Leadership

Why are managers afraid to manage?


In his IT Leadership blog today, John McKee discusses the reasons many IT managers are reluctant to deal with personnel issues. Having been a personnel manager for a number of years, I wanted to stand up and applaud his words.

And I have to tell you, now being just another employee in the crowd, I want to stand up and applaud them even more. Here's why.

Nothing demoralizes employees more than working with a co-worker who is a problem that no one will deal with, either because doing so would be "uncomfortable" or the happiness of the team is just not a big priority. Basically, it ends up with the crappy employee holding everyone emotionally hostage.

I learned a long time ago that, although it's never pleasant to deliver criticism, the burden should never outweigh the need. If someone is a personnel problem, he or she has to be responsible for the consequences. I'm not suggesting the criticism should be blunt and loud, by any means. It can be finessed. But a manager should never be apologetic for having to criticism the work performance of a team member. If Employee A exhibits behaviors that negatively impact the rest of the staff, then Employee A needs to be made aware that it won't be tolerated.

If not, what's the message to the rest of the team? I can show up late, push my work off on others, be intimidating, be toxic, and watch YouTube videos all day at work. Who's going to say anything? And the other message is that I am not important enough to straighten things out for.

Much of the time, a manager will turn a blind eye to a bad employee even though all the signs are there. Then they'll wait until a co-worker comes in to complain. At that point, the manager gives the "You should talk to her and explain how that makes you feel" speech. First of all, and I know I'm going to get creamed with feedback on this, we can try to be all kum-ba-ya about it, but nine times out of ten, such a "talk" will result in one employee being directly in the "hate radar" of another. Most unbearably unpleasant people also happen to be defensive about their unpleasantness.

Second, isn't that what the manager gets the extra bucks for…managing?

About

Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

43 comments
mamato
mamato

In the ideal world I agree 100%. Unfortunately it has been my experience in 2 organizations there are many other variables why some managers do not manage properly. First of all they are not managers beyond title. Individuals are often placed in a position for political reasons or are promoted for a salary increase not necessarily for their management capabilities. In the public sector for example if the elected official has a personal agenda they do not look positively on managers that expect their ???political appointees??? to perform. Their position is basically a reward for working or financially contributing to their political campaign. Secondly I have witnessed managers or Directors that meekly submit to political pressures handsomely rewarded. I have also direct knowledge those that do not compromise ethics and work standards are often a victim of retaliation. In summary the ideal work setting is where managers have the necessary skills set and where they can apply their knowledge and practical experience.

Nilesh
Nilesh

It is write manager should point out the mistakes of the emplooyee he is there to direct them in the Right path.

TonytheTiger
TonytheTiger

How the employees look reflects on how the manager looks. He may be intentionally overlooking a bad employee, especially when there is enough productivity among the remaining staff to not raise any eyebrows in upper management. In time it may progress from merely overlooking... to condoning... to actively covering up for the other employee. Maybe this other employee is excessively absent... perhaps as much as 2 days every week! And maybe when she IS at work, she spends much of the day on the phone conducting personal business and catching up with the gossip she missed while she was gone (and maybe you can tell this from two offices away because of her insanely loud laughter). And perhaps when you check the phone logs, you'll calculate that she could not possibly have worked more than 400 hours in the last 12 months!). Perhaps what he doesn't realize, however, that his productive employees may have planned to announce their resignations on the same day.... and perhaps the effect will be that of his pants falling down while he's on-stage!

