how can I tell if I’m a good manager?

A reader writes:

In the last few months, I’ve gone from being an individual contributor to now managing a team of several employees. While I absolutely love my new role and feel alive doing what I do, I’m not oblivious to the fact I’m still very new at managing people and have lots of room to develop. In fact, one of my commitments this year has been to grow my self-awareness.

While working on that goal, I heard a speaker say that bad bosses are typically clueless about how bad they truly are and how they are perceived by their teams. This leads me to my question … Since employees don’t provide feedback in the same way a boss does, how can you actually tell how you are doing as a manager? I’m sure there are signs to look for, but there’s definitely a reason one of my goals is improving my self-awareness — it just doesn’t come naturally for me.

Yay to you for thinking about this and asking this question. It’s absolutely true that most bad managers have no idea that they’re terrible at managing, or at least have no idea what their staff really thinks of them. And very few of them undertake any kind of sincere effort to find out.

One important thing you can do is to be very deliberate about creating an environment where it’s safe for people to give you honest feedback. That takes time, because the power dynamics inherent in your relationship with your team mean that most people will err on the side of, at the least, shading the truth about how they feel about your management. To build a team that feels comfortable giving you honest feedback will take time — but you can do it by things like not reacting defensively when someone disagrees with you, being actively appreciative when people give you feedback or a differing point of view, and some of the other suggestions here.

But being a good manager isn’t just about your team liking you/being happy with you. The most important indicator of how well you’re managing is what kind of results you’re getting in your realm in the long-term. So that means you should ask yourself questions like:

  • Does your team have clear, reasonably ambitious goals, and are they meeting them?
  • If you asked your staff what their two to three most important work goals are for the year, would their answers match what you think their top goals should be?
  • Do you feel like the only way for your team’s work to be done really well is for you to do it yourself or be involved every step of the way?
  • When you delegate work, does it usually come back to you the way you had hoped and by the deadline you assigned?
  • When you’re on vacation, are you confident that work is moving forward and being handled well in your absence, or are you nervous because you’ve found you need to be there to tell people how to handle things?
  • Does your team seem enthusiastic about their work, put the team’s success ahead of personal agendas (most of the time), and generally have good will toward one another? Or do you see signs of distrust, drama, and negativity?
  • Do people on your team seem to feel comfortable giving input, suggesting ideas, and taking initiative?
  • Are you generally retaining your high performers for solid periods of time? (No one will stay forever, of course.)
  • How long do low performers stick around? Do you address problems quickly so the person is either brought up to the bar you need or moved out?
  • Do you regularly talk with people about what’s going well and what could be going better?
  • Do you have any concerns you have about team members that you haven’t talked with them about?

Those questions will get to the heart of how your management is playing out in the ways that matter most, and will tell you what areas you might need to work on.

I’m also going to recommend the handbook for managers that I co-authored, Managing to Change the World. It’s geared toward nonprofit managers, but most of what’s in there applies to any sector — and it’ll help you work on any problem areas you uncover from asking the questions above.

Good luck!

{ 85 comments… read them below }

  1. New Manager Too

    Thanks for the question and answer! I’m also a new manager of approximately 6 months and have had the same questions.

  2. AppleStan

    I’m finishing my first year as a first-time manager, and while I might not be in my position for much longer, I definitely feel as if they came into my life at just the right time! That, along with your provided link on “Stay Interviews,” is really going to help me ensure my unit is operating well and that they know what to expect from me or their next manager.

    Thank you for this!

  3. Close Bracket

    If you have to give feedback on improvement, especially interpersonal feedback, make it immediate and specific. Talk about *exactly* what you want to be done differently, with examples and suggestions.

  4. Jesse

    I’m fortunate to have a great boss. She has said in the past, “I trust you to make the right decision about xyz…”. That line has been gold for us. It’s like an amazing parent, you do it right because you the disappointment would hurt so much more than the backlash.

  5. MOAS

    I was promoted to manager in May, and evaluations are coming up. I am fortunate to have inherited two good team members. but I know I can do better. I am lucky to have my manager helping me A LOT with all of this, and look at him as an example. I also have bosses from the past and present that I look at examples of what NOT to be.

    1. Gaia

      My advise for you would be that evaluations should be two sided. Make it a conversation, not a lecture (either good, bad, or neutral).

      1. MOAS

        Yes, in the past all my evaluations with my boss have been that way. I want to have the same rapport with my team. I will still also be having my evaluation with my boss.

    2. Dasein9

      The best boss I’ve ever had surprised me by asking during my evaluation “Now, is there anything I can do to improve how I’m doing?”

