Weekly Wrap: Are These Really Things That Bad Managers Say?

© Thomas Perkins - Fotolia.com
© Thomas Perkins - Fotolia.com

If you know me (or have read me) much at all, you know one thing: I am obsessed with bad management.

It’s probably because I’ve worked for so many of them over the years, from the arrogant and know-it-all guy who had little real experience but loved to dictate to everyone else like he did, to the talentless bully who reveled in glowering over people like he was going to punch them.

It’s also because I have some skills as a manager: a management gene that gives me the ability to get more out of people than others can, and to do it without badgering, browbeating, or being a jerk. I have a track record of getting people to perform better and doing it in spite of some of the bad bosses I’ve had the displeasure of working for.

That’s why I was intrigued when I saw this Bloomberg BusinessWeek story on the Ten Things Only Bad Managers Say, because, well, I’ve probably heard just about all of them at one time or another during the course of my career.

Unfortunately, I found the list somewhat lacking. Yeah, I’ve heard some of them, but a lot of the bad things on the list are dated or lack the subtlety that many bad managers seem to infuse their threatening chatter with.

Really, do bad managers say this?

So, here’s the list from Liz Ryan (described as “an expert on the new-millennium workplace and a former Fortune 500 HR executive”), along with my comments on each. See what you think — or if you agree — that we could probably come up with a better and more current list of bad manager statements just polling the good readers here at TLNT.

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  • If you don’t want this job, I’ll find someone who does. My comment: This is a bit of a parody of a bad manager that I don’t believe many people say much today, if they ever really said it much at all.
  • I don’t pay you to think. Comment: Again, this kind of over-the-top bluster sort of went out about 15 years ago. Bad managers today are much more circumspect than to say something like this.
  • I won’t have you on eBay/ESPN/Facebook/etc. while you’re on the clock. Comment: Most bad managers don’t have to resort to saying something like this because they can point to a company policy that bans this kind of behavior instead.
  • I’ll take it under advisement. Comment: Hey, my Dad used to say this, so it was probably big when he was working — say, 40 years ago. Who says something like this today with a straight face, bad manager or not?
  • Who gave you permission to do that? Comment: OK, now we’re getting into something more current. This is one from all those control freaks out there who like to talk about people taking initiative but then want to lambaste them when they actually do.
  • Drop everything and DO THIS NOW! Comment: I suppose there are a few people out here who say this, but really, what you usually get is “why the hell are you doing that for? We really need you to be doing XYZ.”
  • Don’t bring me problems. Bring me solutions. Comment: Also a little dated, but it still pops up from time to time. I first heard this around 1980 when my boss was making a joke of someone who said it to him. And, I had a bad baboon of a boss later that decade who used it and overused it. I understand the underlying logic of saying this, but it’s for managers who have abdicated their responsibility to manage and help lead their workers to the best solution.
  • Sounds like a personal problem to me. Comment: The little story behind this comment in the BusinessWeek article is worth reading even if it is something that, again, you won’t hear too many managers actually say. What they do seem to get into, however, is the notion that you have personal issues you need to take care of — but does saying that make them a bad manager? I don’t think so.
  • I have some feedback for you … and everyone here feels the same way. Comment: Only terribly weak managers who have no game (and even bad managers generally have some game) would use a blanket statement about how everyone feels to make a point. And, what if it is true? Sometimes, you DO need to tell an employee that what they are doing is impacting everyone around them. Another one that isn’t necessarily the mark of a bad manager.
  • In these times, you’re lucky to have a job at all. Comment: This one is current, timely, and hands down the worst “bad manager” comment on this list. It has been said a lot during the Great Recession and not-so-great recovery, and I worked at a company where the chairman got up and said a version of this during a gathering of all of HIS managers. Needless to say, it not only didn’t motivate anyone but it made those managers question why they were working for an executive who was foolish enough to say something as demotivating as this in the first place. So much for employee engagement.

So overall, this list from BusinessWeek is lacking. After first reading it I thought, “this is it? This is the best bad manager talk they could come up with?”

What do you hear bad managers say?

I think TLNT readers could do a better job with this. I’d love to hear your favorite “bad things that bad managers say,” and you can add them here at the bottom of this post. Here are a few to get you started.

  • Are you happy in your job? This is something bad managers say to frighten employees who are feeling unsettled, and it is something I have heard numerous times. Subtle and cutting, it makes employees wonder when the axe is going to fall and undercuts their stability in their job.
  • I don’t know if you’re up to this or not. Comes up when a bad manager is trying to cram a bad change down your throat — one they know you probably disagree with. Again, it subtly threatens your job because of the unsaid, “and if you’re not up to this, I will get someone in here who is.” Vague and menacing, it is not the way to deal with another human, ever. That arrogant boss I mentioned earlier did this a lot, and it is one of the reasons why I’m no longer working for him.
  • That’s the stupidest thing I have ever heard (or seen). Designed to make you feel 2 inches tall, it usually gets said in front of a bunch of your co-workers — which makes it even worse. Not something managers should ever say, in public or in private. Better to show them WHY what they did doesn’t make a lot of sense, and to help them understand why they can’t do again.

Those are just a few of my “bad things that bad managers say.” I’d love to hear yours, so feel free to leave them here. If I get enough, I’ll do another post here at TLNT about them.

John Hollon is Editor-at-Large at ERE Media and was the founding Editor of TLNT.com. A longtime newspaper, magazine, and business journal editor, John has deep roots in the talent management space. He's the former Editor of Workforce Management magazine and workforce.com, served as Editor of RecruitingDaily, and was Vice President for Content at HR technology firm Checkster. An award-winning journalist, John has written extensively about HR, talent management, leadership, and smart business practices, including for the popular Fistful of Talent blog. Contact him at johnhollon@ere.net, connect with him on LinkedIn, or follow him on Twitter @johnhollon.