Bad Manager: 5 Signs You Shouldn’t be a Manager

Becoming a manager is a career choice just as much as deciding a profession you want to study in school. It requires learning new skills and taking on different responsibilities. As much as we’d all love to think every manager has the best of intentions, we still often end up with bad managers around us.

Usually the signs are all around us when someone isn’t a good fit to become a manager, yet it’s easy for them to take the job anyways due to money, prestige, or simply inevitability because they’ve been around long enough.  Today we examine some of the most common warning signs and the consequences from those signs being ignored.  Promote team members with caution!

5 Signs You Shouldn’t be a Manager

1) You do it for the money, not the actual job responsibilities

At many companies, the only way to keep getting raises and “advance” through your career is to move into management.  This puts pressure on people to consider management even if they’re not excited about the prospects of becoming a manager. While money is fair to be part of anyone’s work motivation, it’s a big warning sign you might be making a bad manager choice if their top motive is this.

The consequence: If someone took the job for the money, they’re likely to hide from problems that could lead to them being removed.  They’re also unlikely to admit there’s issues and ask for help as they worry that would cost them a much coveted financial boost.

2) You don’t like dealing with people

Not everyone wants to spend their days helping fix people issues, listening to the problems of others, and developing people.  If they’re not excited to do those things, they probably shouldn’t be a manager.

This one is particularly damaging to team members as Gallup’s recent study found that managers that don’t take an active interest in their people have teams that are almost entirely not engaged:

Bad managers that don't care about rapport have disengaged teams.

The consequence: Without rapport, there’s no trust, empathy, or candor in your relationship with their team. Problems will fester and grow until they blow up because the team won’t come to them when they’re easy to fix. This leads to the manager constantly in reactive management mode and frustrating their team.

Want to learn and keep the habits of great managers who deal well with their people? Then sign up for a free trial of Lighthouse here.

Bad managers keep all the good individual contributor tasks for themselves.

3) You don’t want to give up individual contributor work

Particularly for engineers and others in creative roles, it can be hard to give up doing individual work.  It’s easy to want to take the new manager title and keep doing lots of the “fun” individual contributor tasks.

Unfortunately, that’s an easy way to short change all their managerial responsibilities.  And since managers set priorities and delegate tasks, it’s easy to assign all the best work to themselves.

The consequence: If they try to do all the work themselves, their team won’t get the help they need. They may also resent their manager if they constantly take the “good work” and leave them less desirable tasks. Leaders eat last.

Bad managers have a fixed mindset, not a growth mindset

4) You don’t have a Growth Mindset

The Growth Mindset is the idea that any skill can be learned. No one is simply “a natural” and others doomed to never be good at it.  It takes hard work, but with effort anyone can learn and improve at a skill.

Your best employees will have a growth mindset, learning new skills often. Promoting anyone with the opposite mindset (a Fixed Mindset) is a tremendous risk.  Their attitudes not only then impact them, but their teams.

The consequence: First and foremost, a manager with a a Fixed Mindset will personally suffer because there is too much to learn as a manager to not embrace your own need to learn new things. This will then multiply across their team as they won’t grow, they may get bored with their job, get frustrated about being boxed into doing the same things all the time, and ultimately leave for growth opportunities beyond your company.

bad managers hate their jobs

5) You hate your job

If someone is clearly unhappy at work, then promoting them to manager is just going to create a bad manager. They’re likely to still be an unhappy, grouchy, unmotivated employee who now spreads that attitude to their team.

The effect of this has been captured by Gallup in more of their research in something they call the “Cascade Effect” which shows that disengaged managers have teams more likely to also not be engaged:

Bad managers create problems called the cascade effect

The consequence:  On top of hurting everyone on their team by setting an example of disdain for work, it hurts your growth; how can a bad manager hire effectively if they can’t sell why working here is great?

How can companies avoid promoting bad managers?

The team of a bad manager suffers most in all of these cases. A single bad manager can hurt your retention of not just the manager, but everyone that reports to them potentially costing you hundreds of thousands of dollars or more to replace everyone. It’s a decision to not take likely, so how can you avoid creating bad managers in your organization?

1) Create a growth path for individual contributors

If the only way for employees to advance in their career at your company and get pay raises is to become a manager, you will continue to attract people to the roles that shouldn’t take them.  You have to create a path for individual contributors if you want to eliminate this problem.

As Rand Fishkin, CEO of SEOMoz writes:

“I worry that some significant portion of that expressed desire doesn’t come from a true passion for the responsibilities of people managing, but instead exists because they want to level up their career and/or influence and believe this to be the only path.”

When people see that their deep and growing individual contributor experience is valued and can be leveraged ever more as they advance, you will find that they will no longer consider people management roles.

2) Promote based on a level of aptitude and interest in people skills

This may seem like an obvious one, but it’s amazing how many companies will simply make someone a manager, because they like them or they’re a great individual contributor. The skills required to succeed are different and even the best person can be set up for failure without help.

Start developing people to be managers *before* you need to promote them.  Simple things like empathy and people skills are easy to learn by first leading small projects and reading great books like How to Win Friends and Influence People.

3) Make it safe for a manager to decide it’s not for them

People may think they want to be a manager, but once they start doing the job may find they’re unhappy. Unfortunately, it’s hard to admit that, especially if doing so means a demotion and/or pay cut. What often happens instead is the manager leaves for an individual contributor role at another company to save face.

If instead there’s a graceful way for a bad manager to transition to a different role that’s a better fit, you spare that team suffering through that manager until either the team all leaves/transfers or the manager quits. You also save a potentially valuable team member by making a bad manager a happy employee again.

Dale Carnegie has a great story about how GE saved an invaluable team member who had failed as a manager:

“Steinmetz, a genius of the first magnitude when it came to electricity, was a failure as the head of the calculating department. Yet the company didn’t dare offend the man. He was indispensable – and highly sensitive. So they gave him a new title. They made him Consulting Engineer of the General Electric Company – a new title for work he was already doing – and let someone else head up the department. 

Steinmetz was happy.”

Taking these steps can help you avoid the pain and problems of bad managers.


Have better one on ones at GetLighthouse.comIf you really want to avoid having bad managers at your company, you need to give them the tools to succeed and lead their people.  Lighthouse can help ensure your people are taken care of by their managers, while teaching the managers the best practices of good management.

Sign up for your free trial here.