      We’re still friends, some 20 years later.

      1. Bigglesworth

        See, I recently had a review where my boss asked that, but it made me very uncomfortable. I knew he didn’t take feedback well and it’s hard to say, “Well, you don’t communicate your goals well and your anger management problem means that I don’t want to come to you with issues.” I said something along the lines of, “When you assign a task, I may need more guidance – especially if it’s my first time doing the task.” I’m still relatively new and this was my belated 1-month review, but I’ve already had to stand up for myself for payroll and hours issues (things I negotiated for and he’s tried to take away). Asking me for feedback was not the best, but I can see where, in the right context, it would be very beneficial.

  6. Sloan Kittering

    I’m not sure if I agree that most bad managers don’t realize their staff doesn’t like them. When I think of the worst managers I’ve known, most of them were aware they weren’t well liked, they just felt like they didn’t need to care what their underlings thought of them. They felt like it was inherent to the system that bosses crush subordinates or have to be tough on them to get anything out of them. They also probably had a lot of bosses they hated themselves, so they think it’s normal.

    1. Sloan Kittering

      Granted, I have also had a few managers who weren’t at all self aware about their bad management and that it was inconvenient for their staff when they vacillated. Like most of us, they fell victim to the kind of thinking where you minimize the bad things you do by calling those times the aberrations and over-emphasizing the good parts, or focusing on the intentions rather than the behavior. But I don’t think that was as common or as extreme as the bosses who just felt that managers were supposed to be awful.

    2. Adlib

      Yes, this. Fortunately, I haven’t been on the receiving end, but I have witnessed this on other teams.

    3. Anonym

      I think there may also be a significant in-between cohort of mediocre to okay managers that this is more relevant for. Folks who could be really good if they put some effort into self examination.

      My current manager is good in many ways (nice, gives us independence, supports development), but his lack of self awareness and refusal to examine his beliefs and choices are causing real strife on our team. We’re going to lose our best team member because he keeps impulsively undermining her and refusing to acknowledge her expertise. His need to be heard and failure to recognize his own biases have become really problematic. I wish he’d read this.

      1. Fortitude Jones

        His need to be heard and failure to recognize his own biases have become really problematic.

        This sounds like my last boss, particularly the part about not recognizing her own biases. She was a good manager to everyone on the team except me, which was weird because she gave me glowing reviews, but shit projects to work on (when I was given anything to do at all).

    4. The Man, Becky Lynch

      It varies of course.

      There are the ones who are there and seem to gleefully just be treading on the “Underlings” and then there are the ones who are “bad” because they’re inept, not malicious. So those are blissfully unaware that they’re awful.

      The worst people I’ve seen in leadership positions span both sides. There are the “You don’t need nor want you to like me, I’m in charge, jump when I say jump and ask no questions.” and then there’s the ones who are unreachable, constantly “too busy” and just you know, perma-out to lunch it seems. They think that everything is fine because the employees aren’t you know, dead or something [kind of like bad pet parents, “what do you mean I need to pay attention to the dog, it just does what it wants and I put food down for it [sign a paycheck].”

    5. Shad

      I think there’s a difference between being aware they’re disliked and being aware of how their subordinates see them, which includes things like why they’re disliked. I’d suspect that many bad managers, while they know they’re disliked, attribute it to personal differences or resentment of the power differential rather than recognizing that they are seen as bad managers in specific and meaningful ways.

    6. Daisy

      Neither OP nor AAM specified ‘being liked’ in that context though? ‘Clueless about *how bad they truly are*’, ‘It’s absolutely true that most bad managers have no idea that they’re *terrible at managing*’. It sounds like the bosses you’re thinking of thought they were good managers overall, despite or because of being liked. That’s not a counter-argument then.

  7. MissBliss

    To the OP, do you have any great managers in your history that you can look to for examples? Recall what you liked about how they managed you, and what you didn’t like, and how (if ever) you shared criticism (and how they might’ve responded). My best boss was my first boss, and I intend to model my boss-ing after her, should I ever become a manager myself.

    One thing I can remember distinctly was her telling me that we’re all going to complain about each other sometimes, because work can be stressful. She wanted me to know that it was my right to complain with my coworker when we thought she was pushing us too hard. And the important thing was that she meant it– I never would’ve gotten in trouble for complaining about her to my colleagues, or even to her face. But I didn’t have to, because she’s great!

    1. Amerdale

      And the other way around, too.
      What bad or just mediocre bosses did you have and what could they have done better/different? What could you do to be better than them?

