So You Think Your Manager’s Like a Bad Joke? Part 1: The Setup

A critic, a control freak, and a micromanager walk into a conference room… Do you know the punch line to this joke? No?

That’s because it’s not a joke. Each of these folks can squelch creativity, suppress innovation, create process bottlenecks, and demoralize staff. And yet countless employees work for these types of managers and sit in their meetings every day.

So, if you’re one of those employees, how can you cope with these types in a way that lets you feel more confident and competent? And if you act like one of these management caricatures, how can you shift your behavior so you can actually lead — not lean on your staff?

The first step toward solving any problem or changing any pattern is to identify it. This week, I’ll lay out the patterns. Do any of these descriptions fit you or your manager?

The Critic

Organizational Damage: The Critic takes away employees’ sense of competence by always finding something wrong and constantly pointing out what they could have done better. They don’t so much do it for the sake of the employee’s development and achievement, but rather as a way of showing their own expertise. They may be very incisive and analytical within a narrow range, but may not know how to build.

Fear: They won’t be perceived as smart or credible enough if they don’t keep pointing things out.

Sounds Like: Not like that! Don’t do it that way! That’s not the best way!

Warning to the Critic: Your team may not be able to absorb all your “suggestions” or apply them. When you keep subtracting from what others have done through your criticisms, and adding to what others should be doing through your normative statements, your employees may end up without enough confidence or self-possession left to hold themselves together.

The Control Freak

Organizational Damage: The Control Freak takes away employees’ sense of accomplishment and meaning. Every idea, every accomplishment belongs to them, not to their employees. They may be content with mediocre or low-risk performance rather than anything that could rock their boat.

Fear: They’re in over their heads and will be found out.

Sounds Like: It has to be the right way. I can’t tolerate anything else. So just do it the way I tell you to do it.

Warning to the Control Freak: If you don’t want your employees to think for themselves, believe me, eventually they won’t. Or at least, they certainly won’t think for you. And you still may not know what you’re doing.

The Micromanager

Organizational Damage: The Micromanager takes away employees’ sense of confidence and autonomy by insisting that everything has to be the way they would do it. They can be highly status-conscious, and can pull rank frequently. They have very little sense of the big picture and very little possibility for breakthrough learning. They constantly complain, “Why do I always have to do everything myself?!?”

Fear: They’ll be blamed and thought less of if other people don’t do things their way and screw things up.

Sounds Like: If you don’t do it the way I tell you, I’m going to have to take it over. Don’t let me catch you not doing it the way I want it. I don’t care how much you’ve thought about it or how hard you’ve worked on it.

Warning to the Micromanager: If you can only hire people or manage employees that you have to sit on to squeeze the job out of them, then they’re not adding value — and neither are you. Sooner or later, that will become clear to everyone, including your management.

Next week, I’ll offer some suggestions for helping these stock characters improve their management behavior.

Onward and upward,


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