Dealing with the manager from Hades

John Langhorne/Tree Full of Owls

The first article in my book, Beyond Luck, is titled, “Some basics of an effective management style.” Feedback from readers has made it pretty clear that I missed the boat when I chose this title. It should be called “The Manager from Hades.” Substitute your choice of nouns for Hades.

For some time now, I have been giving short talks on this management style and in the context asking people if they have ever worked for the manager from Hades. Remarkably, about 40 percent to 60 percent of people raise their hands.  If you ask entrepreneurs, the proportion is about 90 percent.

Some time ago I ran a “send a description of your manager from Hades,” solicitation on my blog and the stories are truly amazing. Here is one of the contributions:

I had the ‘pleasure’ of working for a marketing agency whose owner saw fit to impose the following official (and unofficial) rules on a group of highly skilled, salaried, college-grad employees:

1. Be at your desk by or before 8 a.m. Your computer must be on, e-mail open and coffee/bagel in hand. Construction, weather and/or death is no excuse.

2. You get a half-hour lunch, and you have to take it between noon and 1 p.m.

3. Afternoon break is from 3:15 to 3:45. You may not remain at your desk.

4. Dailies: You must send a detailed e-mail at the end of every day summarizing what you worked on. Never send before 5 p.m. or you will come under scrutiny.

5. Try not to leave before 5:10. The later you stay, the better.

6. Each employee has a chore (trash, dishwasher, etc). You can’t trade chores with anyone else w/o prior approval.

7. Vacation/Flex Time: You get five days vacation/flex/sick time a year for your first two years. Adding vacation days to holiday weekends is prohibited. No overseas travel. (Yes, this is true!)

8. Don’t call in sick. If you do, fax a statement from your doctor. Ideally, you should come in to work for inspection to determine if you are actually sick before you’re allowed to go home.

She ended by noting there were many more than my 300-word limit allowed. Can you believe this? Imagine what morale and productivity must be like is such an organization. So much for Peter Drucker’s advice to “manage knowledge workers with trust, not force.” We have some room for improvement in management practices. By the way, the earlier informal poll holds true for workers in all three sectors: private, nonprofit and public.

The dysfunctional characteristics of the manager from hell are well understood. Examining these is a valuable exercise in reviewing and further enhancing our own management styles.

There are three core characteristics that contribute significantly to the poor performance of any person in the workplace, and this is particularly so for managers who use these practices. These are:

Secretive. Lack on information is a canker that eats the soul out of organizations. It breeds distrust, fear and paranoia. Secrecy as a management practice gives rise to “mushroom management” – I must be a mushroom, people keep me in the dark and feed me BS. Another notable characteristic of secretive managers is selectively sharing information selectively (i.e. manipulation).

Punitive. I once worked with a person whose basic philosophy of dealing with people seemed to be “never let a cheap shot pass.” Such a person is very difficult to work with and has a powerfully negative effect on our self-confidence. People often awaken feeling ill every Monday morning. I know people who have taken early retirement because they couldn’t stand the feeling any longer.

Unpredictable is the most destructive management style. Regardless of the tactics we develop, it is impossible to learn the rules of behavior because they are always changing. In interviews with employees, they often report that the hardest type of manager to work for is one where each morning is “What mood is s/he in today?”

In the next article I will suggest tactics for dealing with these difficult behaviors and provide a self-test for you to personally assess if you have any of the characteristics of the manager from Hades as well as a couple ideas for improvement. If you care to send me a short, 300-word description of your personal manager from Hades, I will be delighted to post it and share it with my blog readers. Visit

John Langhorne is with Langhorne Associates. He can be reached at His new book, Beyond Luck: Practical Steps to Navigate the Path from Manager to Leader, is available at