      For example my boss has the annoying habit of sometimes telling everyone (but not at once) in the team some information, and sometimes just one person who he than expects to relay it to the others (but he never states that outright). So we never know if everybody else already has that piece of info or not and that led to a) people getting told the same thing over and over or b) people not get told about something at all. If he would just write an email to everybody (email because then the WfH-people would get it too, which is also a problem), everyone would know.

      1. TardyTardis

        I had a teacher like that once–he taught two classes of COBOL back to back and we were the second one–we were never sure that we were getting the same information as the people in the first one, and during a test we discovered that nope, we weren’t. “What do you mean, I never covered that?” Fortunately a few people along with me took very diligent notes, and we were able to prove he didn’t cover that.

        Didn’t fix things, unfortunately, but we all got through it somehow…

  8. Bend & Snap

    My boss asks for feedback, genuinely wants to hear it, takes action on it and is not punitive when the feedback is less than stellar.

    He’s very receptive to making changes and problem solving, and I’m able to be pretty blunt with him about what’s happening in my world and where I need help.

    It makes him AWESOME to work for and creates a lot of trust in his intentions and ability to make things happen.

  9. Sleepytime Tea

    One thing I would add to this – how do you handle it when people make mistakes? So here’s an example for a situation that took place with my truly amazing manager.

    I made a mistake. It wasn’t widely impacting, thank god, but it did result in a meeting involving several teams to discuss what happened, why, and how to prevent it. AND THAT WAS THE RIGHT WAY TO HANDLE IT. When my boss asked me what happened, I stood their with my tail between my legs explaining my error and apologizing profusely. He cut me off and said “I am less concerned with the fact that you made a mistake. People make mistakes. I am more concerned with our current system of checks and balances and how this error made it all the way to the end of the process without anyone catching it.”

    My error was a learning moment, not just for me, but for our team. We talked about ways it could have/should have been caught, and talked about ways to prevent it in the future. My boss didn’t ignore the fact that I made it, he didn’t make me feel like shit for it, and he didn’t blame me and shame me over it. Instead, he handled it productively.

    I have had some good bosses, but this is one of the things that makes him a GREAT boss.

    1. Gaia

      This is very true. The best managers I’ve had don’t focus on blame as blame is really not very relevant in the end. They focus on solutions and realizing “so and so made a mistake” isn’t actually the problem. The problem is how the mistake was able to happen (or go unnoticed) in the first place which might be poor QA protocols, a missing step in documentation, training issues, etc. But it is never “because so and so made a mistake” as the root cause.

    2. Sloan Kittering

      Yep this is key, because next time a mistake gets made (and there will be a next time! There are always mistakes!) staff won’t be afraid to bring up the error instead of hiding it and hoping it doesn’t get caught. If you shame people for errors, you’re going to end up being lied to next time.

      1. Sleepytime Tea

        EXACTLY. If people are afraid to bring up a mistake and try to hide it because they are afraid of the consequences, you are creating a bad situation where the issue isn’t resolved and more mistakes will take place. I mean if someone is constantly making errors then there’s a training/performance issue that needs to be addressed, but everyone will make a mistake occasionally, and having an atmosphere where you don’t fear bringing it up and handling it is key to a great work place.

    3. My other username is a Porsche

      I was coming here to say this. Reacting proportionately to mistakes is super important.

    4. The Man, Becky Lynch

      This is a great addition.

      This is how we handle mistakes as well. We had this happen not too long ago, I was the one who fussed with the system enough that found this hole in it. So I was shook up about it and the response was “We found it, we fixed the small mess on that level, now it’s just about finding out why that’s possible and how to prevent it again!”

      Humans make errors. It’s all about figuring out how to minimize them in the end to have less impact. It’s impossible to mistake-proof anything.

  10. Gaia

    The very fact that you bothered to question your skills as a manager and reach out for advise is a good start.

    All of Alison’s advise is spot on. Regarding feedback, I’ll add one point: to get a team that is truly comfortable with giving you feedback (especially critical feedback) you have to be very careful about how you receive negative feedback. It is great to react really well to positive or even neutral feedback. Reacting to negative feedback is hard sometimes, even for the most seasoned managers. This can be particularly challenging when you disagree with the feedback (or, when you have information that you believe might change the opinion of the person giving the feedback). Remember this: even if their feedback is ill informed, it is still their perception and that matters. It is real, even if only to them. Do not dispute how they perceive the situation, or you’ll come off as defensive and someone who cannot accept feedback.

    Look to managers you admire and those that you don’t for guidelines on how to handle situations and how to not handle situations.