teedot
teedot

LOL, that is almost an exact spitting image of someone at a company that I used to work for previously. Only problem was... he was the boss.... needless to say, i left. :)

james_sullivan2010
james_sullivan2010

I think you made a typo in the third paragraph. Please try to be more careful about the work you produce. You're really hurting the morale around here. hehehehe

venkateshsrini3
venkateshsrini3

I think one thing managers are afraid to manage is becuase of in most companies now a days there is a 360 degree apraisal that are happening. In this process the manager is evaluavated based on employee's feedback also. If the manager is not comfortable with his manager then there is a fare chance that the second level manager takes only this disgrunteled employee's comment into consideration. Sometimes the reach of the subordinate is more than that of the manager itself. In this case it is going to be lot more difficuilt for managers

malson.jackson
malson.jackson

Agreed, what about my manager affects my performance. I work for a small company as a software engineer. Recently one of my managers left and another guy from our department got his post. This guy is very ???friendly??? with one of my colleagues. They go out for lunch every day, discuss about our projects and implement their own way. My colleague enjoys this because he gets most of the thrilling work. As a result all the time we end up with areas which we have no clue. This affects my performance, because I am the one in this group who wants to learn more. What is the remedy?

dancer1117
dancer1117

I was in a situation once where I had to gather status reports from several people on different teams and forward these to the project manager. I went to each person and asked for his or her status, put it in an email to the PM and cc???d each person for whom I was reporting status, and sent it off. Five minutes later there was a woman from another team in my cubicle weeping (literally) and wailing, ???HOW COULD YOU DO THIS TO ME???? To this day I???m not sure what her problem was; maybe she felt her progress on the project was somehow not acceptable? Anyway, I fully expected our manager (even though we were on different teams we shared the same manager) to point out to her that this was a simple factual status report, nothing personal, and then to try to find out exactly what her issue was and then deal with it. Instead, he got us both together in a meeting, announced that he thought we could work this out between ourselves, and got up and left. Since every attempt I made to find out exactly what the issue was simply resulted in more tears I finally gave up and just apologized (even though I had no clue for what I was apologizing). Later I found out that this woman was quite emotionally unstable and caused many ???dynamic??? situations but no one ever called her on it, or took any action to deal with it. Unfortunately, this confrontation caused me to be labeled as someone who ???has trouble getting along with people???. When I heard this statement in my next evaluation I asked for a specific example and this was it. I guess I shouldn???t have been shocked at the impact that a weeping woman has on people, but since she was known to be unstable I couldn???t believe I was being blamed for the incident. Even though I tried to explain exactly what had happened it made no difference; the ???has trouble getting along with people??? stayed on that evaluation. I???m curious to know if this would have all been handled differently if I was a man. Would I have received sympathy for being confronted with a wailing woman? Since I am a woman was this considered some kind of ???catfight???? I still puzzle about this even today.

shadowagent
shadowagent

It goes beyond just dealing with the "problem teammate." It seems managers today do not want to do any of their job description, and in some cases you have to blame higher management for this fault for who they decided should be in the management roles (ex: promoting junior team members who obviously do not have management or job experience but have a degree in something that made them qualified). How is someone supposed to know they are doing well, or poorly, if the manager doesn't even want to meet with them to discuss performance. Or worse they wait until the annual performance review to spring something on someone and then "ding" them for it by not giving them a full merit increase or bonus. Over the last 15 years I've seen less involvement in even writing a performance review...with Management forcing employees to write self appraisals (often with only 24 hrs notice before due date or they'll be penalized) yet they only contribute maybe a sentence if anything at all to the overall assessment. If they can't even get that far, then we certainly can't hope for addressing the "problem child" of the team.

dalmei
dalmei

The old IT cliche' and paradox. Employee gets promoted to Management for technical achievements. Most of the time he/she has no management training or education nor the desire to read and learn on management. When problems start to surface he/she waits for it to "go away" on its own. I have seen this so many times it's almost like watching the Simpsons stereotypes.

