workplace. This concept is a clear sign of poor management, and can be very destructive to an organization’s morale and productivity. An easy way to spot quiet firing is when a manager continuously reschedules or cuts short 1 on 1 meetings with a direct report.
Learn more about how quiet firing works.
Inexperience causes many young supervisors to exhibit weak manager skills. However, leaders of any age are prone to personality flaws and bad habits. Plus, bosses are human, and humans have bad days. However, when the bad days outweigh the good, chances are that the leader is not a good boss. The good news is that self-improvement is possible and almost all flaws are fixable. With self-awareness and hard work, bad bosses can become better. The only truly bad boss is one who is unwilling to change.