    And, above all else remember this: you’re going to mess up. You’re going to say something careless or handle a situation poorly. We all do. We’re human. That doesn’t make you a bad manager. That makes you a person. It matters how you recover and what you learn from the situation.

    1. Oh So Anon

      Much of this is also important for subordinates to think about as they take part in their relationships with their managers. Especially around feedback – sure, there’s a power dynamic that gives your manager the authority to give you critical feedback, but it’s also your job to handle and engage with feedback in a way that keeps those channels open. Despite the power difference, both parties are responsible for maintaining that virtuous cycle.

  11. Anancy

    In my experience, a lot of bad managers know their bad traits, but they don’t necessarily consider them to be an actual problem. Examples: manager says “You just have to manage up” or “I just can’t let go” or “I don’t like conflict” or “I just can’t make up my mind.”
    So if you find yourself saying those type of things, I’d recommend reflecting on that.

    1. Sloan Kittering

      I do think we all minimize the impact that our own bad habits have. I know I always tend to think my good qualities outweigh my foibles. Maybe they do SOMETIMES but in general it’d be more productive to minimize the foibles in the first place!

  12. RandomU...

    As you spend more time in your role I think you should add a few more to the list:

    Are a good amount of team members growing and moving up (and out) of their roles. (I don’t know if there’s an ideal number, I think my average for employee advancement is about 20-25%)

    Of those not interested in advancement are they expanding in their roles (new tasks, learning new tools, etc.)

    1. CJM

      Yes. I especially like your second idea.

      I’d add an item too: “Are you treating your reports evenhandedly?” My worst manager made a few close friends among her reports, and those people tended to wield their special status and behave in manipulative ways with their colleagues. It was an awful dynamic for the team, and the fact that our manager didn’t see anything wrong with cultivating BFFs on the team said a lot about her judgment.

      1. Fortitude Jones

        Did we work for the same person? That sounds just like my last manager. She was more concerned with being besties with her direct reports and if you weren’t one of her friends (I wasn’t), you could forget about getting assignments. I ended up making up my own projects to have something to do and then used those projects to find a new job somewhere else.

        1. CJM

          Ha! Not the same person — but perhaps cousins. My worst manager overloaded her least favorite employees with *extra* work, so most of us were never hurting for assignments.

          Wouldn’t it be great to have a shared, online database for “don’t ever work for this boss and here’s why”? I’m just dreaming, but that sure would help to balance the scales of justice.

          1. Fortitude Jones

            Somebody needs to invent that STAT. It would save people so much time and energy.

      2. TardyTardis

        One of my supervisors at the library had a buddy and they would chat for 45 minutes while we were swamped at the counter (one high school class just showed and everyone had to get library cards for the first time). So I moved somewhere else. I was happy when the buddy showed up at my new place of business, since I knew that she didn’t have a supervisor buddy yet, and she would actually have to work for a living. I greeted her with a smile and open arms and never said a word about how I felt to anybody else–she was on her own and I wished her the best. She did buckle down and work without a whine, though, and since I had never said anything, nothing came back to bite me.

  13. Gaia

    Another thing: give feedback often and make it substantial. When I managed a team I would always tell my new team members that if they didn’t know how I thought they were doing, I wanted them to tell me that because it meant I wasn’t doing my job. At all times your team should have an idea of what you think of their performance. Reviews (if your company does them) should never be a surprise. Specific, actionable feedback is a kindness and it is key to doing your job well.

    This can be hard for new managers when the feedback is critical because it can feel like they’re being mean. But think of it this way: if you were doing a poor job or something about your behavior was upsetting your manager wouldn’t you want to know? Isn’t it mean for them to not tell you and let it continue to impact your employment without your knowledge? Feedback, especially feedback, is the kind thing to do even if they don’t want to hear it.

    1. Oh So Anon

      Including positive feedback! People need to hear that they’re doing things well, and asking for feedback doesn’t mean they’re fishing for compliments or reassurance, as some bad managers may assume. If your team has to ask for feedback, there’s likely a chance you’re not giving enough of it.

  14. Polymer Phil

    I was really surprised that I wasn’t given any training on how to manage people; I was pretty much thrown in and expected to figure it out. I suspect most of my past bosses were in the same situation.

    It’s kind of like how kids think adults automatically know what to do whenever there’s a problem, and when you become an adult, you’re shocked to discover that we’re all just faking our way through!

  15. Hei Hei, the Chicken from Moana

    Guys. My boss can NEVER be wrong in any significant way. She gets defensive anytime I try to talk to her about this kind of stuff so I’ve mostly given up, but I continue to feel defeated and now I just feel like a very sad, weak person who can’t stand up to her boss.

