Motivation and satisfaction

How to spot a bad manager

The debate about good, harmful, toxic, and superstar managers has been on for many years. With the change of generations in the workplace, this debate rises from the asheches, and people start to discuss what a bad manager looks like. The image of the bad manager has many characteristics, but at the core of the debate, several things can help anyone spot a bad manager at their workplace. First, people often describe a bad manager as a toxic person who drains their energy and moves them to the negative side of behavior—an oppressor who shows to make their lives a living hell. While most of these understandings are formed based on emotions, if you ask an emotionally suppressed person what a lousy manager looks like, your answers will be different and with no connection between you at the beginning.

Back in 2021, together with colleagues working in HR in 17 countries, I conducted short research on how people see the image of the wrong manager. We managed to ask more than eleven thousand people, and they shared with us the five common behaviors of a bad manager.

They are never satisfied

You see it every day. The manager gives you tasks, and you receive the other portion of the duties when you finish them. You never hear “Thank you for the effort” or something similar. Instead, more of an attitude shows that you owe them respect. This type of manager does not make praise but searches for more missing details in the work you already did. They do not show emotions. Instead, they show that they care more about the task and the elements than you. Dissatisfaction comes to show you that you are not as good as you think and that plenty of other people can do your job even better.

They lose their temper when things go wrong

In the modern theories about leadership, we are all taught that vulnerability shows humanity. But at the same time, we see many overly emotional people when things go wrong. The same applies to the manager role. A lousy manager can’t hold his emotions back when something is not OK. They start yelling and screaming and become unstable when things are not as planned. No matter what you had done, at a moment when something went wrong, from a lousy manager, you will see negativism and witches hunt.

They block compensation or promotions

As another way to demonstrate power, bad managers see the opportunity to manage through directiveness and authoritarianism. In the light of that, they often stop compensation that you have been promised to finish some work, keep you out of the loop for new roles and build your image in the company as someone who is not reliable and expert. And this is done for only one reason. They are afraid that if the person leaves them, they may not find another one to do the job that person has done for them. And as the only possible way to stop the development path of the person, the bad manager sees restrictions and does not let the person or people grow in the role, in the team, or the company.

They hire or surround themselves with favorites  

A common issue with bad managers is their inner circle of supporters. The manager’s role is to find balance in the team and treat everyone with respect by allowing them to deliver outstanding results in their way. Unfortunately, instead of acting toward this goal, bad managers create a surrounding of people who do not necessarily have the expertise but won’t leave them or stand against them. With this “army of supporters,” the manager often creates an environment where people do not feel safe or have to hide from each other to be saved from stress and uncertainty. The primary rule here is, “If you are with me, you are safe, but if you’re not with me, better watch your back.”

Threaten to get what they want

Bad managers do not search for balance and do not show understanding. They reach their goals by using power over others. Their behavior creates stress from the uncertainty of the environment. Their actions make people feel uncomfortable and push to the limit of their nerves. A lousy manager disputes, quarrels, seeks responsibility, and obliges it, but at the same time does not care about accountability. People working for a terrible manager are not engaged and accountable for their actions. They do them to save themselves from the stress that interaction with the manager can cause.


We all work to deliver results. Depending on the person who manages the processes, we can be successful or become stressed and unproductive. There are people to respond to every type of personality, but at the same time, there are specifics that come to show us if we can or can’t deliver results and grow in a specific environment. The wisest thing we can do is evaluate the environment and the person in charge of that environment and see if they meet our internal ethical and professional standards. If not, we have found our bad manager and toxic environment, and we better step back and search elsewhere to deliver results.

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