Case Study:

8 traits Google has identified as belonging to toxic bosses

Thursday 19 April 2018
Are you an effective team leader? Google study identifies the core qualities that distinguishes the good managers from the bad.
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In 2015 a study by Gallup found half of employees have left a job to escape a toxic manager. Inconsistent decision-making, unpredictable moods and a self-centred approach often led toxic managers to drive away their most valued employees.

Analysing a year’s worth of performance appraisals, employee surveys and managerial KPIs, Google’s People Innovation Lab found the eight key distinctions between the best and the worst-rated managers, within its own organisation. Here are the behaviours and approaches to avoid:

Eight signs you are a toxic boss and what to do about it

1. You get frustrated

Managers who find themselves frustrated when attempting to train employees in essential skills for their role are often the lowest-performing managers, Google’s study found.

In addition to a deep knowledge of the skill required, empathy and communication skills are required by managers to relay instructions to staff into simple, actionable steps. Listening and observation skills are important, as employees should feel comfortable expressing their concerns about anything they do not fully understand.

2. You micro-manage

Do you feel that you must double-check every employee's work? If so, you are likely a micro-manager, and Google’s research identified this as one of the most toxic traits.

A common employee complaint, micromanagers frequently derail their team’s confidence and productivity by over-scrutinising the work of colleagues and seeking to control exactly how they do the work. This includes forcing to complete tasks ‘your way’ and requiring constant updates on where things stand, where all your team members are and what they’re working on.

Research shows micromanagement is detrimental to all parties. Employees feel frustrated and unable to fully develop their skills. Managers often become stressed by their increased workload and this dents their own productivity. Employers lose out when both the demoralised junior staff and overworked manager leave their organisation.

3. You lack emotional intelligence

Relationship management is an often underrated, but vitally important, responsibility for managers. How well managers relate to their team can play a crucial role in building the trust and respect levels needed to meet objectives and produce excellent work. At its core, employees need to know that their managers care about them. Google’s research found emotional intelligence is considered one of the highest predictors of success as a manager.

These are the key questions for managers to consider:

How well do you know your teammates?

Do your teammates feel comfortable talking to you about personal concerns affecting their work life?

Have you adapted your work practices to ensure all your team feel valued?

How do you react to individuals when they make a mistake?

If the answer to any of the above is negative, you have work to do.

4. You can't control your moods

An easy way for managers to deflate the morale and trust of their teams is to consistently fail to handle their own responsibilities thoroughly. From flitting from one task to the next without progress to having an unpredictable mood, Google’s study shows that these signs of poor self-management are associated with toxic managers.

Researchers from Michigan State University(MSU) found that workers would rather have a harsh but consistent manager than an erratic one. Published in the Academy of Management Journal, the study, based on a laboratory experiment measuring the stress levels of 160 students, found employees were more stressed  when dealing with an unpredictable manager, who easily changes from courteous to rude.

5. You're antisocial

Toxic managers can be antisocial. You may be a toxic manager if you demonstrate behaviours such as staying in your office as much as possible, away from the wider team. This suggests poor communication skills and a lack of confidence.

Google’s People Innovation Lab findings show high-performing managers are a keen, open and vocal presence in their teams. And today’s workforce requires regular contact with seniors. According to additional research from PwC, nearly 60% of survey respondents said that they would like feedback on a daily or weekly basis from bosses —a number that increased to 72% for employees under age 30.

If being outgoing is a challenge, see these five expert tips on being a charismatic leader

6. You don't have the 'career' chat

Toxic managers feel that their employees' career growth is their own responsibility rather than a manager’s.

In contrast, top managers recognise people are their greatest asset. How their teammates work, grow and lead is important to stimulate organisational growth and productivity. This includes sponsoring industry qualifications, providing training opportunities and encouraging staff to join networking groups.

Energy company Schneider Electric’s own university offers staff dedicated academies for executive development, leadership, customer education, energy and solutions, sales excellence and functional skills. At American retail chain Nugget Market, the average full-time employee receives 143 hours a year of training. Its voluntary staff turnover rate is 13%, compared to an industry average of nearly 100%.

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7. You lack vision

The transition from line manager to successful department leader partly requires an individual to have vision for an organisation. Meeting targets, especially during challenging periods, requires managers who are clear on what they want to achieve. They use tangible, practical tasks as a way to motivate their teams.

Former Thomas Cook chief executive Harriet Green helped grow the world’s oldest travel agent’s market worth from £148m to more than £2bn by innovating its stores (resembling Apple outlets) and introducing SunConnect breaks.

8. You're insecure

Toxic managers may feel insecure and feel threatened by talented colleagues. This is shown by downplaying the efforts of colleagues, excluding talented and driven staff on key projects and, even, bullying.

In contrast, top bosses recognise that successful teams need a variety of skills and qualities that they themselves do not possess to a high standard. The best managers – as highlighted in Google’s study – hire the best people with the skills their team needs.

Want to ensure you manage your team successfully? Here is a guide to professional qualifications from the CMI

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