    1. Anonym

      No, you’re a normal, reasonable person in what sounds like an untenable situation. There are limits to how much a report can be expected to influence or change their manager, and it sounds like you’ve done what you can. Her issues are beyond your control. You just need to do your best within the situation and not let the reasonable frustrations take too much of a toll on you (easier said than done, I know, but worth some effort). Good luck to you!

    2. Argh!

      It’s worth a try. I put up and shut up for several years, until the unfairness and bad management were really affecting me. I wound up being punished financially and socially, but at the end of the day, I go to bed with myself, not my boss. I want to sleep with someone who respects me enough to want me to be treated fairly.

      1. Close Bracket

        Well, don’t sleep with your boss, that won’t help. :-)

        (That’s an attempt to inject levity that I hope doesn’t go awry. Bad bosses are terrible, and I’m sorry you suffered financially and socially.)

    3. Fortitude Jones

      If you seriously don’t feel like you can give your boss actionable feedback, then you need to start job searching to find a better manager. This will eat away at you the longer you stay, you’ll get even more depressed, which will begin to negatively affect your work – get out while you still can.

    4. The Man, Becky Lynch

      This is a power dynamic. You put up with it because they are in “charge” of your paycheck and your livelihood. That doesn’t make you weak at all. It means you’re in a bad situation in the end and I hope that you find a way to leave the situation behind, for your emotional well being.

      There are always stories about “overcoming” the bully and winning but there are just as many stories of being crushed by the bully in return for your efforts.

  16. Scarlett

    For the last two questions on Allison’s list, as a new manager, I used my previous boss’ structure of a 2×2 check-in. Once a month my boss had a check-in with me where she shared one strength that she had seen with my work and one area for improvement. Then I was expected to do the same for her: share one thing that was working well for me with her management and one area where I could use a different structure/style. These check-ins were longer than our normal check-ins to allow for the feedback time.

    This was intimidating to me at first as an employee, but I got used to it and then grew to appreciate the structure enough to incorporate it into my managing when I became a manager. It’s a helpful, easy way to ensure that there is a safe, structured space for both of us to share feedback.

    1. Sloan Kittering

      if I’m ever a boss, I know I’m going to have to create ways to normalize feedback like this so that I can point out errors / where things need to change without overthinking it. Even just with peers I always worry I’m making “too big a deal” out of things or that I’m going to like, crush them somehow (and they probably don’t even care as much as I think).

  17. Mellow

    Looks like I just located the anonymous note I’ve been planning to send to my own boss.

  18. !

    I wish my manager would not tell us to do one thing and then completely throw us under the bus because we were only trying to follow a procedure that EVERYONE agreed upon. Nothing worse than constantly having to say one thing and then look like an ass because the manager does not support you. I’m so done with this place. I am going to put those bullet points on the bulletin board when I leave.

    1. Argh!

      Same here. My boss expects us to be mind-readers, which is doubly unfortunate because she’s a wishy-washy thinker. If she likes you, whatever you did was just right. If she doesn’t like you, you should have done something else.

      I’ve been her victim long enough now that I can counter some of her “you should have” statements with “But remember when you told me that I shouldn’t have?”

      She never has an answer to that. It’s a small and possibly pyrrhic victory, but I’ll take what I can get.

    2. TardyTardis

      That’s why I ended up communicating only by email with one supervisor because she would pull that.

  19. irene adler

    I always wanted a manager who ‘had my back’.
    There’s times when I have to point out issues with the documentation (“they aren’t doing right”).
    This gets the manufacturing manager upset (“we don’t have time for that crap!”)
    My boss always takes the mfg manager’s side on this.
    Yet time and time again we are cited for improper documentation during audits.
    Just once I’d like a boss who would support me.

  20. NW Mossy

    One good test that I come back to again and again is something I stole from a book (Louise Penny’s “Still Life”), but it’s the best succinct distillation I’ve found of a leadership philosophy. In the book, a leader shares what he calls “the four statements that lead to wisdom: I’m sorry. I was wrong. I don’t know. I need help.”

    Periodically, I check myself. Am I saying those things to my team when it’s true? Does my team say them back to me? When the answer to both is yes, it’s a strong indicator that I’m creating the environment of trust and openness that feeds good results. When we can be honest about our failings and feel safe to talk about them, we can confront challenges with candor and work through problems together.

    1. E Bennet

      An excellent mantra from Chief Inspector Armand Gamache!
      I regularly use the last two items with my students – in order to learn you must identify what you do not know and ask for help.

