I once worked for a Senior Vice President who had no plan. Really, he had no plan for where his business was headed. To make sure his peers never figured that out, he barked out orders in meetings. His team was constantly working on some tactical project. When they were done, he was never satisfied and told them to redo their work. There was lots of activity, tons of frustration, and zero achievement.
There are bad managers, and then there are bad managers who belong in a special class all their own.
Spend enough time in the workforce, and you are bound to run into one of these characters. Their presence is often a warning sign of deeper problems within an organization. They make life difficult for themselves, and it seems like their life goal is to make everyone around them crazy too.
Managers have a great opportunity to lead and be a positive role model to others. However, too many do not take their role or their responsibility seriously.
They do not recognize the potential impact -- good and bad -- they can have on others, and they squander the opportunities they have to make a difference.
As the CEO of Aha! I now have the privilege of handpicking the leaders in the organization. And I look for managers that work really hard and treat others with openness and respect. But earlier in my career, I did not get to choose who I worked with and I witnessed the collateral damage that some bad managers can cause to others.
Now that I have some distance from those situations, I can see that the most troublesome ones often fell into three categories of craziness: the rock collector, the double-speaker, and the life-styler.
You may not be able to completely escape these crazy managers throughout your career. However, here is some advice on what to watch out for and when you should start running the other direction, and hopefully you will emerge with your own sanity still intact:
The rock collector
The Senior Vice President that I mentioned above fit this category. The rock collector has no idea what he really is looking for. But that will not slow him down. Instead of moving forward with purpose, his direction seems to change course each day. He sends you chasing after a goal that was never defined, and thus impossible to achieve. If you have a rock collector for a manager, you will rarely please him and your self-confidence can waver over time.
I call him a rock collector because no matter what you bring back, it is never the right rock. It's too smooth, or shiny, or even too large. How can you avoid the scavenger hunt each day? Try to pin him down on specific, measurable goals that you can achieve to mark your progress. Ask him to clearly define what he wants you to accomplish.
This manager is well-versed in the art of duplicity and manipulation, always looking out for #1. Depending on who she is talking to, she will share whatever she thinks the other person wants to hear. She is so used to double-talk that she does not even realize she is doing it.
If you have this type of manager, you may have to dig deep to find the truth and compare notes with others to determine which story is most accurate. My suggestion: Learn her body language, which will betray her dishonesty. And take careful notes whenever she gives you a direction. When she flip-flops, you have the evidence and can kindly point out that she is flipping around like a fish out of water.
This manager is joie de vivre personified, and his careless attitude towards life extends to work. While he does not want anything to come between him and his fun, he seems blissfully unaware of everyone else's hard work on his behalf. If you have something important to discuss, you have to catch the life-styler in between long lunches and hours spent on the links.
Someone needs to be the adult, so it might as well be you. Step up, and be equally cheerful but firm. Explain that you need answers, and that the work cannot be accomplished until you have them. Your boss will hopefully realize his laziness is costing the organization and will start behaving more responsibly. Your co-workers will be silently celebrating your courage as well.
These managers are not necessarily bad people. They have simply picked up bad habits or never learned how to lead well.
But their poor management style poses a real hazard to the rest of us who are trying to just do our jobs and make our way in the world.
My final word of advice: Stay away from crazy managers if you can. But I know that is silly because it's not always possible. So, when you figure out your boss is nuts, increase the transparency in your communications, work more broadly across the organization, do your job to the best of your ability.
Most crazy bosses survive about a year. So, try to wait him out. But if he carries on for more than a year, it's time to put your running shoes on and start stretching out.
How have you coped with a crazy manager in the past?