Can a “Bad” Manager Turn Things Around?

I came across a quote today that gave pause:

“A bad manager can take a good staff and destroy it, causing the best employees to flee and the remainder to lose all motivation.” (author unknown)


Bad managers, unfortunately, exist in all industries and at all levels. What happens that someone becomes bad at leading people, projects, and systems? Were they ineffective to begin with or was it a slow-burn over time? And, has no one noticed the ineffectiveness, especially if it continues?

I spoke with someone the other day who said that at their previous employment, there were 9 turnovers in one staff position all due to the behaviors of the manager. How can this be? Is no one paying attention to the continual loss in workers, not to mention the costs incurred? Here are some reasons why this can occur from what I’ve heard from speaking with employees:

  • the manager was producing when it mattered
  • the manager was increasing profits, even though it was due to staff’s achievements
  • they don’t want to have a disruption in leadership until a replacement can be brought on
  • they have no succession plan in place
  • the manager is leading when they need to be, such as in front of their boss, so their maladaptive behavior is hidden
  • they were a good employee, which is why they got promoted (doesn’t always equate to a good leader)
  • no one cares – let me repeat NO ONE CARES

There are many reasons why an ineffective leader is kept on, of which the answers will vary from individual to individual; the ‘no one cares’, from an employee’s perspective, may be worked on behind the scenes to take some type of action.

This leads to the question, ‘do bad managers know they are being ‘bad?’ Do they recognize the signs and symptoms when poor performance, missed deadlines, or absentee/turnover occurs? Insight can be problematic if one stays in their own silo, never going outside to see themselves as others see them or checking their own behavior, which good leaders do.

So, you might be wondering, as do employees of a bad manager: can they turn things around to be in the ‘good leader’ category, or are they too far-gone or hopeless? I don’t think anyone is past the point of no return (remember that emotions play into behaviors). How can a bad manager be turned around?

  • It starts with a hard look by upper management and/or HR – someone has to notice trends in turnover and learning why an employee chooses to leave the organization. The answers may be hard to hear but are the start to change.
  • Assess workers to uncover the culture in each department, which should include what is working well, as well as not; the effectiveness of the leader; issues the unit deals with to see how work flows and how day-to-day operations are handled; and how engaged workers are, not just with their work but with their peers, the boss, and customers as this is indicative of satisfaction levels.
  • Assess each leader within the business regarding their skills, strengths, aptitudes, leadership style, and their views on their role. This will help to gauge how they are managing daily, how committed they are, how they feel about workers, in general, how they grow and empower their workers so they are effective in their roles, and how any problems (including performance) are handled.
  • Create a development plan – now that you are armed with sufficient data, it’s time to develop a plan for how you will get the manager to the level you want/need them to be. Look at the positives – there must be some qualities and actions they do well – and focus on those; in the spirit of appreciative inquiry, focusing on positives creates more positives, flushing out any negatives. It also makes the manager feel recognized and they want to do more of them
  • Ensure the data is communicated to the manager so they know their is validity behind the need for improvement. Communicate clearly the benchmarks desired, with dates to begin, end and specific steps to take, getting the manager’s thoughts on how they plan to turn it around. Be clear on boundaries and expectations so there is no room for confusion on the manager’s part, and each side knows it. And, set dates for regular check-ins and feedback.
  • Hire them a coach – one of the fastest ways to change behaviors is to have them work with a coach, who understand behaviors and how to move one through so high performance is achieved. According to results in the Sherpa Coaching State of the Industry Report (2017), coaches are being used in the performance continuous feedback process and getting desired results at faster rates.

Bad managers don’t have to remain that way but it does mean they, and the organization they work for, need to take a look at their behaviors and not put their head in the sand; the ‘gem’ could be found underneath with the right action (of course,the manager needs to own their part and be willing to work with their plan). It’s never too late !

Committed to Your Success Coaching & Consulting focuses on workplace happiness and organizational success, using brain-based principles.  If you, or your organization, is struggling with workplace culture and engagement, we have a program that will work to turn this around. If you need help gaining clarity on your business or career goals, why not get some help – stop the struggle and call today to get started! ! or





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