How to Spot a Dysfunctional Manager

Last Updated Jan 12, 2010 6:28 PM EST

Does your boss act out and throw tantrums like a spoiled child? Are you afraid to bring up certain hot-button issues in meetings for fear of being humiliated? Does your company's strategy change weekly? Daily?

These are all signs of a dysfunctional workplace, but you know what? Workplaces don't become dysfunctional by themselves. People make them that way. More specifically, management people: CEOs, VPs, middle managers, your boss. Know how to spot them? Here's a handy guide, but there's a surprise at the end.

20 Ways to Spot a Dysfunctional Manager
  1. Rants like a raving lunatic.
  2. Tells you to do something you don't want to do, blames you when it goes south.
  3. Freaks out over nothing, but when disaster strikes, becomes eerily calm.
  4. Says she wants you to take responsibility, then publicly overrides your decisions.
  5. Intimidates with aggressive words and posture, backs down like a wimp when confronted by a bigger bully.
  6. Spends more time covering his ass than he does sitting on it.
  7. Verbally approves new requisitions, later denies doing it, aka selective memory.
  8. Laughs uncomfortably at inappropriate times.
  9. Makes hallway decisions that affect your group -- when you're not there.
  10. A single data point sends him off in a completely new direction.
  11. Gives in when pushed into a corner, then does what she wants anyway, aka passive aggressive.
  12. Swoops into meetings and takes over.
  13. Revels in the invention of creative curses for just the right occasion.
  14. Gets way, way too personal.
  15. Sticks you right in the middle of feuds with his peers.
  16. Rides you mercilessly while pet employees can do no wrong.
  17. Fanatically obsessive about minutia.
  18. Always right: when confronted with mistakes, blames them on someone else.
  19. Fiercely protective of dumb pet projects.
  20. At the first sign of trouble throws allies under the bus.
Well, those are my 20, but I'm sure you've got a lot more of your own. Let's hear 'em.

Almost forgot, I promised you a surprise at the end. Well, you know how I know all this about dysfunctional managers? Well, not only have I observed all this behavior in others, but I've done half of this stuff myself! Top that for honesty.

UPDATE: Some of you pointed out that identifying a bad boss is the easy part. Successfully dealing with one is the real trick. So here's my follow-up: How to Survive a Dysfunctional Manager.

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