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Top 20 Worst Behaviours of Bad Managers

Become a better manager for your team by understanding which of your managerial habits and behaviours are inadvertently creating stress, dysfunction and unhappiness in your employees.

By Simon Birkenhead, author of the book Managing People, available now from all good booksellers.

Ask any manager how good they think they are at managing, and most will probably say they do a pretty good job. Yet just 16% of employees say they are fully engaged with their work, and nearly 60% will choose to quit their job because of their boss. Clearly most managers are not as good as they believe.

In my book Managing People I contrast the behaviours of managers who inspire and motivate their teams to achieve great things with those of managers who actually diminish the performance of those around them yet remain utterly clueless about the negative impact they are having.

How confident are you that you’re not one of these ‘accidental diminishers’ who destroys more value in their team than they create?

When thinking about a manager's capabilities, I look at their:

  • Persona: their workplace personality

  • Operations: how they choose to work and run their team

  • Expertise: their skills and experience (or lack of)

In my research and personal experience, I've identified many persona, operational, and expertise related characteristics that are common across managers described by their employees as mediocre or bad. In fact, I've found twenty that can be used to describe almost every bad manager.

Some of these characteristics are likely to be recognisable in those who have managed you, past or present.

If you recognise any in yourself, that should be a red flag for you to assess whether your management style is really helping or hindering your employees.

So what are the top twenty attitudes and behaviours exhibited by managers who create the most frustration, stress and wasted effort in their teams?


  • Insensitive and uncaring: Lack of interest in others, poor at handling matters in a sensitive manner, little appreciation of how others feel.

  • Weak control over their own emotions: Exhibits bursts of visible frustration, rage, or tears.

  • Dictatorial or tyrannical: Behaving in an authoritarian manner that suppresses other people’s ideas, using stress and anxiety as management tools.

  • Bully: Aggressive, confrontational or demeaning behaviour.


  • Poor communicators: Nobody knows what’s going on, what decisions have been made or why something’s important.

  • Disorganised and unreliable: Constantly firefighting, with tasks delegated at the last minute or simply forgotten.

  • Indecisive: Everybody’s productivity declines as nothing is ever decided.

  • Fails to deal with problems: Everyone else can see what’s wrong but the manager does nothing about it, blindly ignoring realities, especially the disruption that a poorly performing team member can cause.

  • Poor delegation: Not effectively explaining what they want done, creating wasted effort when the end result isn’t what they had expected.

  • Micro-management: Failing to trust others to do what’s needed, or simply telling them what to do in precise detail. (This trait is very common among newly appointed managers who regard themselves as a strong subject-matter expert.)

  • Inconsistent, contradictory or unpredictable: Frequently changes opinion on matters, causing work to be wasted.

  • Quick to take over: Jumps in and takes control when they see people struggling, but by doing so they prevent their team from developing.

  • Ignores constraints: Pushes their own agenda with little appreciation of other people’s existing priorities, workload, commitments or capacity, creating stress when the work exceeds individuals’ ability to deliver.

  • Self-promoting politician: Takes all the credit while delegating all the blame.

  • Empire builder: Only interested in acquiring and hoarding resources for their own ego and self-promotion, while under-utilising each employee.


  • Know-it-all: Seemingly has the answers to everyone’s problems so team members stop thinking for themselves.

  • No clear strategy: Great at stimulating ideas but with no clear vision for what everyone is trying to achieve or why, creating a tsunami of constantly changing priorities.

  • Inability to implement: Big thinkers who cast a compelling vision but have little grasp on the reality of how to actually deliver it.

  • Perfectionist: Leaders who strive for excellence and focus on the finest details to the detriment of the need to think about the bigger picture and move fast.

  • Poor job-specific expertise: Unable to direct, train, coach or assess the performance of team members because they don’t know what each person should be doing.

Mediocre managers will exhibit a couple of these traits, their bad behaviours counteracting any good ones. The worst diminishing managers, who hold back the performance of their employees, will exhibit several or many of them.

How confident are you now that you’re as great a manager as you could be for your employees?

In Managing People I explain the five fundamental responsibilities of managers that drive almost all of the impact they have on their teams. Master these five pillars of people management and you can be confident that your teams will be motivated and empowered to deliver the best work they can.

Don’t be the reason your employees decide to resign. Become an inspiring manager by understanding and following the basic rules, frameworks and best practices I set out in my book.

Managing People by Simon Birkenhead is available now in paperback and ebook from Amazon, Waterstones, Foyles, Blackwell's, Apple Books, and all major booksellers.

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