  21. Jerk Store

    Taking ownership, similar to how one does as an employee. Have you worked with that person who fell short of a goal or were late with a deadline, and it’s *always* someone else’s fault? Or refuses to fix their mistake and leaves it other people to clean up?

    A good manager knows the buck stops with them if their team is underperforming, instead of every excuse being about how they inherited this team and there’s nothing they can do.

  22. Agent J

    When I think of the good managers I have, I can see a few trends:
    – They always had my back in front of clients, senior execs, and other team members
    – They gave me the autonomy I needed and were confident in my abilities to do the job well
    – They were open and honest about the realities of office politics. They weren’t afraid to say, “I don’t know. I’m frustrated, too…but here’s what we can do.”
    – They gave me actionable feedback to improve and facilitated opportunities to improve or gain skills

    Everyone’s preferences/needs for what a good manage is will slightly differ but all in all, every good manager I’ve had treated me like a person. I could bring my full self to work and express myself (professionally, of course) without fear of repercussion or feeling like it was pointless.

    1. Fortitude Jones

      All of this. It feels like I haven’t had a manager who has all of these traits in years. It’s too soon in my tenure with my new company to be able to tell if my current manager is like this, though she is already a vast improvement over the last one.

  23. Oh So Anon

    We’ve got a flat team that wasn’t always this flat, which hasn’t been the easiest culture shift for some members of the team. It’s led to challenges with not everyone being as comfortable with folks who have less organizational history taking on more. My manager has done a very good job of managing this situation, and what stands out to me includes:

    -Doing a very good job of letting us know when something is his problem to solve, rather than ours.
    -Encouraging us to focus on keeping the client (whether it’s him or another department) happy, rather than a non-client who is being particular for their own sake.
    -Believing that there’s often more than one effective or correct way to do something.
    -Finding opportunities for each team member to focus on their specialties, which allows us to take more natural leadership roles within the team.
    -Having our backs when a team member indirectly questions whether someone should be assigned to a particular project. He doesn’t engage their FUD, he just ignores it.

  24. AndersonDarling

    I just left a bad boss for a new job. I’ve had full on toxic managers, and I’ve also had great managers, but this was the first time I reported to a regular “bad manager.” She was a brand new manager and was trying SO HARD to be a good manager. We had daily huddles along with monthly one-on-ones. She had weekly team building sessions where we played word games to “grow trust.” She brought in donuts and would “pump up the spirit” by doing dances and making us do silly dances.
    She was doing all the basic things the books said to do, but she wasn’t really connected to the work going on. She had a hard time assigning work and monitoring workloads. And when it was assigned, she wanted it done exactly the way she used to do it. If a project was stuck, she accepted that instead of figuring out the blockage and moving the project forward.
    She was superficially managing, but she wasn’t really managing the work going on. Although she was very kind and she checked in constantly, the work itself was chaotic and I moved to a position where the work was managed as well as the personnel.

  25. S

    Do your employees talk to you and make small talk? My boss is so freaking horrible if we have a job opening on our team, internal candidates will not apply to avoid my boss. We all avoid talking to him at all costs because he is such a jackass. Of course tons of useful information is not getting passed along to him, since having to actually converse with him or copy him on an email is excruciating. The worst is when he stops by each of our desks (Lumberger from Office Space) for forced small talk. I doubt he’s ever questioned whether he’s a good manager, since all he does is take credit for our work.

  26. Lobsterman

    This is a fantastic list and a good reminder of how deep Alison’s fundamental understanding of the workplace is.

  27. voyager1

    This is good advice from AAM, but I do have an issue with bullet point 2.

    If the employee goals and the manager goals are not in alignment then the two need to find out why and make a plan to bring them in alignment. That could mean that maybe the employee needs to go from Role A to Role B or even switch departments or even such employers. I think that is all okay too. And if you find an employee wants to do something that you can’t offer or don’t do, for pete’s sake don’t hold a grudge or get retaliatory.

    I don’t think a manager should be deciding what an employees fate is, and then get retaliatory when the employee wants something else, at least from my personal experience.

    1. Blue Horizon

      I don’t think Alison was suggesting that (in fact I think you are saying the same thing). In most cases if employers do what you suggest then the goals will be in alignment, except for certain periods when they temporarily aren’t.

      This one resonates with me because I had an employee for a while who was specialized in a narrow area that was no longer a strategic focus for the company. Everyone in that field except him had long since left, but he had a strong personal attachment to the company and had chosen to stay on. He also had a general outlook that was optimistic to the point of being deluded. Every time I met with him he would go on at length about how the company was making a big mistake to exit his field, and should be reinvesting in it, despite the fact that we had only a single customer that needed it, and they went through budget cycles where they wouldn’t spend anything on it for months or years on end.

