Manager from Hades, part 2

John Langhorne/Tree Full of Owls

In the previous column we reviewed the characteristics of the manager from Hades. If you have such a boss how do you cope?

If your boss is secretive then the challenge is to make sure you have the information you need to function at least a bit better than average. One good tactic is to build a network of people you trade information with about what is going on in the organization. This often happens at the water cooler, breaks or lunch. Another is listening to the grapevine at work. In a well-functioning organization, that is one where people generally receive timely, accurate information about what is happening, the grapevine is a source of good information. Beware, when an organization is unhealthy the grapevine is also unhealthy, filled with fear, uncertainty, hyperbole and emotionally hot. Yet another tactic is to network around him, visit with co-workers and compare notes on his behavior. You may be able to avoid some nasty surprises this way. Secretive managers make us feel stupid.

Punitive managers make us feel badly about ourselves. An effective tactic for coping with the punitive boss is to build a support group of colleagues. Meet informally, lunch perhaps, and share “You won’t believe what he did to me last week” stories. This experience is therapeutic, it helps you understand you are not the problem, the manager is the problem. Beware this doesn’t turn into “misery loves company experience,” this behavior is self-defeating, When you share what the manager is doing to you, it often leads to conversations about how to manage your manager. These can be very productive as long as the result is ethical. Bad managers unfortunately bring out the bad in us.

Unpredictable managers are the worst style. There really isn’t a viable tactic for dealing with this behavior. Regardless of the tactics you develop, they most often are not effective because there is no pattern to the behaviors. Perhaps this is the time to assess how much damage this person is doing to you and consider finding a better boss somewhere else.

Over the years of working in organizations, I have compiled a list of managerial practices that employees find disrespectful and incompetent. Consider using this list as a private self-test. Answering yes to any one of these suggests that you need to do some thoughtful reflection about your management style.

–Sarcasm directly to a person (Latin root – “tearing flesh”)

–Condescension, “talking down” to people

–Not listening, ignoring

–Sniping (talking about someone when you should be talking to them)


–Writing policies or scolding “all” for one person’s misbehavior.

–Wreaking confidences

–Asking for input when the decision has been made

–Not explaining why

–Giving negative feedback with others present

–“Talking over” people in meetings

–Habitually coming to meetings late

–Multi-tasking or side-talking during meetings

–E-communication all hours of the night and day all hours of the day and night

–E-mail offenses too many to enumerate

Actually let me enumerate what may be the most disliked form of e-mail offense, overusing “reply all.”

Effective managers understand that their job is to act in the best interests of the organization. Perhaps the most important and powerful managerial skill is an exemplary communications style.

In developing this it is important to formulate a basic principle for communication. One that I encourage managers to consider is: “The better informed people are, the better they function.” Practicing such an open communications style sends a powerful positive message to your people about your level of respect for them and indirectly invites their input into issues and decisions.

It is difficult to build people up by tearing them down with criticism. Is there such a thing as constructive criticism? Many employees think not. Learning how to coach, council, train and mentor people are essential skills for effective, respected managers. Yet most employees note that the only time they hear from the boss is when its bad news.

Monitoring our own behavior is the key to maintaining consistency or predictability in the workplace. One of the most effective tools for doing this is the say/do ratio: I will do what I say I will do when I say I will do it. Do not over-promise and under-deliver. People are very sensitive to the say/do ratio and do not respect or trust people with low ratios.

Research shows that the immediate supervisor has the greatest impact on employee attitudes and performance. Consistently showing respect for your people is a sure winner for managers. Always remember as manager it is far more important that your people respect you than like you.

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