Bad Manager or Flawed Human?


Last week, I ran into someone I hadn`t seen in quite a while. After getting caught up on what he`s doing, this is how the conversation went:

Him: So what are you doing now?

Me: I`m an executive coach. (I always wait for a reaction after that statement, secretly enjoying the all-too- frequent blank stares and then the question – “so what does an executive coach do?”).

Him: Oh, so you work with bad managers. Let me tell you about mine?€¦..blah blah blah.

And so he goes on about his manager with the poor behavior, how it`s driving him crazy, and why did “they” put her in a management position anyway?.

I`m not shocked because I hear it all the time. Sometimes I`m even approached by a client`s direct reports who hope I`ll pass along their complaints to my client (I won`t, and tactfully suggest that they speak to the manager themselves).

Aren`t we all flawed?

There are some really terrible managers out there. Luckily, they are a minority (although all of the bad boss stories would make us believe otherwise). More often than not, the people complaining about their “bad manager” are talking about some less than stellar behaviors exhibited by a decent person who is not very self aware. More often than not, these poor behaviors aren`t serious derailers. These are the behaviors of a human being who is flawed, like you and I.

None of us is perfect, so why should we expect our managers and leaders to be?

Do poor behaviors mean “bad manager”? Can “poor behaviors” change?

Managers and leaders are being observed and judged more than others. Our expectations are understandably different for people in those positions. So when those unsavory behaviors show up in managers, we notice them more and we tend to be more critical of the individuals exhibiting them (especially when they are our manager).

Instead of complaining to me, here is what you can do

The best thing you can do for your manager with poor behaviors is (a) to believe that they can change and (b) give them feedback about what you’re observing. By labeling them as “bad managers” or “bad leaders”, you’ve effectively withdrawn your support and lost hope for any change in their behavior. This doesn`t serve you or your organization well.

So the next time you want to tell me about your “bad manager”, please just tell me that you have a (good) manager with some poor behaviors. Then we can have a conversation about what you can do to help them correct those behaviors. If you are willing to step into that dialog with your manager, there is hope that they can become a better ?€“ maybe even great – manager.


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Mary Jo Asmus is the founder and President of Aspire Collaborative Services LLC, an executive coach, writer, internationally recognized thought leader, and a consultant who partners with organizations of all kinds to develop and administer coaching programs. She has “walked in your shoes” as a former leader in a Fortune company.

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Bad Manager or Flawed Human?


Last week, I ran into someone I hadn’t seen in quite a while. After getting caught up on what he’s doing, this is how the conversation went:

Him: So what are you doing now?

Me: I’m an executive coach. (I always wait for a reaction after that statement, secretly enjoying the all-too- frequent blank stares and then the question – “so what does an executive coach do?”).

Him: Oh, so you work with bad managers. Let me tell you about mine…..blah blah blah.

And so he goes on about his manager with the poor behavior, how it’s driving him crazy, and why did “they” put her in a management position anyway?. 

I’m not shocked because I hear it all the time. Sometimes I’m even approached by a client’s direct reports who hope I’ll pass along their complaints to my client (I won’t, and tactfully suggest that they speak to the manager themselves).

Aren’t we all flawed?

There are some really terrible managers out there. Luckily, they are a minority (although all of the bad boss stories would make us believe otherwise). More often than not, the people complaining about their “bad manager” are talking about some less than stellar behaviors exhibited by a decent person who is not very self aware. More often than not, these poor behaviors aren’t serious derailers. These are the behaviors of a human being who is flawed, like you and I.

None of us is perfect, so why should we expect our managers and leaders to be?

Do poor behaviors mean “bad manager”? Can “poor behaviors” change?

Managers and leaders are being observed and judged more than others. Our expectations are understandably different for people in those positions. So when those unsavory behaviors show up in managers, we notice them more and we tend to be more critical of the individuals exhibiting them (especially when they are our manager).

Instead of complaining to me, here is what you can do

The best thing you can do for your manager with poor behaviors is (a) to believe that they can change and (b) give them feedback about what you’re observing. By labeling them as “bad managers” or “bad leaders”, you’ve effectively withdrawn your support and lost hope for any change in their behavior. This doesn’t serve you or your organization well.

So the next time you want to tell me about your “bad manager”, please just tell me that you have a (good) manager with some poor behaviors. Then we can have a conversation about what you can do to help them correct those behaviors. If you are willing to step into that dialog with your manager, there is hope that they can become a better – maybe even great – manager.


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Mary Jo Asmus is the founder and President of Aspire Collaborative Services LLC, an executive coach, writer, internationally recognized thought leader, and a consultant who partners with organizations of all kinds to develop and administer coaching programs. She has “walked in your shoes” as a former leader in a Fortune company.

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