      Eventually the inevitable happened, the company went through a rough patch at the same time the one customer was in a low part of the budget cycle, and he was laid off. This was, somehow, a complete surprise to him. He was shocked, hurt and betrayed, and had a great deal to say about it. I was left wondering whether he would have handled it better if I’d been more blunt with him in our one on ones. I did try to make it very clear that his specialty was never going to be a priority for the company, explained that he might need to look outside the company for career progression in certain areas, and helped him plan and execute a cross-training strategy in case of work drying up (unfortunately the area he chose was also going through a slow period when the layoffs were needed, or it might have helped). I do remember him telling me that he had been offered a full-time role by our one customer a few years back, but had turned it down out of loyalty to our company, and I remember thinking: “You idiot.” I didn’t say anything, but perhaps if I had expressed that sentiment in work-appropriate language it might have got through to him. Then again, he could be remarkably deaf to feedback that was uncomfortable for him or didn’t accord with his world view (a point that everyone involved in the reorg plan for him commented on) so perhaps it wouldn’t have made a difference.

  28. Jo

    Thank you so much for this post and comment thread! I’m in a similar situation (I’m a kind of defacto manager at the moment and super conscious of building my skills) and this advice is super useful and clear.

  29. pcake

    Alas, bad managers reading Alison’s list might not grasp how these should work –

    If you asked your staff what their two to three most important goals are for the year, would their answers match what you think their top goals should be?
    – Bad managers might have poor goals that they communicate well that doesn’t get the important stuff done. A friend of mine works in a company like this. They literally never meet customer deadlines ever, losing customers as they go, but the managers feel that their goals are good ones.

    Do you feel like the only way for your team’s work to be done really well is for you to do it yourself or be involved every step of the way?
    – Some micro managers feel that the right answer to this is “yes”, but don’t have a problem with it or even realize there are other ways to do things.

    Does your team seem enthusiastic about their work, put the team’s success ahead of personal agendas (most of the time), and generally have good will toward one another? Or do you see signs of distrust, drama, and negativity?
    – I’ve experienced several managers who feel the team is happy and enthused and engaged, and since the managers themselves are full of drama and negativity, they don’t have a real idea of what a team looks like without it. Plus they’re contributing to the drama and negativity themselves.

  30. Sled dog mama

    This goes along with Alison’s bullet point about retaining good employees. Are you advocating for your employees properly. Not just salary wise but are you making sure your team isn’t getting overworked, making sure things aren’t getting dumped on them? Do you advocate for things like the company buying everyone lunch when your team has met a huge goal or is in an all hands emergency, both go a long way to making people happy in my experience.
    If you have an employee who gets a new certification or qualification what are you doing proactively to retain that person, does the person have to ask for a raise, do they have to get an offer from a competitor to get paid fairly (also tell them what they need to do, if they have to request a raise to market rate let them know that).

  31. Skeeder Jones

    Something my manager does that I love is that at every one on one, she asks these questions:
    What is working?
    What isn’t working?
    Do you need anything from me?
    Is there anyone you want to thank?
    Not only can I provide very specific information that will help me do my job better, but it also really helps our team to appreciate each other AND very clearly shows me that my boss values feedback.

  32. Anonforthis

    Oh god my manager who got fired 4 months ago failed so many of these.

    Some things NOT to do:

    – Not set clear expectations for assignments, or even worse, change up your expectations every week

    – If one person does something annoying, instead of bringing it up in the moment with said person, send out teamwide passive-aggressive emails ranting about the ONE annoying thing they did

    – Be the reason your smartest team members leave the company before everyone else (seriously, when I compare how my team looked on this exact day last year, only 3 of the members, including me, are the same. I’ve been trying to leave for the past year but no other employer wants to save me from this place!)

  33. Not OK in Oklahoma

    OP – so great that you’re thinking about it! Trying to be a good manager is like the first step!

    Also, I love this post, because I think my manager fails virtually all of these questions and it is so validating that I don’t have unrealistic expectations of where he should be – he’s just honestly not a good manager.