wmyers
wmyers

Over the years I have seen a continual slide in a manager taken on the responsibility they have been. But from my side of the fence it is always esaier to find fault with the other guy. I have been in a supervisor position in the past and have seen the other side. It is not a pretty picture. Yes you make more money (whoppee do). You get to here all of the moaning and groaning on every little thing that is wrong in the world including your own. Yes, managers are afraid to manage because society has made it so. No longer can you correct a person who may be goofing-off as you are then subjected to reprisals from them as they male allegations of abuse,or some other lame excuse so as to deflect from the real issue (them). Heaven knows they are not the problem...Right. And then there is our lovely laws of the land if the employee can't get his way within the company there is always the labour board...need I say more. Yes mangers are afraid to manage, owners of companies are not really the owners as they are dictated to by outside interferences. So give the poor manager a break heaven knows he needs one (especially in this day and age). By the way just for the record I am a grunt worker and loving it as I do not have the worries of a manger nor do I want them. I can tell a fellow worker straight up what I think and when they complain I just let the manager sort it all out. Good Luck to all managers in the coming years ahead because at the rate this world is going they will have earned every penny and then some.

poppawookie
poppawookie

This is a good question. Managers get paid quite well to lead a team of employees. A better question would be who do the managers answer to? You have managers reporting to managers who cover the tracks for their buddies. Show me a manager that can manage without using all of this Kum-ba-ya, "why can't we all just get along" stuff, and I'll show you the next U.S. "Richest Man".

waltersokyrko
waltersokyrko

As a former IT manager of many years, I took action when I noticed employee A was not pulling his weight. I was surprised when I informed my team that employee A was let go and everyone said "What took you so long?" I told my team that it took me a while to notice and to gather enough evidence to warrant dismissal. When I asked my team why no one informed me of his incompetence, the answer I received was that they did not want to get employee A into trouble. Many people act differently with their peers than with their manager. My team was lucky that I noticed. If I had not, they would still be working with this incompetent person because nobody would speak up. Managers do manage but only if they are informed. Speak up! Managers are not omniscient; they need to be informed.

arlindo.lombe
arlindo.lombe

Dears I full agree on. However, as IT manager for many years, working with system analysts, software engineers and developers, and those kinds of problems I faced many times. I didn't find "medicine" for that, but all what I do in situations like that, is to be frontal. You have to be strong e tell the person that this is a must to change the way on which he do his work. Tell him that he/she is disturbing / destabilizing the working environment and for the safely working environment he/she has to change. Regards Arlindo Lombe

allan
allan

My manager is the owner, and the problems do not seem to make an issue for him. He does not want to make "waves", but it is getting frustrating! Two individuals in my company, do the same job but one does it with energetic directions, and followthrough, the other is slow and does complete the tasks but the customers feel the other one goes the "extra mile". Too bad, it is like firing only on 6 cylinders of a V8!!

hugh
hugh

Especially if it comes into variance with political correctness...

sfisher
sfisher

This happens EVERYWHERE - not just in IT. I agree -this article describes the problem, and the problems with the bad "solutions", perfectly. These types of lax managers don't want to have to deal with training new employees so they just hang on to the bad ones and hope everything fixes itself. Sad. Really good managers are hard to find - if you get one, keep him/her!

Canuckster
Canuckster

Not only is it what the manager is being paid to do but it provides the kind of feedback that will help in future hiring decisions. In my experience, its more important to get the right "fit" in a new employee rather than getting the best of the qualifications, (often the differences between candidates is small or else they wouldn't have been short listed).

sgetty
sgetty

My company lost a good employee ? me ? due to bad management. I left because my co-worker was treating me like?.well you know. I was her superior and yet she complained constantly about things she was asked to do and angrily refused suggestions I made about sharing our workload. She literally yelled at me about petty things, and screamed at our manager because she was asked to ?get together and work things out.? Her displays of anger were very public and in front of our manager most of the time and yet when I talked with our manager after her screaming session, I was told ?we [I] have to cope. She refuses to have a meeting to work things out and we can?t force her to.? Can?t force her to?!? I had been looking for a new job for awhile before this due to previous incidences, but when told I had to ?cope? that was the last straw. I realized that I would have to be the one to either tolerate her insanity or leave ? I left.

