How to deal with good and bad managers

During your career, you’ll work for some managers you think are ‘good’ and others you think are ‘bad’. You can learn a lot from both. Aim to get the most out of both situations. 

What to learn from a good manager  

When you are lucky enough to work for a good manager, learn all you can from them. What do they do that makes them so great? Here are three good questions to ask. You can find the answers by observing your manager closely or just by asking questions. It’s also a good idea to ask colleagues who work for the same manager what they think. 

  • Which three things about your manager impress you the most?  
  • How did your manager get to where they are today?  
  • What can you learn from your manager and their story?

Make an effort to understand what motivates your manager. Think about what they do but also why they do it. What would they say are the benefits of being a manager? What’s their management style or ‘philosophy’? Why do people seem to like having them as a manager and what’s their opinion on this? 

It’s a great privilege to be able to learn from people who are really good at their job. Don’t waste this golden opportunity to learn all you can. 

How to deal with a bad manager  

Bad managers, like bad employees, come in many different forms. They aren’t usually bad people. They may be good people, trying their best, but without much talent for leadership or management. Companies can make mistakes. Sometimes, they promote the best engineer or sales person to a management position, even though this is rarely a good idea. You can be a great engineer but a terrible manager of an engineering department. 

Some managers are really good, most are alright and some are terrible. If you have a good manager, learn as much as possible from them! If you have a manager who is alright, find a way to work with them that doesn’t annoy you too much. Maybe you can learn to be a little more tolerant to achieve a good working relationship.

If you have a really bad manager, find a new one! Managers can be bad in many different ways, but there are two in particular to mention. One is the absent manager and the other is the controlling manager who interferes all the time. Let’s see how to handle them.

1. Handling an absent manager
Let’s say you have a manager — but you hardly ever see them. You soon start to feel that they aren’t supportive and don’t really care about you or your colleagues. There could be many reasons why your manager isn’t around much. Perhaps they travel a lot, work in a separate office or have so much to do that they can hardly ever see you. Maybe they just don’t think they need to have a particularly close working relationship with you. Then again, perhaps they just don’t have a clue and shouldn’t be in management at all.
You might think that having a manager who is hardly ever around isn’t an entirely bad thing. At least they aren’t looking over your shoulder all the time! However, it does lead to problems. Your work will suffer, you won’t get the support and feedback you need and important tasks will get overlooked. If you must deal with a largely absent manager, here are some ways to make the most of the situation. 

    • Use different ways to keep in touch
      These days, you have many different ways to contact your manager. As well as actually meeting face to face, you can make a phone call, send a text or email, ‘chat’ via social media or use online conferencing. Use as many of these options as you can to stay in touch with your manager. If they won’t regularly contact you, then you have to regularly contact them.
    • Offer to help
      Learn as much as you can about why your manager always seems to be busy. Maybe you can help in some way or make their life a little easier. The more you can do for your manager, the better your working relationship will be. Always be ready to ask, “How can I help?”
    • Ask for what you need
      You need your manager to give you a certain amount of coaching and feedback. Ask for what you need and suggest how they can provide it. Maybe you can schedule a meeting once a month. Suggest a plan that makes their life as easy as possible. When they do give you support, show your appreciation. Say how much it helped you and why. 
    • Prepare for meetings
      On the rare occasions when you are going to meet your manager, prepare well. Whatever you want to talk about, make it clear and easy to understand. Decide what your priorities are and never try to cover more than three points.
    • Take notes
      The less often you see your manager, the more important it is to be well organised. Among other things, this means making good notes. Each time you meet, take notes about what was said and agreed. You can refer to these notes the next time you meet. Make notes about the progress you’ve made, how things are going and any questions you need to ask. Good notes make life easier for your manager and for you.
    • Ask who else you can turn to
      If your manager isn’t often available, perhaps there are other people in the company you can turn to when necessary. Do they have a deputy or assistant who can help you? Is there another manager who can give you advice now and again?
    • Find a mentor
      It’s always a good idea to have a mentor. However, it’s particularly important if your manager seems to be absent most of the time. At least then you have someone you can talk to and ask for advice.
    • Try this helpful move
      Let’s say you do your best to contact your manager and discuss various issues, but you rarely ever succeed. Instead, try to contact other teams and managers, in other departments, and see if you can get them to help you. This will often lead to your manager turning up and wondering what’s going on! In most companies, managers like to protect their own ‘territory’, so to speak. They soon take an interest if you start contacting people outside their department.

2. Handling a controlling manager

Some managers have a very controlling nature. They remind you of a deadline five times in the same day and request detailed updates so often that you feel like giving up. They are always coming over to your desk to check up on you and see what progress you’ve made. If they could be a fly on the wall of every employee’s office, constantly watching and supervising, they would. How can you deal with a manager like this?

    • Show that you’re capable
      Don’t give your manager any reason to think they have to check up on you. Did you turn up late for work or a meeting? Or have you missed one or two deadlines? Things like this can lead your manager to feel they must check up on you all the time. As far as you can, take these ‘reasons’ away. Be punctual, meet your deadlines, take notes. Demonstrate that you’re perfectly capable of doing your job and don’t need them to interfere, even if it’s well intentioned.
    • Understand your manager
      Find out what’s important to your manager and what motivates them. This will help you to understand what they need from you. When your manager can see that you understand them, your working relationship will improve.
    • Stay ahead
      Stay ahead of your manager. When they ask when your monthly figures will be ready, say you’ve already put them on their desk. When they ask if you can let them have a progress report, say it’s already in their email and you’ve circulated it to the team. When they offer to help prepare your presentation, say you’ve already written it. Stay ahead and you’ll find you’re disturbed less often. 
    • Supply updates before you’re asked
      When you’re working on a project, keep your manager well informed. Provide regular progress reports and updates before you’re asked for them. If your manager always has to chase you for updates, this encourages them to keep a close eye on you. If your manager never needs to chase you, this encourages them to leave you alone.
      Short and simple updates are always appreciated. If you agree with your manager that you’ll get something done by Friday, send a short note after two or three days saying, “I’m making good progress and still on schedule. It will be ready on Friday as agreed.”
    • Avoid surprises
      Managers don’t like surprises — especially the very controlling managers. Surprises indicate a lack of control or organisation. Of course, the worst surprises are the negative ones. If you’re going to finish a project sooner than expected, no one will mind very much. If it’s going to be late, this could cause problems. Your manager will feel that you should have anticipated the delay and given them a warning.
      Always allow yourself some extra time in case you need it. If you promise to deliver something to your manager on Friday morning, aim to make sure it’s ready by Thursday afternoon. If you have a meeting at 10, aim to get there at 9.50. If you’re supposed to give a presentation lasting 30 minutes, make sure you can get through it in 25 minutes if necessary.


Topic: The Leader In You, Sweet Teams Are Made Of This