The influence techniques of bad managers

27 September 2016 -


From the flirtatious to the bullying, we take a look at how bad managers try to make their way

Guest blogger Adrian Furnham

There is now a growing literature on manager derailment, incompetence and insanity. While magic-bullet, self-help books easily outsell books on failure, the latter do make fascinating reading.

One factor that differentiates the good from the sad/bad/mad manager is how they try to influence others. Persuading, motivating and directing others (at all levels) is at the heart of the management enterprise.

Good managers know this and they know how to do it. They know they have to set clear attainable but challenging targets. They need to know and feel responsible for supporting people reach those targets.

And they need to give them clear and useful feedback as they strive to attain those goals.

But bad managers rely too heavily on what are in the long-term ineffective means.

The first inappropriate method is intimidation: the idea is to threaten or scare people into doing what one wants, or where appropriate, staying away.

Excitable, unstable managers tend to be volatile with sudden unpredictable outbursts of anger when things go wrong. Some go cold and uncommunicative once their orders have been barked out. Others are hypersensitive to questioning as if it is implied criticism.

Still others are stubborn, procrastinating and passive-aggressively resistant to reconsidering their position their request, or their command.

Intimidators use rank or power to get their own way. They might do so, but with an excessive display of emotion or no emotion at all. They don’t do rational argument and can be blinkered, selfish and often make short-sighted , ill-considered decisions.

They can survive in hierarchical, risk-averse, slow-moving organisations like peace-time armies, process-oriented public-sector organisations and the police. But they never really get on because they have few supporters or champions of their careers.

Intimidation may work for short periods at odd times, but long-term is a real derailer. Many are called and indeed charged with bullying as this “technique” is essentially just that.

The second ineffective method is flattery, flirtation and seduction. And this is certainly not the preserve only of either sex.

The theatrical, attention-seeking drama queens of the business world try to persuade with their odd brand of ‘charm’. Others do it with a sort of self-knowing charisma in the self-important belief that they are special and deserve others’ total loyalty.

A few like to play the ‘wacky but brilliant’ creative type who has to be humoured less his/her juices dry up.

The flattering flirters are entertaining. If physically attractive and fairly senior they tend to get their way for a bit and with some people. But they are exploitative and frequently not close friends with the truth and hence their reputation for getting things done is not that great.

The flirting method is just that. To flirt is to “behave amorously but without serious intent”. Flirts flit from one person to another trying to, but failing in their purpose.

And seducers of all kinds are now had up for harassment of one kind or another.

The third method is to be ingratiating. This technique sometimes tries to reverse the leadership role.

Some people try to gain favour with their staff by “special treatment and favours”. Ingratiating managers very clearly “put themselves out” for their staff, but then call in the favours… more and more often to atone for the initial gift.

Some ingratiators like to point out how weak they are, how difficult their job, how hard-working they have to be. Some even enjoy a sort of spurious victimhood in order to make their staff support them and work harder.

But these methods simply don’t work and they are often driven by personal pathology.

The intimidating manager is often a selfish, conscienceless, disagreeable cynic. They just don’t care about others. The flirtatious manager is often narcissistic with highly volatile mood swings. Fun at parties and presentations but beware having one as your manager. And the ingratiating manager is often a coward.

Managers need to set expectations, clarify goals and set targets. They need to help people achieve these targets with the right information, tools and support. And staff need timely, accurate and helpful information to assess how they are doing. Amen.

Powered by Professional Manager