team leaders

Webinar Recap: Transforming Bad Managers Into Great Team Leaders

By Shane Metcalf

In a recent study, 56% of American employees said their boss was mildly or highly toxic. In another study, three out of four employees said their manager was the worst and most stressful part of their job. Being a “bad manager” is counterintuitive, especially in today’s business climate, when employees crave authentic relationships and mentorship from team leaders.

Likewise, companies should invest in employees bringing their top talents and creativity to work each day, particularly since they face increased global competition and a pace of business (driven by technology) that is constantly speeding up.

At the same time, unemployment rates are historically low, so companies are competing for and even poaching A-players from other orgs. You’d think in this situation, team leaders would want to create a supportive and energizing environment to retain people and to help everyone at the company prosper.

But the stats on bad managers indicate that this isn’t happening. Why the disconnect? To get some insights on what makes a bad, good, or great manager, I talked with Thad Peterson of The Predictive Index, a platform and methodology solution designed to help companies hire and manage more effectively by understanding how people think and work.

In this webinar, we dive into The Predictive Index’s recent People Management Survey of over 5000 employees in all industries, and outlined tips on how to become one of the great managers.

Bad managers rule through fear

As noted, most people don’t start off intending to be a bad boss. And why would they? Having a team that hates you detracts them from achieving their goals and ultimately diminishes your own success. If you rule by fear, your team may accomplish tasks, but the degree of creativity and communication will be affected by the lack of psychological safety. Fear-based management may drive performance for a time, but nobody can handle that environment for very long.

The Predictive Index study revealed that 77% of people with a bad manager will look to leave their company in the next 12 months. Perhaps more dangerous than outright quitting are employees who “quit in place,” still showing up, but not bringing their true talents to the job.

While you may think of bad bosses as being fire-breathing dragons, being intimidating is not the only way to be viewed as ineffective.

According to The Predictive Index, the five top traits of a bad boss are:

1. Doesn’t communicate clear expectations
2. Plays favorites
3. Doesn’t show concern about personal development of employees
4. Bad mouths people behind their backs
5. Isn’t open or interested in employee feedback

Bad managers can usually be categorized as selfish and not self-aware. They do not have the skills needed to be effective, which often happens when great individual contributors get promoted to lead teams. Those individual contributors may think they know how to lead, but the skills that led to their career success don’t translate to leading others.

Other managers may have learned ineffective or outdated techniques from previous team leaders and either follow a command and control style or go the other way, with a permissive style that doesn’t establish direction or create accountability.

Becoming a “bad manager” is often the result of an organization that is not intentional about leadership development. For example, when otherwise decent managers are under stress and don’t feel they have the time to coach employees, but only to deliver results.

Others may not even know that they are being ineffective or hindering performance. Worse, even if they do know, they may not care. Because these managers are not open to feedback, they are not likely to improve their skills without intervention.

From bad to good managers

While bad managers are selfish and may make unfair decisions, good managers demonstrate integrity.

The five top traits of a good manager are:

1. Has a strong work ethic
2. Is honest
3. Has a sense of humor
4. Is confident
5. Has a positive attitude

A good manager leads by example and inspires the team to behave in a similar way. The positive news from this list is that many of these traits can be developed if they are not already innate. Even a sense of humor, as in not taking yourself too seriously, can be enhanced by looking at the big picture of a situation and finding the upside.

The makings of great team leaders

Some team leaders go beyond just setting an example based on their own behavior. Those great leaders intentionally work on developing the skills of those on their team.

According to the survey, great managers:

1. Motivate others
2. Set and communicate clear expectations
3. Care about employees’ career and personal development
4. Help employees see the meaning of their work
5. Make good decisions

Great managers have both an inward focus that guides them to be thoughtful people and do meaningful work, but they also have an outward focus that invests in others around them. Rather than having a transactional relationship with employees, a great manager seeks a transformational relationship so that everyone grows. But great managers aren’t pushovers. They excel at setting clear expectations and communicating both the good and the bad, in a way that is still supportive and motivating.

While some great team leaders have innate emotional intelligence, others have to learn it. Emotional intelligence, also called emotional quotient or EQ, is the ability to understand other people and what motivates them. Being self-aware, motivating, having empathy, and being able to regulate your behaviors are some of the hallmarks of EQ. While these soft skills used to take a back seat in business, as companies try to engage and retain employees and create culture where innovation thrives, EQ is becoming indispensable.

What kind of manager are you?

Now that we’ve described the traits, how do you know if you’re a bad, good, or even great manager? You can look at your company data such as the retention rates, absenteeism, and productivity for your team. You can think about the culture of your team–look back on previous meetings to see how your team interacts, since that will be a reflection of your behavior. You can also look at employee survey data for your department, especially the comments.

If you have systems and processes that encourage feedback, such as 360° reviews or self-reviews, you can use these tools to seek information about your strengths and areas where leadership development could help. To become a better manager, you have to be open to hearing the positives and the negatives and accepting that those perspectives as valid.

Thad from Predictive Index suggests picking one behavior to improve, and work on it for a week. For example, you could practice the often overlooked leadership skill of active listening. Additionally, you can seek mentoring from great managers inside or outside your company or seek formal management training.

If you don’t have the time or interest to work on becoming a better manager, it’s important to at least assess the impact of your current management style. If you’re a struggling team leader, you (and your team) may find more satisfaction with you in the role of an individual contributor instead of a team leader.

Good and even already great managers can continue to improve their skills, especially by using tools that foster feedback and open communication. In the end, the best managers recognize that by enhancing their teams’ ability to do good work, they significantly increase their own ability to succeed as well.

team leadersShane Metcalf is Chief Culture Officer at 15Five, continuous performance management software that includes weekly check-ins, objectives (OKR) tracking, peer recognition, 1-on-1s, and 360°reviews. Shane has spent his career studying organizational & human development, which now translates into the high performing 15Five culture.

Image Credit: Suzanne D. Williams on Unsplash


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