10 Ways To Identify A Bad Manager

“There is an enormous number of managers who have retired on the job.”

~Peter Drucker

Managing employees is an art. In my 30 years of working for large, mid-size, and small companies, I have had some of the worst managers imaginable. I have also had a few very good ones. Unfortunately, the bad ones outweighed the good ones.

There are several books, articles, and papers that show you ways to be a good manager. Here are ten characteristics of a bad manager:

Manages everyone the same – Bad managers manage everyone the same. It doesn’t matter to them whether you are able to perform at the same level as other members of the team, the expectations are the same. If his/her management style is delegation, then you will be expected to accept assignments with little or no instructions, details, or information and to perform them at the same level as those team members who have who have been in the job for much longer than you. There is no regard for you or your capabilities. It’s easier for the manager to manage this way, not so much for you.
Picks their favorites – Bad managers pick favorites. Not necessarily because they are better performers than you, but because they simply like them better than you. They hang out with them, go to lunch with them, have more in common with them, and have a more friendly relationship beyond manager/subordinate. The favorites will get the best assignments, the most kudos, the best yearly reviews, and the biggest raises.
Their point of view is the only point of view – Bad managers are terrible listeners. They have a single point of view regarding the department and everything in it. They know best how to manage people, assignments, customers, and suppliers and you are expected to fall in line behind their philosophy. They neither want to hear nor do they accept other’s opinions, and even if they do listen, they will come up with an excuse why that won’t work in their department.
Technical to management – Sometimes bad managers don’t know they are bad managers until they become managers. Managing people is an art, yet there are many very good technical people who should remain technical people but are made managers. Technical people are good at managing technical things, not necessarily managing people. They simply don’t have the people skills and empathy to deal with subordinates’ problems, both work-related and personal. Technical people, for the most part, should stay technical.
The heart is not in the game – Bad managers really don’t want to manage. They don’t want to put in the time, energy, and effort to become better managers. If you want to be a manager, then you really need to want to manage people. Bad managers view their management duties as a chore. It’s something that they have to do, not want to do. Personnel meetings are time consuming and wasteful. Yearly reviews are a waste of valuable time so quite often almost all the reviews look exactly the same. Little or no effort is put into improving their subordinates because that also takes time and effort.
Lack of empathy – Bad managers don’t care about their subordinates. They spend more time finding things that their subordinates are doing wrong instead of rewarding things they are doing right. They don’t take an active interest in their work, their efforts, their home life, their problems, or their issues. They have little tolerance for people who may need help and don’t want to take the time to train, coach or improve each member of the team. The emphasis is on the job and the output, not on the people and the processes.
Lack of management skills – Many managers have never taken a management, leadership, or communication workshop or class. Many have never managed people before. Many don’t believe they need to take any training, seek any advice, or accept any coaching to be able to manage people. They are wrong. Just as you don’t sit down at a piano and start to play Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, you don’t become a good manager by jumping into the deep end of the pool. It takes time to master the skill set necessary to be able to coach and manage well.
Lack of time – Bad managers don’t want to invest the time necessary to become good managers. As I stated earlier, you have to want to manage people in order to become a good manager. And to become a good manager, you need to invest the time in learning and with each and every one of your direct reports.
Lack of effort – Along with time comes effort. Becoming good at anything takes time and effort. Professional athletes spend hours upon hours sharpening and honing their skills. Managing people takes effort. It doesn’t happen overnight and it doesn’t happen by chance. It is an ever-learning process where the emphasis is on the end result of being able to effectively coach, mentor, and improve your subordinates.
Lack of smart goal setting – Bad managers set terrible goals. They are generally nonspecific, non-measurable, non-attainable, non-realistic, and not time bound so it is up to the manager to determine if the subordinate actually achieved the goals set forth. This is a recipe for failure for not only the subordinate but the manager as well. The extra effort of creating good goals up front for each member of the team saves an inordinate amount of time and effort at the end of the year when reviewing and assessing the goal achievement.

One of the biggest problems with bad managers is that, in many cases, they don’t even know that they are bad. They may actually believe they are good managers. That might be because they were promoted into their current positions by equally bad managers. Unfortunately, the people that they now promote to managers will, in turn, become bad managers.

Bad managers come from those who realistically do not want to manage people. If you have the heart and are willing to put in the time and effort, you can be more than a manager. You can be a good coach and mentor, which is what all managers should strive for anyway


Ron Feher
Ron Feher
“Making your business better by making your people better,” captures Ron’s commitment to helping people. He possesses a breadth and depth of experience in a variety of disciplines including job benchmarking, staff development, manager mentoring, executive coaching, employee and management training. Ron has over 30 years of experience working in large, mid-size, and small companies in both technical and management roles with responsibilities covering management and technical training, strategic planning, tactical implementation, P&L, budgeting, vendor and relationship management, user design and testing, PMO, and process/project management of corporate-wide. He has worked for large, midsize, and small companies in a myriad of industries including telecommunications (AT&T), computer manufacturing (Gateway), mergers and acquisitions (RSM EquiCo), real estate, IT outsourcing and publishing (Spidell Publishing). He possesses an MBA in Technology Management, certifications in project management, international management and eMarketing. He is a Value Added Advisor with TTI Success Insights™, a certified Behavior and Motivation Analyst and certified Career Direct® consultant. Ron is currently serving as Irvine Chamber of Commerce Leads Group Chair, FUSION Leaders Chair and Board Member along with being actively involved with several task forces and committees. As an outreach to the community, Ron offers a Career Transition Workshop to churches and non-profits and was a founding member of the Career Coaching & Counseling Ministry at Saddleback Church. Ron’s favorite quote is “Even if you’re on the right track, you’ll still get run over if you just sit there.” – Will Rogers

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  1. It takes me about three minutes to size up a manager’s effectiveness.
    I just ask them how they spend their day. Then I listen to the choice of words they use.

    If they use people like things, that tells me something.
    If they use things to help people, that tells me something else.
    If they tell me about people, that tells me much more.

    • Ah, if only the people that promoted them in the first place had the insight to solicit such information. Good thoughts Chris, thanks.

    • Thanks. I’ve often found people promote on likability, not capability. I wish that wasn’t the case.