Don’t overreact: Balance and consistency is key to being a good manager

“If I become a manager, I’ll never be like that…” we often say when we have a lousy boss. The problem is that we often over-correct and our behavioral pendulum swings too far in the opposite direction. Here are some examples:

The mistake: Overreacting to a dictator

Several years ago, a manager told me, “If I am ever a boss, I’ll never treat people that way.” He was highly critical of his boss at the time and felt that he was too demanding and rigid.

This fellow got his wish. He was promoted into his former manager’s position. But unfortunately, he was so worried about being a dictator, he became a wimp.

“I just want us to be one big happy family,” the manager told me recently. “I don’t know why people just can’t get along.”

He was lamenting the fact that his employees had become very disgruntled and were complaining to him constantly. They said he was showing favoritism to some employees by granting special privileges when they came and whined for favors. The complaining employees were unhappy about some employees who weren’t pulling their own weight and had missed many days of work.

Employees had confided to me that they actually missed the “bad old days,” because at least then there were some rules.

“The rules may have been applied harshly, but at least they were consistently applied and everyone knew exactly where they stood,” they told me. “Our manager won’t take a stand on anything and he’s always trying to be our pal. He doesn’t understand that he has to make some unpopular decisions that keep the playing field level for all of us.”

Ironically, what this manager discovered was that being too nice can be just as bad as ruling like a dictator.

This is a classic mistake. In the absence of a good role model, the new manager patterns him or herself in the opposite mold from the managers they despised, only to go too far in the opposite direction.

The mistake: Overreacting to a perfectionist

“He was never satisfied,” an engineer told me about his manager. “His standards are so high, he thinks nobody can do the work as well as he can. He’s constantly peering over our shoulders and sometimes he even takes back a project because he thinks he can do a better job of it. It’s really very demoralizing. I wish he’d just go back to being an engineer.”

Some time ago, I worked with a new manager who had left a job because of a perfectionist boss. He, too, overreacted by letting people have “creative freedom.” Unfortunately, that creative freedom – with no standards or constructive feedback – became a low performing work environment, where employees did the minimum to get by. The best employees began to complain to the boss about their co-workers’ lax attitude, but they soon learned that their manager just didn’t want to be the bad guy. Those with higher standards left because they couldn’t tolerate being a part of a team with no pride in their work.

The mistake: Overreacting to a rigid, old-fashioned boss

“I worked long hours to get where I am, so why shouldn’t my employees? It’s the price they have to pay to get ahead. Employees today just don’t have a decent work ethic.” This 60-something manager scorned the notion of “family-friendly policies” and held fast to his belief that the person who came in earliest and left latest was the best employee.

Needless to say, his employees didn’t see it that way. When he retired and one of the team was promoted into his position, the employees rejoiced. Finally, they were going to have an enlightened manager who would let them take some time off for their children’s soccer games and other personal needs.

For some, their elation quickly turned to irritation, however. It seemed as if any employee request to leave work for personal reasons was granted. And the same people kept making the requests, leaving everyone else to pick up the pieces. Workers who were single complained that they got stuck working later than everyone else. Men complained that some of the women were always leaving early…you get the picture.

The lesson in each of these situations is to learn from the mistakes of others but not to take it to the opposite extreme. If you hear yourself say, “I’ll never be like that…,” be careful. The answer is somewhere in the middle, with a fair set of guidelines to guide the way.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee-based executive coach, organizational and leadership development strategist. She has a track record spanning more than 20 years, and is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Email your question to Joan at and visit to search an archive of more than 1,500 of Joan’s articles. You can contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 354-9500.

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