The Top Five Crimes of Crummy Managers

Got a bad boss? Learn how to manage your manager.

September 9, 2008, 6:15 PM

May 21, 2009 — -- Like many employees, Matt, a communications professional in New York, had a boss who was a lovely person but couldn't manage a team to save her life.

One minute Matt's ex-boss was the kind, supportive mother figure who wouldn't hesitate to pick up the latte tab or dole out helpful career advice. The next, she was the briefcase-toting Bride of Frankenstein.

"When things were not going her way she would yell, scream and even hide from the situation," Matt explained via e-mail.

One incident in particular occurred when Matt presented his boss with a client briefing document he'd prepared.

"She was unhappy with the way that the document was laid out so she expressed her disgust by ripping each page out of the binder and throwing them at me one at a time," Matt said, noting that the binder contained 40 pages in all.

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Another time, "She asked me if I had decided (and I quote) 'to put my brain in my ass instead of my head this morning,'" Matt said.

Happily for Matt, his boss -- who had a history of terrorizing her underlings -- was replaced last year.

It's no secret that countless managers land the job without receiving an ounce of leadership training. You can't really blame them: Who wouldn't want a bigger office, job title and paycheck -- even if it meant learning how to lead on the fly?

What you can do, however, is learn to nip bad bossery in the bud. Herewith, five of the biggest cardinal sins of stinky supervisors and some suggestions for dealing with them, no matter how nice they may seem in the breakroom:

Like Matt, Joel, a professional in the San Francisco Bay Area, was cursed with a boss who could go from "greatest guy to hang out with for drinks or a game" to raving lunatic in mere seconds.

"He called me at 6 a.m. one morning ranting and raving for 20 minutes about me not giving him an update on a high-profile project before I could get a word in edgewise to tell him that we had an hour-long conversation about it the night before," said Joel, who left the job after three years to work for himself, mainly because of his boss' "erratic behavior and unreasonable standards."

"A boss that can be a sweetheart in the morning and act like a monster in the afternoon is often overwhelmed by their pressures," said Lynn Taylor, author of the forthcoming book, "Tame Your Terrible Office Tyrant (TOT): How to Manage Childish Boss Behavior and Thrive in Your Job."

Since quitting or getting a transfer isn't always an option -- especially in today's employment environment -- Taylor suggests familiarizing yourself with a volatile boss' triggers. If they tend to implode after 3 p.m., seek them out early in the day. If they're a terror after status meetings with their own manager, stay far, far away. If they hate long e-mails, keep the correspondence snappy.

If you still find yourself the target of an unexpected tirade, "Give your boss the opportunity to have the floor," Taylor said. "All they want is to vent. Don't fight a tantrum with a tantrum."

Next to Jekyll/Hyde syndrome, this is the biggest complaint I hear people make about their incredibly sweet yet woefully inept bosses.

Take Samantha, who works at a marketing agency in Salt Lake City. Samantha's boss is apparently allergic to assigning her direct reports projects via e-mail or quick conversations in the hallway.

"Instead, I have to sit by her side -- in her office, with my laptop -- and literally draft pitches, plans, strategies and recaps in front of her as she verbally explains what she wants," Samantha said. "It's not an efficient use of time, and it's hard to write thoughtfully and strategically with your boss over your shoulder."

Micromanagers are either perfectionists, control freaks, not trusting of others or insecure about how their own performance will be perceived, said Julie Jansen, author of "You Want Me to Work With Who? Eleven Keys to a Stress-Free, Satisfying, and Successful Work Life."

To get them off your back, Jansen suggests documenting the tasks and projects you complete. Then sit your boss down and say, "Here are the last four assignments I did that you were happy with." Tell them that given the common business goal (getting the report out by the end of the day), you could work more efficiently if they loosened up the reigns (refrained from asking for 19 rounds of revisions).

"You can't really be subtle with a micromanager," Jansen said. "You have to hit them over the head with it. If you if talk clinically in business-like terms, they won't be offended."

When Lisa, who's now a social media consultant in New York, met her most recent boss for the first time, his limited skill set stunned her.

"Soon after his promotion, he traveled to meet me in my regional office, in an effort to learn more about the work I performed day to day," Lisa explained via e-mail.

"One of the questions he asked me was so darn basic that even a 10-year old could answer it. Evidently, he still had not mastered the e-mail system. How does someone -- nice or not -- who doesn't understand the most simple Microsoft Outlook program become VP in charge of a team whose communications rely on e-mail?"

To deal with an incompetent boss, "You have to role model what the right behavior is and try to turn away before you roll your eyes," Taylor said.

Then take consolation in the fact that in this economy, a boss who can't figure out how to send an e-mail won't be boss for long.

"I was miserable from day two," Phyllis from Vancouver, B.C. said of her last job as an executive assistant. Now a virtual assistant who works for herself, she attributes most of her unhappiness at her former job to her boss' extreme hands-off approach.

"He was inevitably late for work and meetings -- even meetings he'd convened," Phyllis said. "His typical day would be to arrive around 9:30 (our day started at 7:30), dash straight into his office without speaking to anyone and stay there until lunch time.

He'd literally sneak out the back door for lunch, again without speaking to anyone. He repeated this routine after lunch as well. His administrative team felt like blithering idiots every time we'd assure someone that the boss was in his office, only to discover that he'd pulled another Houdini on us."

To catch up with a magician like this, you need to stalk them, Taylor said. Intercept them on their way to lunch if you have to. Or bring all your questions about pending projects to your face-to-face meetings with them, no matter how infrequent. Just be sure to keep your queries short and sweet.

Or, you can simply console yourself with the fact that in these budget-conscious times, a boss who's all sloth and no action is on the fast track to pink-slip city.

In his last employee position, Barry, who's now a sales trainer and motivational speaker based in Helendale, Calif., had a well-meaning manager who was so misguided she made Michael Scott, the boss on "The Office," look like he had a clue.

Though most of her team were trying to watch their waistlines, Barry's ex-boss peppered the office with candy dishes. She also pumped in Muzak, much to everyone's dismay. But the icing on the cake, he said, was her hanging motivational posters throughout the office and requiring everyone to take a turn creating a mantra.

"She had no idea at all how to motivate people," Barry told me. "She was not a bad person, but she was in her own world. Completely annoying would probably be an understatement."

Again, I have two words for employees with equally clueless managers: workforce reduction. It happened to Barry's former boss, and if your company's cutting costs this year, there's a decent chance it will happen to yours too.

In the meantime, if you and your coworkers decide to complain to HR about any off-the-wall or overly inappropriate behavior on your manager's part, complain individually, Jansen said.

"Avoid that schoolyard approach," she advised. Better to let the complaints rack up and the evidence mount.

Then take solace in the fact that when you get promoted to a management slot, you'll know exactly what not to do.

This work is the opinion of the columnist and in no way reflects the opinion of ABC News.

Michelle Goodman is a freelance journalist, author and former cubicle dweller. Her books — "My So-Called Freelance Life: How to Survive and Thrive as a Creative Professional for Hire" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide: Practical Career Advice for Women Who Think Outside the Cube" -- offer an irreverent take on the traditional career guide. More tips on career change, flex work and the freelance life can be found on her blog,