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Horrible Bosses II – taming the beast within

We’ve looked before at the traits of horrible bosses, and rightly criticised those who are driven by ego and self-promotion. But in my experience, 99 percent of managers are striving to do their very best under enormous corporate pressures for results. By Gareth Chick, Director, Spring Partnerships.

Generally, business leaders genuinely care about their people and they do take their people management responsibilities seriously. Unfortunately, the pressure they are under often leads managers into situations where it’s all too easy for them to judge their people as getting in their way, and then out comes the Beast. As part of their opening personal introductions, delegates of Spring’s 2 day Coaching Excellence programme are asked to reveal their worst management habit when they are under pressure. These are then flipcharted and stay with the group over the 2 days of the programme, as part of the group conscience. I make it clear that it’s not a competition, but inevitably, as the delegates ‘fess up’ to the Beast that rises in them when people are ‘just not doing it right / doing it fast enough/caring enough’ etc etc, it becomes a sort of ‘you think that’s bad, you wait until you hear mine’! type game.

Here are my current Top 10 Bad Habits – not necessarily the worst habits I’ve encountered, but chosen for their almost poetic descriptions. In no particular order:

  1.  “I expect my team to be mindreaders, then I get frustrated when it’s clear they’ve not grasped the situation” 
  2.  “I let people off the hook then I use sarcasm when things get in a pickle” 
  3. “I do my 4 step dance – I judge them, then I dictate to them, then I patronise them and then I resent them. I become the Pompous Superhero Dictator” 
  4. “I can be a poisonous monkey when no one can do a thing right; I make people duck” 
  5. “I become focused and selfish; I involve lots of people and ignore their workloads” 
  6. “I just jump in, give them the sharp elbows, and take over”
  7.  “I scrabble around, ramble and get hyper. I go round corners on two wheels” 
  8. “My confidence goes. I go into ‘I can’t do it its too big’. It builds to a head – then I have three days of running around like a headless chicken” 
  9. “I’m the deer in the headlights. Very task focused, I take tasks back. I know everyone can see, but my logical mind goes – I exclude / head down” 
  10. “I become even more of a control freak – I then have to patch things up and it feels like I lose credibility”

The reality is that these habits (and I defy any manager to read the above and NOT smile with some acknowledgement of the emotions and behaviours) are almost physically unstoppable. We know we’re doing it, and we know that it’s not good, but we cannot stop ourselves.

And of course if people stay with us for a while, they excuse our behaviour, because they know it’s not personal, and they actually do understand that the behaviours are born out of sheer frustration. They learn to ‘manage’ us. They know the physical signs and have learned how to survive them. The real risk of these poor behaviours is that our people go into self protection while it lasts. Instead of taking personal responsibility and stepping up to the plate, they defend themselves and wait for the storm to pass. In other words our poor behaviours make matters far worse.

But we know this. So why can’t we just STOP? Well, it would be like saying to a 60 a day smoker “So you know it’s killing you, you know your clothes smell, you want to stop – SO JUST STOP!” Oh well, now you put it like that! In the late 1980s Stephen Covey wrote a seminal book called “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”. On Spring’s twoday Coaching Excellence Programme, delegates are physically confronted with “The 7 Habits of Highly Pressured Managers”. It is these habits that are our real enemy. Here they are:

We ask closed questions – like machine gun fire
We fill silences – anything over a few nanoseconds
We answer our own questions – if we waited for them
We let people answer a different question  – we can’t be rude
We accept “I don’t know” as an answer  – they wouldn’t lie
We ask several questions in one – it’s quicker
We use ‘we’ instead of ‘you’ – we want to be inclusive

Have a look and ask yourself how many you are guilty of. More than you think! If we can catch ourselves as the Beast rises up, there is a split second of choice. If we can then ask a question. Physical habits are incredibly hard to break – so we need to help ourselves in the following way. Recognise that our poor behaviours are just symptoms of a greater universal habit – that of solving problems. Recognise the 7 Habits listed above and catch ourselves. Commit to the hard work involved in changing our default mode from solving problems to asking questions. Practice asking questions until it becomes the physical default.

I don’t want anyone to focus on their worst habit and simply try and cut it out. Actually in a strange way there is a lot of the ‘authentic you’ in that moment. Frustration is natural – its what we do with the Beast as we feel it rising that’s important. What I want managers to do is to change their physical default mode from solving problems to asking questions. Become the Master Craftsmen of questioning, and I promise you that the Beast will be tamed.


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