rscholz
rscholz

My advice is to be open and honest with your manager on how you feel, if you feel you're being unfairly passed over on "thrilling work" tell him (gently and non confrontationaly). if you receive a poor response take it to his manager, and if simply begin looking for a new manager to work under. you should also ask yourself your motives, are they based in jealousy? ask yourself why does it bother you how friendly you manager is with your colleague? also be honest with yourself on how well you communicate your ideas and skills to your manager, he/she may not be aware you are willing or qualified for the task you desire.

rscholz
rscholz

dancer, you had a terrible manager. that said, you should also be taking a look at yourself in how your actions could be perceived by others, i'm not laying blame or criticism here, but in my experience i too have been in your shoes, and in retrospect i could have done more to have insured understanding and acceptance between all of the parties (problem employee and management). we must all be honest in how well we handle people in challenging situations.

scarlett.sears
scarlett.sears

I've been an IT manager for many years. I'm so tired of the employee who comes into my office with a complaint about a co-worker , but who doesn't want me to take action because the other person will know who complained. Or, they don't want to get the person in trouble. I tell my employees not to come to me if they don't want me to take action. If they simply want to complain, talk to their spouse at the dinner table! Most frustrating is the employee who functions just under the radar. They are not performing badly enough to warrant personnel action or a write-up. They do barely enough to get by, but nothing more. At my company, you have to "coach" the underperformers. Poor performing employees have to receive one written warning and a verbal warning before they can be terminated. Also, written/verbal warnings must be for the same infraction. If the employee gets in trouble for something new, the process starts all over again. Companies are so afraid of a wrongful termination lawsuit that they never fire employees. Sexual harassment is about the only behavior that can get someone fired!

HLecter
HLecter

Last year I had a young boss who was afraid to deal with the toxic worker. I regret not forcing him to deal with it soon enough. The situation got a lot worse before we finally got rid of her. Lesson learned: if you see a toxic employee situation and have the clout to deal with it, don't wait. It does not get better by itself!

chrisbedford
chrisbedford

How can fixing a broken employee conflict with PC priorities? :-) As far as I'm concerned it's less Politically Correct to leave a festering sore than to heal it, no matter the origin of the problem.

alijawad1
alijawad1

That is the best thing I have read today...However well qualified a new employee is if he/she does not fit in, that is going to cause trouble.

Christina
Christina

I had a similar happening. Only, the toxic employee was on the other end of the spectrum. She was single, her child grown and gone and was walking distance to home. So, she made work the center of her universe, and expected everyone else on the team should, too. (I was in the exact opposite circumstance) She would loudly voice her complaints to the manager about the rest of us slackers and because he didn't seem to respond, she lost all respect for him and did whatever she wanted. Which went along the line of being a "super-(bad)-manager", finding and exposing every mistake and generally acting like she was in charge. Pushing others down to make her seem better by comparison. Although she'd had harrassment charges brought against her & 4 other support staff moved on because of her and she'd gone through mediation with another (I was scheduled for mediation, too), the manager couldn't seem to do anything with her, I suppose because she looked great on paper: first to arrive, last to leave, complete over-achiever. She was told not to expect those around her to live up to her standard because it was too high, and we were told to "throw sugar on the water". She truly held us all emotional hostage and thrived on the "power" of being "right". I hear she's still intimidating the staff & the manager is still hiding in his office. I'm very thankful to have gotten out while I still had a shred of self-confidence. I didn't realize just how demoralizing the situation was until I was away. I guess the moral of my story is this: sometimes you can do everything right and still be in a bad situation. And sometimes the only fix is to find another job.

dancer1117
dancer1117

Thanks, and I agree we all need to be aware of how we interact with people. I just couldn't see, in this instance, how a status report generated such an extreme reaction.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

Any manager with employees incompetent enough to produce this rant, at best isn't being allowed to manage. Getting the right people is job one ffs.

