Lisagor: Five habits to avoid

Incompetent managers are easy to spot and difficult for employees to tolerate.

I have a strong aversion to chain e-mail messages. I especially dislike the ones that say I’ll sprout something terrible, such as a second head, unless I forward the message to 10 of my friends. Nevertheless, I urge you to send this article to 10 of your neediest co-workers — it may be their only hope! As for the second head thing — no promises!

Michael Lisagor

Based on numerous interviews, my own experience and an overly stimulated imagination, I have compiled five bad habits of highly incompetent managers that are not worth emulating.

1. Avoids making decisions. There is a time to reflect and gather information. There is also a time to fish or cut bait. Poor managers’ inability to reach a timely conclusion drives employees crazy and contributes to organizational malaise. It is not unusual for them to avoid putting anything in writing. Your only solution is to document everything and e-mail it for verification.

2. Treats staff like personal servants. Stuck in a bygone era, some managers have an inflated sense of self-importance and a lack of respect for subordinates. Their style would work successfully on pirate ships but is a demotivating influence in modern organizations. It would be best to disconnect your phone to avoid their midnight calls and lock your office door to hide from late-Friday assignments that are due Monday morning. Better yet, move to another state.

3. Is overly sensitive to political concerns. At the top of their agenda is pleasing senior managers. This task is more important than anything else, including making the right decisions. They often collect facts only to ignore them or refuse to listen to bad news. They also have a difficult time staying on target or saying no to out-of-scope work. They avoid conflict by saying yes to all work instead of acting as a filter to prevent subordinate burnout. Deal with such managers by regularly presenting a list of your tasks and what you can accomplish within your resource constraints. Wait for a list of priorities or make your own.

4. Hides projects’ true status. These program managers think avoiding risk means only reporting news that their superiors want to hear, which is the bane of most large technology projects. Thus, everything is always on schedule and within budget and everyone is happy — until everything and everyone isn’t. Then it is time to blame others. The only cure, other than elective backbone-implant surgery, is to document the correct project status carefully and keep moving.

5. Is technically proficient but people-impaired. Beware of technical experts with poor people skills. Rather than admit to a lack of management acumen, such managers accept ever-increasing levels of responsibility without the necessary training. Their compensation and stature are inversely related to the number of subordinates who enjoy working for them.

Agency and company leaders too often look the other way, figuring it’s better to have a poor manager than none at all. Such managers wallow in details when they should concentrate on bigger management issues. These habits offer wonderful lessons for others about how not to treat your employees when you get promoted.

Lisagor founded Celerity Works in 1999 to help executives accelerate and better manage business growth. He serves as program chairman for FCW Events’ Program Management Summit and is the author of “Business Development Guide for Selling to the Government,” which is available at his Web site, He lives on Bainbridge Island, Wash., and can be reached at

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