The [Destructive] Power of Unmanaged Managers

By Kristin Allaben

Everyone knows how infectious certain behaviors are. When you’re around someone bubbly and happy, it doesn’t take you long to feel the same way. This also holds true for someone who is not happy. Whether they’re frustrated, disgruntled or genuinely mad, these negative emotions, especially when perpetually present, can be toxic to those around them, frequently smothering the positive emotions. And putting those negative emotions into the confined area of a workplace in the form of a disengaged employee can lead to a disastrous impact on the morale and productivity of a company.

I personally believe that a disengaged employee is one of the biggest signs that something went wrong. It could be that they were hired for the wrong job, been poorly managed, could be in a dysfunctional workplace culture or maybe an adverse event happened at work.

But frequently, I find the underlying reason for disengaged or disgruntled employees is unmanaged managers.

Unmanaged managers are not in control of their emotions; they let their aggravations and frustrations affect their mood, resulting in a toxic environment and poor relationships with employees.

Know anyone who fits this description? Unfortunately, I do.

I’ve seen first-hand the destructive power an unmanaged manager has on creating and fueling disengaged employees. Just a few things I’ve seen throughout in my career:

  • A parent was reprimanded for leaving work early to be home with their sick child.
  • A female employee was asked to prove her knowledge with industry stats before she could speak in a meeting with the all-male senior executive team.
  • A creative employee was consistently told no and belittled for presenting new ideas that challenged the status quo, just to discover the same ideas were presented from a younger employee, and those ideas were accepted and implemented with gusto.
  • An employee asked a question and was belittled and embarrassed by the manager in front of the team for “not knowing.”
  • Insulting comments were directed to an employee that had nothing to do with the employee but were instead the result of frustrations stemming from an earlier and unrelated event.

There’s little room for misinterpretation; these are real-world examples that led directly to the creation of disengaged employees.

The common thread in each of these situations is the unmanaged manager. When unable to manage his or her emotions, the unmanaged manager misses the opportunity to coach, teach and guide. Instead, they belittle, demean or ignore, all three of which can lead even the most passionate and dedicated employee to wonder what they’re doing there. In a workplace with a less than 4% unemployment rate (as of September 2018, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures National Employment Monthly Update), a manager must be the greatest advocate for employee engagement. And we know that employee engagement leads to greater employee productivity, performance and retention.

So how can you manage the unmanaged manager? It requires two things.

First, senior management must be aware of the behavior and the impact it has on employees. Frequently, the unmanaged manager exists because he or she has been allowed to behave this way by their superiors, behaviors that should have been coached out of them long before they were managers to a larger team. Awareness, coupled with coaching to improve the behaviors, is the best way to not lose your best employees.

Second, employees must be given the opportunity to voice their concerns, to feel like they are part of the organization. Regularly gathering employee perspective through surveys can help identify an unmanaged manager before too much damage is done.

If you continue to allow an unmanaged manager to run the show unchecked, you’ll soon find that your best employees will leave and spread the word that yours is not a workplace of choice. Remember the power of social media, particularly with disengagement.

Take Action
Consider your workplace. If you’re a disengaged employee, ask yourself why. Is the job the right fit for you? If it isn’t, what can you do to find a better fit? If it is, what could be making you feel disengaged or disconnected?

If you’re an unmanaged manager, bravo. The first step is to admit that your management style may need some adjusting. Consider hiring a Corporate Coach to learn the benefits of being a mindful manager and incorporate coaching techniques into your day-to-day management style. Making some little changes can make a world of difference to your employees, their performance and their loyalty.

Consider reading When is it Okay to do Just Enough at Work?

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