TrentV
TrentV

I agree with your statement about the difficulty of your employees not wanting you to take action. However, that is part of the job and you should not be in such a position without understanding that.

rscholz
rscholz

scarlett, i feel you're off base, its your job to listen to your employee's issues and be a positive light for them, instead you seem to punish them with negative attitude: "I'm so tired of...", "they should talk to their spouse at the dinner table"?! what? you call that managing? you wouldn't work for me with an attitude like this. Its your job to manage, and that means listening to a complaining employee who wants to bring something to your attention but remain anonymous so not to be lashed out at by them in response. i don't mean to be hard on you, but your management style is part of the problem.

Canuckster
Canuckster

I have 2 thoughts on the thread so far; 1 - Only an over-worked manager could rationalize having one of their reports taking responsibility, or being seen as the cause, for the disciplining of another of the manager's reports. You have been informed, (and why didn't you notice what was happening? too many reports for you to do the job yourself? priorities other than your employees?), so monitor and take appropriate action. Sometimes you have to take action with the complainer and sometimes with the complainee. If that is too much for you to do, to notice and manage personnel, then maybe you need to look at employment not involving managing people. 2 - The reason for wrongful dismissal suits is to protect employees from arbitrary or mean spirited management practices. Yes you must tell an employee that they are doing something wrong and yes you must tell them again in writing. Were you never given a second chance? Haven't you ever worked for someone who misunderstood the whole issue, who got it all wrong? Managing an IT department pays more because it requires more. Personally I love dealing with people. I view it more as helping the good ones while weeding out the ones that keep the "team" from moving forward and reaping the rewards. As an employee I also appreciate a good manager, who can be found at the center of most successful projects.

dmaycott
dmaycott

I have been an IT manager for the past 12 years and have never had a problem with meeting individuals or with a team of employees having a problem with one person or more. Most of the time it is a misunderstanding, different personality clashing, personal issues or someone just isn't pulling their own weight. Each of these can be addressed and should otherwise it poisons the team and the mission of the team.

PSK_
PSK_

I think what he meant was that bad managers are afraid to be in variance w/ polical correctness.

Christina
Christina

I know of what you speak. I smiled when, four months later, I heard that my replacement still couldn't produce the work I had and that certain toxic employee was up to her same old tricks, just a new target. I wonder if she appreciated what I had produced a little more? (Probably not) Terrible of me, I know. But I smiled anyway.

Tell It Like I See It
Tell It Like I See It

I was in a similar situation. I basically ended up doing everyone else's job except my own because that was what the manager wanted. Big mistake. It started at a time the company was in dire trouble, so I bucked it up and did it. Problem was this kind of "emergency" operation never ended with this manager. I got to the point where I started pushing the other people's (plural, BTW) jobs back on them. Not totally at first, but enough that they were unhappy that I was no longer doing their job for them. They complained that I wasn't a team player, etc. One time I had just hung up the phone and overheard one of the worst offenders tell the manager "He's not helping us anyway." I'm pretty sure they were talking about me. This comment may have come back to haunt this offender -- read on. Finally, manager pulls me aside and says I will do their job for them or else he doesn't want me in his department. Next day, before the manager had even logged into his computer, I handed him my resignation. Manager tried to talk me out of resigning. I told the manager that either he agrees I won't do their jobs or it stands. He decided to let it stand. When I told people I was leaving (with no job in mind), they were floored. I had one manager comment "Who's going to help us now that the only one who knows what's going on is leaving?" My comment was a shrug and "I guess they'll have to figure it out for themselves". What else could I say? I ended up working for another department in the same company. My new manager is much better. I've still had to help out the old department with some truly critical situations (such as a cross-linked table in MS SQL 6.5). Still, those situations are rare. While on my way to the mailroom one day (after I left the problem department), I passed by the old department and overheard the manager make a "friendly reminder" kind of comment to the person who made the "not helping us" comment. I smiled the rest of the day! Maybe now the manager is realizing who the non-helper truly was! As time went on, you could just look at the one who made the "not helping" comment and literally physically see him going downhill -- as in getting physically exhausted and totally frustrated. Eventually he left the department and I overheard him tell someone that it was because "everything is just busywork." I smiled for another day when I heard that as well. I'd like to think that he finally understood that I was already doing much more than he thought I was. But then again, I'm not so sure. Either way, I was in a bad situation and only got out of it by leaving that particular job. So, yes, I think you can do everything "right" and still wind up in a bad situation where the only way out is to literally get out.

