Weekly Wrap: The Weak Things That Weak Managers Always Seem to Say

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I have long been a fan of Liz Ryan, a former Fortune 500 HR executive, and I’ve followed her from Businessweek, to LinkedIn, and now to Forbes to get her wonderfully thoughtful brand of talent management wisdom.

She’s the HR Director you wish you really had.

That’s why her latest Forbes column — Seven Things Only Weak Managers Say — resonated with me, because it is the practical advice I used to hear from MY HR Directors back during the 1980s and early ’90s during what I like to call the Golden Age of HR.

7 things only weak managers say

I’m fascinated by bad management and how ubiquitous it is, so I wanted to share what Liz considers the Seven Things Only Weak Managers Say here with my perspective. See how many of these you have heard, and I have heard just about all of them over the course of my career:

  1.  “I Don’t Pay You To Think” — As Liz correctly notes, “Actually, you do pay people to think,” and any manager dumb enough to say this is simply irritated because you’re probably thinking a lot more than they are. That’s a bad sign in a supervisor.
  2. That Sounds Like A Personal Problem” — “Real people come to work, and they bring their talents and insights with them,” Liz days, (and) “they also bring human obligations — to kids, parents and other relatives as well as pets.” I don’t have to tell you how busy and chaotic today’s world is, and one of the reasons flexible work schedules have taken hold is that people need some measure of flexibility to deal with all that is going on. That means personal stuff, too, and any manager worth their paycheck knows that helping employees to better handle their home life helps get better work out of them when they are on the job.
  3. “If You Don’t Want The Job, I’ll Find Someone Who Does” — I’ve never understood managers who say this because it is over-the-top confrontational without any solution in mind. As Liz says, “This idiotic statement is an invitation for you to take a step up in your career. Get away from a boss who’d say these words and find one who understands that only great employees can make a great company.”
  4. There’s Nothing I Can Do – That Decision Is Already Made” — This is one I take issue with because managers frequently have decision handed down to them and are left figuring out how to make it all work. It’s not wrong to tell an employee that a decision is final, but the next step should be explaining it to them, including some guidance for how to cope. This kind of managerial statement is a problem when the manager uses it to deflect concerns and refuses to help employees see how to make it work.
  5. “I’m The Manager! Just Do What You’re Told” — Dumb and idiotic on its face. Any manager who says this should be promptly shown the door, because this is the opposite of management.
  6. That’s The Way We’ve Always Done It” — There’s no quicker way to brand yourself as a dinosaur than to say something like this. Liz makes the point that, “Real life is all about change,” and the workplace is all about change on steroids. If anything, change is coming along quicker than ever, and good managers know that a major part of the job is not only absorbing the change, but helping employees to handle it, too.
  7. “If You Can’t Measure It, You Can’t Manage It” — I don’t agree with Liz here entirely, because she takes exception to this statement while I tend to agree with it. Yes, we DO need to be able to measure if we are to manage so much of what we handle each day. But, she does make this spot-on observation: “You can’t measure most of the things that are important in business, like good energy in a workplace … step up to a workplace where measurement is a tool rather than a religion. ” I say “Amen” to that.

You can learn a lot from a bad boss

You really need to read the entire column to get the full gist of the HR and talent management wisdom that Liz Ryan imparts here, because she has a good discussion about the differences between weak and strong managers that is well worth your time.

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But, here’s a point I always make that Liz doesn’t: The one upside to dealing with a bad manager, if you care to see it this way, is that sometimes you learn a lot more from watching bad managers then you do learning from good ones.

I wrote about this back just after we launched TLNT in a post titled Why It’s Good to Learn From a Bad BossHere’s the point I was making then, and I think it still applies equally well now:

You learn the very most about managing people from dealing with those who manage people badly. And, the bad managers that have the biggest impact are those you got stuck working for yourself.

Yes, there’s a lot you can learn from watching how people should NOT treat other people. In my career, I’ve had great bosses and terrible bosses, smart bosses and dumb bosses. I’ve also had bosses who were thoughtful managers, bosses who were purposely forgetful, and bosses who were over-the-top political. There were ones I would run through a wall for, but also ones I would run away from if I saw them walking down the street. …

Bad bosses are a way of life and a necessary evil, because if we didn’t have bad ones, we probably wouldn’t appreciate what it takes to be a good one.”

Quit worrying about work-life balance

Of course, there’s more than the things weak managers say in the news this week. Here are some HR and workplace-related items you may have missed. This is TLNT’s weekly round-up of news, trends, and insights from the world of talent management. I do it so you don’t have to.

  • What do you do when someone hijacks a meeting? Excessive meetings are the bane of many workplaces, and excessively long meetings are the reason why. And, they’re excessively long, for the most part, because one of the participants hijacks the meetings and wastes a lot of time. Well, the Harvard Business Review details how to handle such a situation, writing that “dealing with interrupters during a meeting is challenging. “It’s the workplace equivalent of having someone steal the parking spot you were aiming for or jumping ahead of you in the line at the grocery store,” says Judith White, visiting associate professor at the Tuck School of Business.”
  • Why you need to quit worrying about work-life balance. You hear a lot of talk about the need for work-life balance, but this article from Fast Company magazine takes a contrarian view, claiming, “you should forget about work-life balance.” It goes on to say, “The notion that we have two different lives — our work-life, where we do what we think we’re supposed to do, and our “real” life, where we pursue what truly interests us — can leave us feeling like we’re just surviving the workday to get to the free moments on the other side. … When we conceptualize work and life as opposed states—something to divide our precious minutes and hours between—it sets us up to live an unbalanced double life.”
  • More on why Zappos plan to eliminate managers is a bad idea. I recently wrote about how I thought Zappos plan to eliminate managers was bad and short-sighted, and now Jim Whitehurst in the Harvard Business Review says the same thing in Despite What Zappos Says, Middle Managers Still MatterHere’s the crux of his argument: “Much has been written about (Zappos) adoption of a self-management system — holacracy — with no job titles and zero managers. That move earlier this month saw 14 percent of their workforce choose to leave the retailer. While I applaud their effort to break down unnecessary walls, getting rid of managers is not the answer. Middle managers are increasingly vital to an organization’s success, though for different reasons than in the past. …  The new roles that middle managers must play require different skills and capabilities than in the past. Open organizations must invest to develop these leaders. It starts with explicitly recognizing their new role. Training around soft skills. Building culture that recognizes and celebrates the right behaviors.”

John Hollon is Editor-at-Large at ERE Media and was the founding Editor of TLNT.com. A longtime newspaper, magazine, and business journal editor, John has deep roots in the talent management space. He's the former Editor of Workforce Management magazine and workforce.com, served as Editor of RecruitingDaily, and was Vice President for Content at HR technology firm Checkster. An award-winning journalist, John has written extensively about HR, talent management, leadership, and smart business practices, including for the popular Fistful of Talent blog. Contact him at johnhollon@ere.net, connect with him on LinkedIn, or follow him on Twitter @johnhollon.

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