According to Gallup’s report, State of the American Manager, Analytics and Advice for Leaders, only 30% of U.S. employees are engaged at work. That means 70% are actively disengaged – meaning they only show up to collect their paycheck, they don’t care how the work gets done, or they find every opportunity to walk away to explore a distraction. And this isn’t just a U.S. problem. In fact, Gallup’s other studies reveal similar problems worldwide, including Germany’s abysmal 15% for employee engagement.
Gallup’s research suggests that, “Actively disengaged employees aren’t merely unhappy at work – they undermine what their engaged coworkers accomplish every day.” Interestingly, Gallup found that the reason for such low numbers is bad management. In fact, Gallup’s CEO Jim Clifton adds that, “Organizations fail to choose the candidate with the right talent for the manager job a whopping 82% of the time. Virtually all companies try to fix bad managers with training. Nothing fixes a bad manager.”
As an up-and-coming employee struggling under an ineffective taskmaster, it’s important to understand that someone who has no idea how to delegate, provide feedback or celebrate accomplishments will undoubtedly hold you back. At its worst, someone with such tremendous insecurities that they feel almost god-like in a management position – unable to work collaboratively, drive a simple project to completion, or keep their personal feelings out of a performance review – will cause more damage to the people around them than to themselves.
Unfortunately, with such abysmal numbers, we’ve all been there. And considering that the numbers haven’t really moved much over the past 12 years, it’s safe to say that this is a problem that has anchored itself deeply in corporate culture. That culture of pay raises and promotions based on performance reviews or seniority has taken its toll on the corporate landscape. Management, like many other specialized positions, requires a specific skill set that can’t be ignored or set aside because a candidate has been with the company the longest or knows the right people.
The most common advice when confronted with a bad manager who inhibits your career growth is to transfer or leave, effectively eliminating your problem. True, but that advice works best if you find yourself in a company where no one else sees a problem. In that case, you just don’t fit that culture. Alternatively, if you find that you and the rest of your team share the same point of view, then there’s opportunity for a solution.
With the right tools, those same team members have the power to create the culture shift necessary to reduce or eliminate bad management behavior before it has a chance to take hold. For an executive who is coming into the realization that certain management practices could be improved, or for any business owner, if you arm enough employees with the right tools, you create a culture that empowers them, rather than drive your best employees away.
Gallup suggests three areas for improvement when dealing with an ineffective manager – strengths, performance and communication. While these are areas that managers should be focusing on to get the most from their teams, it helps if team members already develop these areas on their own and push from below to redirect a manager into these areas. Here are some easy leadership development coaching strategies to implement that will help you get the most out of this strategy, no matter if you are above or below a manager that is causing your team or department problems.
First, arm yourself with the right information. Many companies use strengths-based assessments to determine where you will excel in any given job and use those assessments as part of your career development plan. If your company doesn’t use one, or you just want to explore other surveys, check out some of the more common products available online, including the StrengthsFinder or DISC Profile. Not only will this give you a clear idea of where to focus your energy for success, you will also be better able to have a productive conversation with your manager about the best projects for you. Developing primary and secondary strengths as opposed to working on your weaknesses is also the best approach for successful career growth.
Knowing your strengths allows you to move into projects and assignments that create win-win situations – maybe even moving you out of a limiting assignment and into one with more opportunity. Once you start excelling in a particular area, you are more likely to create a high-performance reputation for yourself. And that’s where you want to be – sought after for your expertise in a particular area. Once you get to that level, you’re less likely to be the victim of someone trying to hold you back.
Don’t be afraid to speak up for yourself. Open dialogue and full transparency create empowering situations. Sometimes a bad manager is just one that doesn’t take the time to tune into the best ways to utilize his or her team members. Unfortunately, performance reviews tend to be based on merit, meaning that if you get a great review, then you can expect a decent raise. It’s an outdated, archaic, ineffective way to grow a business or nurture talent. If this is your situation, then it’s very important to outline with your manager the best assignments based on your strengths and ask for timely feedback between reviews to stay on track. This is one area where you are completely in charge. The more you communicate, the better your chances for success.
If after implementing some or all of the above, you still find yourself in a tough spot, then it’s time to move on. The sooner you realize that you’re in charge of your career, the better. Remember, you are not at the mercy of a bad manager no matter how much or how little experience you have.