    Does your team have clear, reasonably ambitious goals, and are they meeting them? NO – says he likes to figure out what we are doing as we go
    If you asked your staff what their two to three most important work goals are for the year, would their answers match what you think their top goals should be? NO – goals are fluid, in fact, for 3 months he was telling me I needed to find a new job or take a pay cut [I am in the process of jumping ship, but he’s now back to seeing me as vital]
    Do you feel like the only way for your team’s work to be done really well is for you to do it yourself or be involved every step of the way? YES – after 2 years, he still checks routine emails (despite not having had significant corrections in a looooong time)
    When you delegate work, does it usually come back to you the way you had hoped and by the deadline you assigned? Better now that I’ve learned what he is likely to want, but expectations are generally vague to the point of not having a defined deliverable.
    When you’re on vacation, are you confident that work is moving forward and being handled well in your absence, or are you nervous because you’ve found you need to be there to tell people how to handle things? He’s confident that we are doing well, although frequently there is a significant drop in what can be done because we have to wait for approval
    Does your team seem enthusiastic about their work, put the team’s success ahead of personal agendas (most of the time), and generally have good will toward one another? Or do you see signs of distrust, drama, and negativity? I hope he hasn’t noticed the steep decline in my enthusiasm. Team gets along well though
    Do people on your team seem to feel comfortable giving input, suggesting ideas, and taking initiative? NO – I was explicitly told that despite my doctorate in the field, I’m not here to give suggestions unless asked. To be fair, I do have a tendency to overstep, so I think he’s partially just overcorrecting here.
    Are you generally retaining your high performers for solid periods of time? (No one will stay forever, of course.) NO – 1 yr and 2 yrs (+ 1 fire out of 4 people). And would have lost more sooner, but it’s hard to find entry levelish high education position
    How long do low performers stick around? Do you address problems quickly so the person is either brought up to the bar you need or moved out? Had 2 low performers, one was fired, the other promoted (he happens to be manager’s close friend/best man at his wedding).
    Do you regularly talk with people about what’s going well and what could be going better? YES – although these frequently leave out the actually actionable things
    Do you have any concerns you have about team members that you haven’t talked with them about? Maybe?

    1. AspieGirl

      Are you me? Because this sounds alarmingly similar to my situation. It is kind of horrifying how common bad managers are. The biggest difference I’m experiencing is “Do you regularly talk with people about what’s going well and what could be going better?” is a big fat NO for me. I can’t remember the last time my manager told me either what was going well or what could be going better and providing actionable steps of what they looks like. If something needs to improve, I just get told “you need to do x better” without any context of what better looks like since it is so subjective.

  34. CountryLass

    I had a new manager come into the office where I worked. He was an older chap who had a lot of experience, and although I was younger with less experience, I had basically held the office together and kept it going whilst the rest of the office had left with no notice!

    Within the first day or so of arriving, he walked past my desk, dropped his rubbish in my lap, walked past my bin and told me to throw it away for him! After a week, he asked me privately what I thought of him, and I asked if he wanted my honest opinion? He said yes, so I told him that truthfully, I though he was an arrogant little sh!t! He was quite surprised, and I explained my reasons why. A few months later, he ran a competition in the office between me and the two male salespeople, and when I was winning part way through, he ‘motivated’ them aby asking if they were really planning to let this little b!tch beat them?

    I immediately told him NEVER to refer to me that way again, and when I got home later I called my area manager. He was let go not so long after as this was the final nail.

    He had no idea how to manage or how to be a good manager.

  35. S-Mart

    I’m late to the party, but I’ll add this:

    Are you responsive to your team’s needs or requests? Sounds obvious, but my grand-boss, who I like as a person, is terrible at getting me answers. Some of it is admittedly just stuff I’d like to know, but some of it is stuff I legitimately need to know to do my job.

    Do you communicate change, both good and bad? It seems like the management strategy around me lately is to just never mention things that have been dropped (benefits, projects) again and hope staff forgets they were ever a thing.

  36. Suzy Q

    I’d add one other: Are you showing any conscious or unconscious bias or favoritism toward or against anyone?

  37. AspieGirl

    As someone who is subordinate to a new manager who is definitely struggling with some of these bullet points and your work is suffering as a result, how can you bring up some of these with your new manager?

    To put it in perspective, I’ve had a grand total of 1 hour of one-on-one face time with my new manager to discuss my work, annual goals and objectives, performance, etc over the last nearly four months (not 1 hour a month for four months, 1 hour cumulatively) and we’ve only had two 1 hour team meetings in that time frame as well. Outside of that? I’ve barely heard from my manager at all. My manager doesn’t really provide anything over email either other than “here is another routine task that is now in your workload” and efforts on my part to start conversations over my work, annual goals and objectives (I even tried to set up a meeting to update my manager on these since I need some help and my meeting invite was declined!), performance, etc have gone no where.

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