stocksnap.io James Frid

How to Escape the Death Spiral of Becoming a Bad Manager

I told a story recently about a time I was the victim of poor management practices. I was surprised by the strong response of some readers. I got a few comments along these lines:

  • all organisations and managers suck
  • the farther you look up the management ladder the lower the IQ you will find

I couldn’t really argue, given the story I had written was telling a very unflattering tale about both organisations and managers who had not acted very intelligently.

But I did wonder about this overall view, and what could be done to change it. Not least because I write in order try and help others become better leaders and managers.

My first thought was, “It doesn’t have to be that way”. Current and future managers can choose to do things differently.

There have also been a flurry of stories out about the role and responsibilities of managers in all aspects of a company’s operations- from culture, to diversity, to preparing the next generation, even one that set out to answer the question “why is it so easy to be a bad manager?”.

Why do so many people have such poor experiences with their managers and their workplaces?

I think there are often two major reasons, though there are many others, and that these two fall on opposite ends of the spectrum:

  • The Peter Principle and
  • Death-by-MBA.

The Peter Principle is a theory written about by Laurence J. Peter in 1969 that essentially states that people are promoted up to the point of their incompetence. Someone is doing great in their current role, so they must be ready for a promotion!

This is lazy management of the would-be manager by their boss. The current leadership doesn’t invest in properly assessing, training, and mentoring people who are doing their current jobs well so that they can effectively manage others also doing that job. Managing is a job in and of itself. It requires different skills sets and aptitudes.

Death-by-MBA (which I’m sure there is a fancy name for but let’s leave it at that for now) simply means that someone is taking an overly-academic and theoretical approach to management. They are making things complex and complicated, trying to apply words in a book to real-life situations. They are usually doing this just using the book, and not talking to the actual people they are managing.

My antidote to both these things is to keep things simple.

Feeling out of your depth, insecure, afraid, or stuck can cause you to make poor decisions and be that bad manager. If the first thing you reach for is a highly theoretical or complex tome to find your way out, you will most likely sink further before you can find your feet. You will be frustrating your teams and getting mired down in detail.

Grasping the simplest tool to help you quickly get a grip and find some solid ground is essential. It will speed things up, free up your staff, and make you a more effective leader.

You really need just a few basic components to get out of your sucky manager spiral and get a grip so you can continue to improve. They are:

  • Creating a mission statement, establishing values, and setting goals with your team. This has the added value of giving a reason to engage with your team, and find common language and common ground to start from.
  • Setting up a system for and conducting effective one to one monthly meetings and annual performance reviews. This helps you take on your responsibility as manager for not only the performance but also welfare of your team members. And, it gets and keeps a conversation going so problems are less likely to sneak up on you or them.
  • Reviewing the basic building blocks of your team’s functionality, including skills sets, access to information, and the workplace physical environment. The devil is in the details- these are the things you don’t usually pay attention to until they are causing you big problems. Pay attention now, and do a swift review. This will help you get ahead of any potential performance-killers and put in solutions now.

Being a manager doesn’t have to be difficult, though it will always be a challenging role. But if you keep it simple and put a little work into it you can be the boss that changes the way we all write about our experiences of management.


My first book, Becoming a Fearless Leader: A simple guide to taking control and building happy, productive, highly-performing teams is out now. You can find access to a free pdf workbook that accompanies it on my website. If you do read my book, I would love to hear your comments.


I write about how I became the founder of a tech startup as a non-techie, over-40 female with no entrepreneurial experience, and all I am learning along the way. You can see more here. If you think this might be helpful for others on their entrepreneurial journey, please recommend and share.

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