Management Skills

3 Management horror stories and what leaders can learn from them

4 min read

Learn how to be a better manager from these three horrific management stories.

In the spirit of Halloween, we reached out to several management communities and asked individuals to share their most horrific management story. 👻

It’s likely that at some point in your career you’ve had to deal with a bad manager. Whether they were a micromanager, a roadblock, or just a downright terrible leader. In fact, in a 2018 Monster.com survey, the jobsite polled 957 people who were openly seeking new jobs on why they wanted to leave their current employer. 76% of respondents blamed a “toxic boss” for being the reason. 

There’s a lot to learn from these managers on what not to do. So, let’s dive in. 

In the interest of those who shared their stories, we have their identities anonymous.

The manager who refused to provide feedback when asked for it

“I had a manager who would refuse to give me ongoing feedback while I was working on something. I’d ask for it and she would say, “just show me when it’s done”. I was in a co-op/learning position so it was terrifying to think I’d be going in the wrong direction only to find out at the end. I am the kind of person who needs constant feedback loops to feel confident that the work I’m doing is not only what’s expected of me, but that it’s great. My manager constantly refused to give me the feedback I needed when I asked.”

What managers can learn from this: 

  1. When employees ask for feedback or support, always act on it. This will help build trust with your direct reports and facilitate their growth.
  2. Always communicate your expectations and check-in throughout the process rather than just at the start and end. When you don’t it’s a recipe for disaster. A great way to do this is with the 99/50/1 framework.

The manager who decided that work is the best way to grieve

“While in my first proper job after university, my parents both passed in traumatic circumstances. My parents lived in a different country, so I’d need a bit of time off. I asked my boss what the policy was for this kind of situation and he said, “I understand this is a difficult time, but I find that work often helps process these emotional circumstances, so I expect you back at your desk in a week”.

What managers can learn from this: 

  1. Be empathetic. This is an extremely traumatic experience that your direct report has come to you with. Before letting them know what you expect or providing unsolicited advice, ask them what they need. Bring in any individuals that you need, like HR, so that you can come up with the best plan to support your direct report and provide them with what they need. 
  2. Things are bound to come up that will require your direct reports to take extended leaves, sick time and more. Managers should always be prepared for these situations and approach them with a supportive mindset. 

The manager who decided that one person could handle the workload of three

“When I was an individual contributor, I was working on a project with two other developers. One of the developers quit and the other was fired. They were not replaced and it wasn’t made evident to me that replacements would be hired. With the lack of resources, I started having to work until midnight day in and day out, including weekends in order to meet our original deadlines. This went on for months. When I finally approached my manager to explain my point of view and ask for help, he told me that it wasn’t a resource issue, but that I was bad at time management. I got so frustrated during this conversation (and was very near complete burnout at this point), he told me I was too emotional. From that point on I had no trust for my manager. He wasn’t on my side.”

What managers can learn from this: 

  1. There will always be turnover in any organization and that’s normal. However, how you handle that turnover affects the employees who are still with you. You need to make sure that with the limited resources you have now, you’re continuing to set your direct reports up for success rather than burnout. It can be tempting to overload those who do great work with more work but don’t. It’s not fair to them and can contribute to losing their trust. Once lost, an employee’s trust is extremely hard to earn back.

Don’t be a management “horror story”

Managers, it’s important that you continue to remind yourself that you’re managing people. Things are bound to come up. Whether it’s internal conflicts, life events or the “little” things that your direct reports need to feel supported, it’s your job to handle these things in the best way possible (keeping in mind how your direct reports will perceive them!).