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Bad leadership – when management is disliked by employees


When you have a disliked management member in your organization, it’s complicated.

Maybe you’ve known for a while that person isn’t a strong boss, but you kept him or her on your team because of a particular skillset. Or perhaps you run a family owned business, and the person is a relative.

For many reasons, having a bad leader is an issue that can be difficult to address when you first learn about it from employees.

But sometimes this situation rises to a level where you realize you must take action – the cost of allowing it to continue has become too great.

This blog will encourage you to face your dilemma and consider what it’s truly costing you. Then, we’ll guide you through three options to consider when dealing with an unpopular manager on your team.

When the cost of a bad leader is too high

According to Gallup’s State of the American Manager report, one in two employees have left a job to get away from a manager at some point in their career.

That’s a lot of people.

If you have a leader your employees are unhappy with, damage is being done. The question you need to figure out is, how much?

To put together a rough estimate, start with these questions:

  • How many employees have you lost because of this particular manager?
  • What did you have to spend to hire replacements?
  • How many people have you had to move to other departments to get away from this manager?
  • How much of your time and your team’s has been spent dealing with complaints about this person?
  • Does this person’s behavior increase your company’s risk of a lawsuit?

You’ll also need to factor in what you might be losing in terms of employee productivity. Try to put a realistic dollar amount on what the situation is costing you in all areas.

Then, look at the risk-reward ratio of keeping this person’s position unchanged.

Are the reasons you’ve been keeping this manager in place more valuable to you than what it costs?

3 ways to handle bad leadership

If you’re like most business leaders, even when a bad manager is costing you greatly, you still have hope that this person can make improvements and want to extend that opportunity.

That’s why the first option on our list is to try coaching the disliked manager to be better. This may be the fairest place to start if you haven’t intentionally invested in developing this person’s leadership skills in the past.

But maybe you’ve already been down that road, and your efforts were unsuccessful. If that’s your situation, skip ahead to our second and third suggestions – make a role change or plan an exit.

1. Try coaching

The goal of coaching poor leaders who are disliked by many employees is to help them modify their behavior and become stronger bosses.

You can work with these supervisors directly or hire an outside leadership coach.

Throughout the process, your job is to assess whether or not your manager can make any of the needed behavioral changes.

Be clear

Here are some specific things you can say at beginning of the coaching process with a disliked boss:

  • “Problems with your management style have been brought to my attention, and they need to be addressed.”
  • “Some of the behaviors that you have been demonstrating aren’t good for the organization, and they aren’t good for you as a manager.”

Then, ask the manager to share his or her side of the story before you proceed.

Invite self-evaluation

Once you feel you’re on the same page, the next part of the process should aim to get this manager to look at him or herself from a different perspective.

Tools like an extended DISC assessment are a great way to activate this mental shift.

You also want to help this boss see his or her weaknesses and strengths by:

  • Describing the qualities of successful leaders in today’s workplace. For example, “Emotional intelligence for today’s leaders is a must – it’s not optional.”
  • Explaining what employees need from their boss. For example, “The most important thing for every single employee is feeling valued.”
  • Following up with questions that invite self-evaluation:
    • How are you with acknowledgement and praise?
    • How do you deliver it to your employees and how often?
    • How would your direct reports rate you as a manager on a scale from one to five?
    • Tell me about a situation where you used your EQ?
    • How do you give and receive feedback?

Review leadership basics

When coaching unpopular managers, often you’ll uncover a lack of EQ. It’s rarely poor technical skills driving their issues, but a lack of people skills. And so, you may need to review very basics with this person.

Here are some leadership fundamentals your manager may need a refresher on:

  • The golden rule – treat others how you want them to treat you
  • Transparency – be open and honest with the people that work for you
  • Vulnerability – sharing your experiences builds trust
  • Humor – acknowledge levity when appropriate
  • Input – encourage your staff to share ideas
  • Equality – never show favoritism
  • Consistency – be dependable across the board, all the time

Assess motivation and potential for change

Throughout the coaching process, the hope is that you’ll bring about a new sense of self-awareness around the manager’s areas for improvement.

When successful, this process acts as a mirror and shows these managers something about themselves that they want to change. This is usually the motivating factor most likely to bring about lasting, effective behavior change.

Unfortunately, there are many people who get to the end of this process still without the motivation to do things differently.

If you find this individual isn’t coachable, your best options for your organization are to try a role change or start planning for an exit.

2. Make a role change

When letting a bad leader go isn’t an option you can explore, moving this person into an independent contributor position with no direct reports may be the best alternative solution.

Without a team to lead, this individual would likely do less damage to employee productivity and morale.

To avoid making change management mistakes, be sure to have an action plan for this transition and give everyone involved a clear vision of the future.

3. Plan an exit

When the first two options on our list don’t work, you’re left with making the difficult decision that it’s time for this person to leave.

To make an appropriate plan for helping this manager exit your organization, involve your HR team or advisor and review our list of six vital steps before terminating an employee for poor performance.

An opportunity you don’t want to miss

A key to your company’s success is making sure that those who are in leadership positions are capable of getting things done with the people they’re managing.

When you have a bad leader, the cost of not taking action to address this person’s behavior is often greater than the discomfort of handling it.

If your employees feel they’ve been putting up with a bad manager for a long time, and you stepped in and made necessary changes, it can create an immediate boost in their energy and attitudes.

Take advantage of this opportunity to re-energize the rest of your team because they’re going to be receptive to you in these moments.

Tell your employees that you heard them and you’ve addressed their problem. Thank them for their patience and loyalty, and if applicable, explain that you’re going to spend time getting the right person in this role.

For more help weeding out a bad leader – and cultivating strong leaders – at your company, download our free magazine: The Insperity guide to leadership and management.