The Seven Habits of Incompetent Managers

You’ve heard of the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People? Well, here’s our selection of the seven habits of highly incompetent ones! Take a look at yourself, and those around you, for these key indicators of management incompetence:

Bias against action: You can always find plenty of reasons not to take a decision, to wait for more information, more options, more opinions. But real leaders display a consistent bias for action. If you never make mistakes, you generally don’t make anything! Legendary ad man David Ogilvy argued that a good decision today is worth far more than a perfect decision next month.

Secrecy: “We can’t tell the staff,” is something we repeatedly hear managers say. They defend this position with the argument that staff will be distracted, confused or simply unable to comprehend what is happening in the business. If you treat employees like children, they will behave that way – which means trouble. If you treat them like adults, in our experience they mostly respond likewise. Very few matters in business must remain confidential and if you’re a good manager you can identify those easily. Secrets make your company political, anxious and full of distrust.

Avoiding issues: “I know he always misses his deadlines, but when I raise the subject, he always has such a good reason – I’ve given up.” An inability to be direct and honest with your employees – and see it through – is a critical warning sign. Can you see a problem, address it head on and move on? If not, your staff problems won’t get resolved, they’ll grow. When managers say staff avoid issues, they are usually describing themselves. Shrinking violets don’t make great leaders! Interestingly, ‘secrecy’ and ‘avoiding issues’ almost always go together – it’s a bias against honesty.

Love of procedure and small tasks: Managers who stick to the rule book and to points of order have forgotten that rules and processes exist to facilitate business, not stall it. If you love procedure and perfect charts, forecasts and spreadsheets, watch out – it often masks a fatal inability to prioritise, and a tendency to polish the silver while the house is burning!It’s displacement activity to hide the fact that you aren’t doing your real job.

Preference for weak candidates: There were once three job candidates for a new position. One was clearly too junior, the other rubbed everyone up the wrong way and the third stood head and shoulders above the rest. Who did the manager want to hire? The junior. She felt threatened by the super-competent candidate and hadn’t the confidence to know that you must always hire people smarter than yourself.

Allergy to deadlines: A deadline is a commitment. If you cannot set and stick to deadlines, from punctuality at meetings to deadlines for major pieces of work, you cannot honour commitments, and are showing lack of respect for others. A failure to set and meet deadlines also means that you and others around you can never feel a true sense of achievement. You can’t celebrate milestones if there aren’t any!

Long hours: In our experience, it’s bad managers who work very long hours. They think this is a mark of heroism, but it is probably the single biggest hallmark of incompetence. To work effectively, you must prioritise and you must pace yourself. If you find yourself boasting of late nights, early mornings and no time off, you are betraying that you can’t manage yourself, so you’d better not manage anyone else!

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