What Are Traits Seen In Bad Managers

Recognizing the Traits of Ineffective Managers

Throughout my four decades of experience in business, leadership, and consulting, I’ve encountered numerous managers who exhibit certain detrimental traits. In this article, we’ll explore four common characteristics that tend to be present in bad managers.

1. Self-Centeredness

One of the most prevalent traits in bad managers is their relentless self-centered focus. These managers are primarily concerned with themselves, and everything revolves around their own image and perception. Whether this self-centeredness is driven by ego or insecurity, it manifests in various ways:

Concerned About How They Appear to Others

Bad managers are often preoccupied with how they are perceived by different parties. They constantly worry about how they come across to their superiors, peers, and subordinates. Questions like “Do I appear strong or weak?” and “Do they think I’m an idiot?” frequently occupy their thoughts.

Desperate for Approval from Their Team

These managers crave approval and admiration from their team. They feel the need to be revered as all-knowing and infallible leaders. Instead of focusing on addressing real issues and challenges, they prioritize maintaining an image of strength and invincibility.

The Egotists and the Worriers

While some bad managers exhibit self-centeredness due to their egotistical nature, others are driven by fear and insecurity. The latter group often grapples with imposter syndrome and tries to mask their apprehension by projecting confidence. Their overriding concern is how others perceive them, overshadowing the importance of achieving actual results.

In their quest to control their image, these managers end up making everything about themselves, sidelining the collaborative efforts required for success.

2. Excessive Focus on Inputs

Many ineffective managers place an undue emphasis on tracking inputs rather than measuring output results. They become fixated on minutiae such as employees’ punctuality, restroom breaks, or the number of keystrokes. This fixation stems from their obsession with controlling appearances rather than fostering productivity. Key aspects of this trait include:

Micro-Management of Employee Activities

Bad managers closely monitor their employees’ every move, often treating them as if they were robotic entities. They prioritize tracking hours worked, looking busy, and maintaining a constant veneer of busyness. Any sign of employees enjoying their work or engaging with colleagues is seen as a transgression.

The Misplaced Focus on Professional Appearance

Rather than emphasizing professional results, these managers concentrate on the outward appearance of professionalism. They expect their team to perpetually project an image of industriousness. This mindset leaves no room for relaxed or enjoyable interactions among team members, as it is “all business, all the time.”

Ignoring the Bigger Picture

By obsessing over inputs, these managers lose sight of the broader objectives—such as achieving results, boosting sales, and ensuring customer satisfaction. They prefer to manage minor details that seem easier to control rather than concentrating on the outcomes that truly matter.

This narrow focus can hinder team performance and prevent them from reaching their full potential.

3. Fear of Failure

A significant offshoot of their obsession with image, bad managers are often petrified of failure, especially any failure that might tarnish their reputation. Instead of viewing occasional failures as opportunities for growth, they pursue perfection relentlessly:

Perfectionism Takes Hold

These managers demand perfection from themselves and their teams, creating an environment where any error is met with blame and excuses. Instead of exploring the root causes of a failure, they search for scapegoats.

Covering Up Mistakes

Outwardly, bad managers go to great lengths to conceal any hint of failure. They fear that any slip-up will reflect negatively on their record, leading them to resort to excuses or shifting blame. The notion of learning from failure is alien to them.

Encouraging a Culture of Fear

Their fear of failure trickles down to their teams, causing employees to hide mistakes and avoid taking risks. The fear of negative consequences stifles innovation and creativity.

Rather than fostering an environment of experimentation and growth, these managers play it safe and react defensively to any perceived failure.

4. Hoarding Information

Bad managers often treat information as a closely guarded treasure to be hoarded rather than shared. They tightly control the flow of communication both within and outside their teams:

Strict Control of Information

These managers maintain a tight grip on communication channels within their teams. They scrutinize emails, meeting invitations, and discussions, often insisting on being included in every communication. They meticulously edit and review any information that might make its way to higher-ups.

Shielding Their Team

Out of a misguided attempt to protect their team, bad managers conceal unfavorable news from superiors or other relevant parties. They frame this as shielding their team from external interference but often delay the inevitable discovery of issues through alternative sources.

A Culture of Deception

Teams led by such managers can develop a culture of deception, where the truth is hidden, and communication is carefully curated. Phrases like “I can’t tell you, that’s need-to-know” or “you wouldn’t understand” become commonplace.

Unfortunately, this isolation from the rest of the organization can hinder teamwork and innovation.


Bad managers, characterized by these traits, often gain notoriety within their organizations, but not in the way they might hope. They are usually viewed with disdain or pity from the outside, and smart employees tend to avoid them. The teams under their leadership often suffer, and some members may even choose to leave to escape the challenging work environment.

If you find yourself on a team led by a bad manager, it’s advisable to seek an exit strategy. These managers tend to persist in their behaviors, and enduring their leadership can be draining. Ultimately, it’s crucial for organizations to recognize and address these traits in their managers to foster healthier and more productive work environments.

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