toni.bowers_b
toni.bowers_b

I don't know since I'm only hearing the story and wasn't there, but my guess is this woman should have been angrier at herself than at you. She was behind on her work, you just reported that fact. I see an alarming amount of this shifting of blame.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

I suggest a verbal warning at minimum. This guy seems to be a walking talking advert for If you aren't part of the solution....

rscholz
rscholz

When it comes to IT, (in my experience) its more like half (actually more) of all managers do not have the basic personality to, be it incapable of kind human interaction or inflated ego.

rscholz
rscholz

you did the right thing by pulling the employee into a private reprimand, if it were me i would be sure to (gently) let HR know i disagreed with their policy, and continue to follow proper management practices. if a company (or organization) does not allow a manager to manage, then said company is dooming itself to substandard employment.

bzimmerman
bzimmerman

1. About two-thirds of all managers have not had management training and do not possess the necessary skill set. Shame on companies who promote good workers to management without providing even rudimentary training to understand the difference between "being on the field" and "coaching from the sidelines". 2. About one-third of all managers do not have the basic personality to be managers. It takes someone who is energized by association with groups, not someone who is drained by people. 3. If you don't have your ego under control, it is very difficult to manage well. Your team does the heavy lifting, so make sure they get the best treatment and all the recognition they deserve. They will not understand the planning, organization, foresight, and long hours you put in to make their work shine, but they will put forth their best effort and show great loyalty so you will all be rewarded. Some managers may be afraid, but the majority are just under-trained or unsure of the nature of the work.

dmy75252
dmy75252

Really, I'm talking about your point #2. I work in a state where employment is "at will", meaning, you can be terminated at any time for any reason, or, no reason at all. However, it seems that even in this instance, our HR department and perhaps legal, are really nervous about taking action Case in point: I recently reprimanded an employee for a rude, disrespectful and generally inappropriate comment he made, to me, in front of some other of my direct reports. The reprimand was conducted in private and, I warned him that additional violations "could" result in further disciplinary action, up to and including termination. Also, during that reprimand, I told him that he was a highly professional and highly compensated employee was was expected to act in accordance with those standards. While my HR department agreed that the comments were rude, disrespectful and insubordinant, I was told that it was appropriate for me to say that further violations could result in further disciplinary action or to comment on him being "highly compensated". They said that this type of language, while true, tends to "upset" employees and it might lead them to think that their livelyhoods might be in jeopardy. In this instance, I wasn't even allowed to give him a formal "verbal warning". This "whole thing just upset him too much". In short, according to our HR department, this never happened. While this "may" be an isolated case, I'm willing to bet that this happens more times than we care to talk about. I too enjoy being a manager and the personal interactions, involvment and yes, even the opportunities to "grow" employees, that goes along with the job. I derive great satisfaction in grooming my direct reports for management opportunities. However, it's this type of thing that drives me up the wall, and I'm sure, prevents some managers from taking steps when they otherwise would (or should). I believe managers, especially those new to the position, need training on how to deal with employees and what they can or can't do, when it comes to disciplinary action. However, it's critical that you HR department will let you do your job, when it needs to be done and when it's in accordance with established policy guidelines. By not allowing managers to do their jobs, you make them afraid or unwilling to take action when it is so clearly needed, thereby, putting their own jobs and the company in jeopardy.

rscholz
rscholz

excellent response, well articulated and to the point, i couldn't agree more! i also agree with your point in why IT managers pays more, i feel it requires more effort due to the personality types of people who choose IT as a career path, in my experience they tend to be socially immature, isolationalists if you will, the type that will choose email communications over a face to face discussion, (or no communications at all!) and if managed poorly will lead to misunderstandings and team dissatisfaction.

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