The 12 Signs: How to know when you’re slowly but surely becoming a bad manager

No one sets out to become a bad boss. Yet, slowly but surely, it’s easy to become the bad manager we all dread.

Times are stressful. You’re trying to make things happen. You notice your team isn’t as engaged as they should be. You can feel your patience getting shorter and shorter. You feel stuck and exasperated about leading your team. The more you do, the worse it seems to get.

Then, a sinking feeling hits you: You might be becoming a bad manager.

I’ve had that sinking feeling in my own stomach before, too. Especially in the early days of running Know Your Company, I was plagued with self-doubt. “Am I doing this right?” I wondered. “Am I falling into the trap of doing things that I’ve hated in other bosses?”

Since then, I recognized the early signs of a bad manager — the kind of manager I dreaded working for. Now, I’d like to share these signs with you, so you can hopefully avoid these pitfalls and get back on track to being the good manager you want to be.

Sign #1: You think an employee “should already know that.”

When you’re a leader, you benefit from having all the information. Yet we forget that the rest of the team does not have that same information. Don’t fall into the trap of assuming that employees “should already know that.” Instead, consider why your team doesn’t have the information they need, and own that shortcoming yourself. Good leaders know it’s on themselves to make sure the team knows what they need to know.

Sign #2: You find yourself saying “No” more often than “Why not?” or “Could this work later?”

In times of uncertainty, we as leaders have a bias against creativity. A great leader understands this, and adjusts for this bias. She knows that good ideas and suggestions take many forms — and saying “no” to something right away could be shortchanging your team. Not to mention, it’s demoralizing for your team to always have their ideas constantly turned down. Consider: Are you becoming a bad manager because you’re too closed off to new ideas?

Sign #3: You ask an employee to stay late without staying late yourself.

True leadership starts with walking the walk. Our actions set the example for our team. So if you ask someone to stay late at the office, but you don’t stay late yourself — that’s not a small, trivial thing. It’s a statement to your employee that you don’t value them or their time. Reexamine if you’re modeling the behavior yourself that you’d like your employees to exhibit.

Sign #4: You feel like you’re irreplaceable and are the only person who can do a certain part of the job.

Feeling like you’re irreplaceable isn’t a badge of honor — it can be your greatest downfall as a leader. Why? It’s often the reason we micromanage others or don’t delegate projects. When we accept that others can do parts of our job better than us, we are more willing to share responsibility, delegate tasks, and not breathe down our team’s neck. Wil Reynolds, Founder of SEER Interactive, has admitted how he’s fallen victim to this himself.

Sign #5: You think asking certain questions can be dangerous or a giant waste of time.

You’re worried that asking what an employee thinks about your benefits or compensation package are just huge distractions. While in the short-term this may feel like the case, the reality is that employees have feedback for you already, whether or not you ask about them. So by not asking questions, you’re simply letting a problem fester. If you want to be a good leader, you’ll gather the courage to ask questions and hear answers you may not want to hear. It’s better than not knowing the answer at all.

Sign #6: You think emotions have no place in the workplace.

Emotions are facts — the way we feel about our work affect how well we do our work. So we must accept our team’s emotions, just as we do our financials or design projects. Work is often seen as a logical, rational place, so considering people’s emotions can feel burdensome and complicated. But great leaders embrace that their team will feel a range of emotions, and that’s part of the day-to-day process of working together.

Sign #7: You think doing something yourself is easier because you can’t trust anyone else to get it done right.

Your reluctance to hand things off to your team is a telling sign that you’re slipping into becoming a bad manager. A great leader knows that the crux of teamwork is equipping others with the ability to do things right and trusting that they will. As the African proverb goes: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

Sign #8: You think some people deserve your trust more than others — and you act on those hunches.

Few things turn a manager from good to bad as quickly as playing favorites. As unwilling as you might be to even call your actions “playing favorites,” the fact that you give some people on your team more leeway or grace than others is a recipe for resentment. Fairness is a critical trait of the best leaders.

Sign #9: You feel that you need your team to be close by or in the office in order for people to get work done.

You might find it strangely comforting to see an employee in front of a computer, at the office. That means they’re being productive, right? What a farce that is. Watching people get work done doesn’t mean the work actually gets done. Realize that your desire for proof of the work, instead of caring about the result, is a crutch and an attempt to control others. If anything, your desire to see people doing work is a burden to your team.

Sign #10: You think that if an employee has a problem, issue, question, or concern, they’ll simply come to you with it.

Open door policies in companies simply don’t work. We forget is that there is an inherent power dynamic when we’re the manager. When we’re “the boss,” we’re seen as the ones “in control” and with power. As a result, an employee is concerned with how she’ll come across to you, if you’ll treat her differently, or even fire her. There’s no incentive for her to be honest with you, if it’s not what you want to hear. So you’ve got to ask what problems, issues, or questions your team might have — you can’t expect them to come to you.

Sign #11: You “test” employees to make sure they’re prepared and working hard.

You catch yourself asking questions during meetings just to “make sure employees are paying attention.” Or, you assign small tasks just to make sure your team “is on their toes.” Stop. Trying to “test” your employees is counterproductive. You’re draining their morale, not building it up. If you’re ever tempted to try to test your employees — resist the urge. Ask yourself, “Why do I feel the urge to test them? What am I not doing to create an environment where they can perform their best?”

Sign #12: You spend more time thinking about trying to eliminate distractions in the workplace than trying to give people a reason to feel excited about coming to work.

As a manager, it’s tempting to focus on what your team should stop doing. They should stop taking such long lunches, or stop wasting time on Facebook. Rather, the best managers take an opposite approach: They focus on what they can to give their team so they feel motivated and engaged. For instance, instead of being preoccupied with how long your team’s coffee breaks are, consider, have you made it clear how their work is connected to the bigger picture?

All of us as leaders have fallen victim to one of these 12 signs, at one time or another. The key is to recognize it, when it happens. Don’t give yourself excuses for why it did. And don’t beat yourself up about it, either! Simply accept it, decide what you’d like to do differently, and move forward.

Being a good manager is hard for everyone. I only hope learning these 12 signs can help you, as much as it did me.

This piece was originally published on our Knowledge Center.

If you’re looking for more ways to avoid these 12 signs and other pitfalls as a manager, I’d love to have you join us at The Watercooler. We’ve got over 500 managers and executives from all over the world chatting online about how to become better leaders. You can apply to The Watercooler here.