We’ve all been there at some point: dealing with a boss from hell, someone who instills fear or simply cannot manage. It isn’t surprising considering that most people don’t know how to lead. I’ve seen some estimates as high as 98% in terms of research done in talent management and human resources circles.
In recent weeks, there have been salacious charges of sexual harassment, racism and general workplace toxicity at “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” which sparked an internal investigation by Warner Bros. and led to the dismissal of three producers. The irony, of course, is that these stories have sullied the reputation of America’s Queen of Kind.
A new Gallup poll shows that as many as half of all U.S. employees actually quit a job to get away from a toxic manager. It’s the kind of statistic that makes people stop in their tracks, and I’ve known both family members and friends to whom this has happened. In addition, 84% of respondents to a survey by the Society for Human Resource Management say poorly trained managers create unnecessary work and stress. That’s a no-brainer, and I’m surprised it isn’t higher.
That same research recommended five critical skills managers could improve upon: communicating effectively; developing and training team members; managing time and delegating; cultivating a positive and inclusive team culture; and managing team performance.
Two of my supervisors over the past 35 years were intelligent folks who could be pleasant and even engaging, but they couldn’t handle pressure. Sound familiar? That character trait tends to bring out the worst in managers, supervisors or business owners, and the rest of us feel their wrath.
I received a scathing email just a few short years ago from an interim editor at one of the publications I have written for that was so over the top I hardly slept for a week. Left twisting in the wind without a reply to my contrite response one summer Monday, which included revisions to a breaking news story I was working on at the time, I picked up the phone on a Friday afternoon to clear the air.
Much to my surprise, I reached him on the first try and then calmly spoke my mind. First, I apologized for submitting something on very short notice that wasn’t up to my usual high standards, then suggested being unfairly chastised.
My final comment to this easily stressed scribe was that not acknowledging for four days my response to his now-infamous email was unprofessional and the colorful language he used was not only highly disrespectful but unacceptable. I told him no one has a right to speak to me like that over a blip of failure in a successful decades-long career. His response: contrite about leaving me hanging, which he admitted was wrong. But he steadfastly stood by his initial comments. This was the part that left me stunned. In the end, any attempt at an apology seemed half baked.
The irony is that I learned on that call those initial marching orders from his overseer were unclear. I was supposed to contribute a few paragraphs to a timely story rather than write a stand-alone article. If it had been clearly communicated, then I’m confident there would have been a very different result. It wasn’t long after that our paths never again crossed. A permanent replacement was found, and our careers went on.
With the passage of time, the incident serves as a reminder that we all deal with annoying bosses or co-workers. That’s just human nature. Not everyone is a good communicator, though I would have thought that being in the business of communication would have raised the supervisory bar a bit higher at the publication with which I was associated.
This is what happens when bean counters are put in charge of a large operation whose bottom-line focus sometimes may be advanced at the expense of constructive criticism, clarity, understanding and empathy. If there was ever a Management 101 lesson for these strange, challenging and uncertain times, it’s clear that this is one trap organizations will need to avoid as much as possible.