The number one reason why people quit their jobs is because they can’t stand their boss.
So if you have people reporting to you, what things might you be doing to drive them crazy—and maybe even run them off? Here are five common complaints.
A recurring scene in Charles Schulz’s Peanuts comic strip has Lucy teeing up a football for Charlie Brown, only to yank it away at the last possible instant, leaving Charlie Brown kicking air—and falling flat on his back. She does that every time! Over and over!
I find that a lot of managers do the same thing with their reports: their people expect one thing from them, only to receive something else that proves utterly counterproductive.
Lucy takes a sort of deranged delight in her mean-spirited “game.” However, I don’t think most managers realize they’re frustrating their people. But it doesn’t matter what their intentions are. Their actual behavior is what counts. Because whether they mean to or not, they end up driving their people crazy.
Here are five ways that managers do that (there are countless others). Could any of these be said of you?
1. Constantly changing “the plan”
Imagine a football game where one team has the ball at the 2-yard line, and it’s fourth and goal. Suddenly one of the referees blows his whistle and yells, “Ball turns over on downs!”
“What?!” yells the quarterback incredulously. “It’s fourth down!”
“No, it’s first down for the other team.”
“What do you mean?! We get the ball for four downs!”
“Not any more. The rules have changed. Now you only have three downs to get a first down.”
At that moment, a riot would break out on the field!
Of course, that would never happen in a real football game. But something like that happens all the time in the workplace. People come to work and they look to their manager to establish the “rules of the game,” as it were—what everyone is supposed to do, how everything is supposed to be organized, how success is to be measured, etc. Once everyone is clear on the plan, they want to go execute against it.
But some managers have an uncanny way of changing the plan—not once in a while, but all the time. One day they put a new policy in place, then a month later they abandon that policy in favor of something else. This month, their focus is on “service,” next month they are championing “team spirit.” Today they want to know about everything that is going on, tomorrow they want to “empower” everyone to do more independent thinking.
Whatever the reason for those zigs and zags, the people under a manager like that conclude that their boss can’t make up his/her mind. And that drives them crazy! Because humans can’t stand to agree to one thing, and then find out later that the agreement no longer stands.
2. Failing to communicate
Remember the biblical story of the Tower of Babel? The people decided to build a tower that would reach to heaven, but God decided that wasn’t a good thing. So He confused their speech, such that no one could understand what anyone else was saying. The project immediately broke down, and everyone scattered across the face of the earth.
Today, poor communication still accounts for the vast majority of breakdowns between managers and their reports. That’s probably because poor communication can take so many forms: not making expectations clear; not informing people about critical information; not shooting straight and coming to the point; not making oneself clear and ensuring that others understand what one is saying; not listening; not paying attention.
Every person bears their own responsibility for how well they communicate. But managers have greater responsibility than anyone else because they have more power, and because their primary means of getting results is other people.
When managers fail to communicate, their reports begin to scatter. They begin to go away. They find ways to work around their manager. They find ways to ignore him/her. They find ways to get what they need without their manager’s input (or knowledge). If they get frustrated enough, they quit.
Poor communication drives people crazy. Because at a core, primitive level, humans want to understand and to be understood. Take that away, and all they have left is fear.
3. Assuming their people don’t care
A popular saying among workers in the failed economy of the old Soviet Union was that “the government pretends to pay us, and we pretend to work.”
Unfortunately, too many managers in our economy today still seem to believe that people don’t really care about their work, and that they will slack off if given the slightest chance.
Nothing could be further from the truth! Indeed, one of the great learnings of the past seventy years is that if you inspire people with a worthwhile vision, position them where they can use their true talents (or giftedness) to pursue it, and give them a stake in the outcome, they will turn in spectacular performance.
So what if you’re a manager and you’re not seeing spectacular performance? Well, of course, one option is to blame the workers and write them off as slackers.
But what if people actually want to excel in their work? What if they instinctively know that doing a good job yields deep satisfaction and fulfillment? What if the only thing keeping them from greatness is that no one has given them a compelling vision? No one has bothered to find out what their real giftedness is and then position them accordingly? No one has given them any real responsibility, nor do they have anything to gain by giving their all?
When people feel that their manager doesn’t think they care, they may not go crazy, but they certainly lose heart. They don’t feel trusted and they don’t feel respected. As a result, they usually end up doing the very thing their manager accuses them of doing: not caring.
4. Forcing all decisions to go through the manager
This is the classic micro-manager. The boss who has to know and sign off on everything. A manager like that quickly gets labeled as a “control freak.”
That sort of management is a holdover from the Industrial Era, when managers made all the decisions, were the only ones who knew the whole process, were given all the responsibility, and reaped the lion’s share of the rewards. Everyone else was just one of worker bees, doing mindless tasks.
But that style became meaningless long ago. Because with knowledge workers, the workers themselves often know more about what’s going on than their managers. It’s their expertise that is accomplishing the work. That demands a management style that is far more collaborative. It also drives decision-making further down the organizational ladder.
In today’s economy, no manager can know everything. So trust becomes invaluable: managers trusting their people, their people feeling trusted to do their best (recall point #4). Obviously trust is earned, so workers have to be trustworthy and reliable. If they make mistakes, they have to own them. But then their managers need to provide training or whatever other resources are needed to get the problem corrected.
But micro-management is never the answer. It only results in people constantly looking over their shoulder to see if the boss is standing over them. No one does their best when they’re having to deal with that distraction.
5. Never acknowledging people’s efforts
Some people are naturally wired to not need any sort of recognition for their work. To them, the results speak for themselves. They know when they’ve done a good job, and they take great satisfaction from that alone.
But probably 65 percent of people in the workforce require some form of recognition in order to stay motivated over time. That’s not a pride or an ego thing; it’s a motivational thing. They have to know that someone else noticed what they accomplished, and thought well of it. If not, they start to lose heart. And they won’t put as much effort into their work the next time around, because they figure, “No one notices. So who cares how well I do?”
The crazy thing is, recognition is so easy to give! It usually doesn’t cost anything, but it pays off in spades.
But let’s be clear: not everyone wants to be recognized in the same way. Some people want a bonus or raise in pay. But others are looking for a trophy or a plaque. Others want a greater level of responsibility. Others want to hear a round of applause. Others want their reputation to be enhanced. Others want a grade or a score. Others want everyone to see that they came out on top. And some don’t want anything public; they just want to hear their boss say, “Hey, great job!”
If you’re a manager, make a list of the people who report to you. Then beside each person’s name, jot down whether you believe that person requires recognition on a regular basis, and if so, what form that recognition should take. Then ask yourself: how frequently do I give this person the recognition they require?
You may discover you’ve been starving your troops, motivationally speaking! Humans have to have food for their souls every bit as much as for their bodies. So if you’re not feeding them with praise, you’re not leading them anywhere. Instead you’ve got them on a motivational death march.
Question: What’s something you’ve seen managers do that drove you crazy?
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