By: Steve Tobak
We’ve all had bosses do things we didn’t like, appreciate, or respect. And every manager has done things they later regret. The business world is, by necessity, one of real-time decisions and judgment calls that sometimes turn out to be bad choices, in retrospect.
After all, nobody’s perfect. We all make mistakes. And that’s a good thing, since that’s are how we learn lessons, including how to do our jobs better. That goes for every employee, manager, executive, business owner, CEO, everyone.
But sometimes a mistake can become a slippery slope. An exception can all-too-easily become the rule. Simply put, there are lines that managers should not cross, behavior they should not exhibit, and not to be overly dramatic, pathways that lead more or less to the dark side.
In 10 Things Great Managers Do, I went back in time to the best characteristics of the best CEOs I’ve worked for and with over the past 30 years. I decided to do the same thing here for the simple reason that I learned as much from the negative experiences as I did from the positive ones.
Keep in mind, this isn’t meant to be a whine-fest to get employees riled up and pissed off at their bosses. Think of it instead as a standard that employees and managers alike can agree upon and, perhaps, a wakeup call for those who need one.
10 Things Managers Should Never Do
- Order people around like dictators. Contrary to popular belief, managers are not dictators. Every manager has at least one boss. Even CEOs serve the board directors and shareholders. Any manager who thinks he can order people around or abuse his authority because he’s the boss is a terrible leader. Employees are not soldiers or children. You can tell them what their job is and even fire them, if you want, but if you order them around, the good ones will up and quit, as they should.
- Forget about customers. It never ceases to amaze me how many managers forget that organizations and companies exist for just one reason - to win, maintain, and support customers. Business is about business, and when you make it about you - your issues, your fears, your empire, your thin skin, whatever - you cease to be an effective manager.
- Behave like arrogant jerks that are better than others. Just to be clear, I’m not saying managers or bosses can’t be jerks. A lot of people are jerks, including plenty of employees, and almost everybody’s a jerk under certain circumstances. I’m specifically talking about the arrogant “I’m better than the little people” thing. It makes you look like a little brat and completely neuters your authority and credibility.
- Let their egos write checks that reality can’t cash.Oftentimes, leaders attain their position because they believe they’re special - a fascinating misconception that’s nevertheless often self-fulfilling. The problem with that is the slippery slope of drinking your own Kool Aid. Either you grow up or, sooner or later, things end up unraveling. I’ve seen it time and again and it isn’t pretty.
- Publicly eviscerate employees. Of all the things I’ve experienced over the decades, this is not only the most dehumanizing but also the most demoralizing to employees. I had a couple of CEOs that practiced this on a regular basis and both were universally despised, as a result. Moreover, both self-destructed in the end.
- Wall off their feelings. This may sound touchy feely, but it’s far from it. Researchers are fond of classifying executives and leaders as psychopathic, but the mechanism by which that happens is compartmentalizing of emotions. If you’ve ever wondered how people who seem to lack any semblance of humor or humility can behave the way they do, the answer is, if you’re not connected to your emotions, you’re far less human.
- Surround themselves with bureaucrats, BSers, and yes-men. When you encourage the status quo and discourage dissent, you doom the organization to stagnation and eventual decline.
- Threaten. Threats don’t work. They’re just as likely to motivate the opposite behavior of what you’re trying to achieve. They diminish your authority and make you appear weak and small. You should communicate what you want and why, then act on the results. That works. Threats don’t. And for God’s sake, never threaten an employee with his job or a vendor with your business. That’s just out of control.
- Act out like little children. Everyone goes through the same stages of human development on the road to adulthood and maturity. Unfortunately, some of us get stuck in one stage or another, stunting our growth and rendering us dysfunctional. We look just like ordinary adults, but we actually behave a lot more like children, acting out, throwing tantrums, and generally making life miserable for everyone around us.
- Break the law. America is a nation of laws and, civil or criminal, they’re black and white for a reason. For some reason, executives will sometimes risk everything - power, wealth, careers, families, everything - for motives most of us will never understand. We’re talking accounting, securities, bank, wire, and mail fraud; insider trading; bribery; obstruction of justice; conspiracy; discrimination; harassment; it’s a long, long list.