Leadership advice

What are key differences between good and bad managers?

Advice from Jill Geisler, Bill Plante Chair in Leadership & Media Integrity, Loyola University Chicago and Freedom Forum Fellow in Women’s Leadership

In seminars, I’ve asked people to think about the best bosses they ever worked for. 

We list their skills, qualities and values. Inevitably, the chart includes:

  • Vision
  • Knowledge
  • Ethics
  • Emotional intelligence
  • Courage
  • Communication
  • Inclusion
  • Humor
  • Teaching/coaching
  • Encouragement
  • High standards 
  • Team builder
  • Honesty

It’s not uncommon for people to point out that they also learned from the worst bosses they’ve endured. Those lessons taught them what they never want to do — or be — as a manager.

Here are some of the things managers do that cause their team to put them on the “worst” list:

  • Lie
  • Play employees off each other
  • Be routinely volatile, unpredictable or AWOL
  • Hoard information
  • Leave important decisions and problems unresolved
  • Fail to plan, so that too many things become “emergency responses”
  • Act with bias 
  • Penalize staff for having personal lives and responsibilities
  • Cut staff and resources without altering workloads
  • Behave one way with staff and another in the presence of their own bosses
  • Take undue credit for their team’s ideas and accomplishments

Management is hard work. Even good managers make mistakes. But there’s a clear difference between those with promise and those who are pulling people down.

If you covet your supervisory role mainly because it comes with a pay raise and lets you give orders, you’re not likely to land on the “best bosses” list. 

If you see management as helping others succeed, if you’re a continuous learner (about both your craft and leadership skills), and if you’re open to feedback so you can build trust with your team, you’re on track to be described as one of the good ones.

Maybe even the best.

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