Good Manager, Bad Manager

Posted on June 6, 2018

Following on from my Blog on the Culture Shock of Transition, there are many aspects that can contribute to that shock and I could blog on these for the next few weeks.  Over the past few days, I have had a number of conversations with friends and colleagues that are all struggling in their working environment, and the common theme is “mismanagement”.  I want to be clear that there are many great managers and leaders within civilian life, and there are also poor leaders and managers within the Military (I know I served with a few!!), but in the main, there are substantially more poor managers in civilian life.  In this blog, I want to speculate on why that is the case, and also offer some thoughts on how to deal with it.

The conversations I have had recently are all about people being mismanaged and treated as a resource rather than as an individual.  The primary consideration for management is “getting the job done”.  For those of us who have been trained in the Adair Theory of Leadership, we know that the triumvirate of leading/managing a team is Task, Team, Individual and all three must be duly considered.  In civilian life, people are promoted into management positions for various reasons, and in many cases, there is little attention given to training in support of this promotion.  As a result, many of these people tend to concentrate on the delivery of the output and performance of the task as their primary focus and in the belief that this is what they have been promoted to achieve.  They are then bemused at the antipathy they receive from their staff and further do not address the issue of staff churn, which can be costly to a business.

Worse still, is the manager who does try to manage the individual, but then moves his concentration between the tree areas serially, rather than in parallel.  This leads to inconsistent managerial behaviour.  As an example, I was working in a sales role, and my manager was too “pally” with his team and preferred to be friends, but as we approached the end of each quarter, he became bullish and inconsiderate dipping into sales activities without the knowledge of the account manager trying to close them out making unachievable promises or empty threats to try and close the deal.  The first day of the new quarter, the pressure being released, he would then want a team lunch to rebuild the damaged relationships.  Needless to say, I did not stay in the role for very long.

As ex-Military, I think that we all have high expectations of our line managers from our experiences during our service.  While we can all think of a poor manager/leader, the standards are, in the main, higher and the parallel approach to the Task, Team, Individual model produced better results and the inherent sense of team – from the buddy buddy system all the way through to the higher formations – in other words, a greater commitment to perform and deliver based on the sense of belonging and a desire not to let down the wider team.  Transitioning to civilian life has an impact as we move into a completely different management dynamic.

There is also a clear inversion issue here too.  For those that leave the Forces into a management position, it is somewhat of a shock when one of your new colleagues say they will do something within a specific timescale and then, when they do not deliver, fail to understand your frustration.  Your management style has to be adapted to accommodate this “new” thinking, and in the meantime, you can start to work your “magic” on developing a stronger team ethic where everyone buys in to the team and mission.

So, in the event you are working for a manager that does not manage you in the way you would like, what are your options?  Here are some initial thoughts:

  • Clearly, you can vote with your feet, move jobs and take the opportunity to be successful elsewhere. This is obviously last resort, but might be necessary.
  • If the manager has a groundswell of negative feeling from the wider team, then, depending on your communication skills, relationship with them and your fortitude, it might be worth taking them to one side, perhaps a social environment, and sit and have a strongly caveated conversation with them. Say that you are not after their job, but you are keen to see the team become more productive, and see if he is interested in your thoughts on how to achieve it.  This is call giving them the opportunity to be successful.
  • You could see if you could arrange a team meeting to develop some cohesion, and after a while, suggest a team building event. This could be done yourself, based on your experience of similar events in the Military, or equally through one of the excellent businesses that can deliver a turnkey solution for your team.  On such organisation, Expert Leadership is a partner of ExForcesNet, and could provide such a course.
  • In extremis, you might need to address it through the formal complaints process within the employee handbook through HR. This process should be anonymous, but there are clear and evident risks in taking this approach.

The situation and relationship would of course determine your preferred approach, and I am sure that there are people within our community who would be happy to discuss and support.

How would you deal with a poor manager?  Have you had to deal with permanently under-performing individuals in your team?

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