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How do you handle terrible leaders?

over 2 years ago from , Director of Experience Design | NIC's PA Interactive

We all have had them: terrible bosses and leaders. Currently, I am going through a rigorous DiSC 363 Leadership Competency Review at my organization and it's definitely given me validation on areas where I know I am strong in and what I need to improve upon. As part of my commitment to being a better leader to my design team, I'm curious to hear from DN what situations they have run into with terrible leaders/bosses and how you've handled them.

For those curious about DiSC 363.

20 comments

  • Marc EdwardsMarc Edwards, over 2 years ago

    If a situation isn’t working out, and for whatever reason you feel like your boss, manager or a group leader isn’t doing the right thing or providing the support required, I think there are really only two options.

    1. Approach them directly about it.

    Doing this in private will likely make it less confrontational. It’s also probably a good idea to be very careful with what’s said and how, and also important to make sure what’s said is documented. For this reason, I tend to resolve these kind of things via email. If it ever turns into an issue, there are timestamps and everything said is listed in full. You could escalate things further, but doing so may be an exhausting battle you don’t win (I’ve seen senior management cover for bad managers on many occasions).

    2. If the first option doesn’t work, leave, if you can.

    Your metal health is important, and you’re probably not doing your coworkers any favours by ignoring or patching over a bad boss, manager or leader. It’s probably best to not quit on the spot — plan your exit carefully, and have somewhere else to go before you say anything.

    If you have an exit interview, I think it’s completely fine to say nothing, if you choose to — the company’s issues are theirs. If you want, you could definitely let them know why you’re leaving, but it is up to them to figure this stuff out.

    22 points
    • Timothy McKenna, over 2 years ago

      This is solid advice. I hope that if the first part happens with me I can adjust to make sure I can help my team members before option 2 becomes a reality.

      1 point
      • Scott ThomasScott Thomas, over 2 years ago

        I second that... if you don't you will become bitter and will effect your life and work. I had serve panic attacks to down right alcoholism when I came home. Sometimes the best method is to break away.

        Also refreshing to see a discussion thread like this.

        2 points
        • Timothy McKenna, over 2 years ago

          Wow...that hits home to me in a real poignant way....I've had places where I worked that induced some panic attacks and have found the only way for me to unwind was to kill a 6 pack of IPA. Luckily....I've moved on from those places and I am trying to be cognizant to make sure I never put anyone in that same situation.

          For me, being a good leader for my team is paramount. Good leaders that help people build on their strengths and act like real people (not hiding behind a title) lead to more engaged, more happy practitioners. I want my team to go home at the end of day feeling accomplished and that they know I have their back.

          1 point
    • Account deleted over 2 years ago

      I wish I could have upvoted this comment 10 times more.

      1 point
  • Andrew C, over 2 years ago

    Hope this helps:

    As a manager the best advice I was given was that bad managers rely on the old "My door is always open!" wisdom. This is a bullshit management strategy because it puts the onus on your people to bring up issues. Your employees that feel anxious, confused, burnt out, or embarrassed by something they don't know shouldn't also endure the turmoil of finding the courage to come to you. Don't do that. Go out and find issues. Shake the trees until nothing falls out.

    An excellent exercise to do just this is the retrospective. This is a 30m — 1h meeting focusing SOLELY on surfacing the worries and ambitions of your team. Do not do this as a piece of sprint planning or tacked on to another meeting. It sends the wrong message that their issues are to be the sideshow of the "real" sprint work to be done.

    I like to use a simple format of drawing a :) :( :/ faces on a whiteboard in columns with an action items column (so 4 columns). Team mates write out post-its in each column to plot their concerns. After they're done go through them 1 by 1. For each issue decide if there's anything to be done (often its simply a space to vent, which is important. Let them vent safely). Write down an action item for tickets that can be solved and assign it to a team member (you, too). This will spread out the responsibility for improving process and actually ensure issues are resolved. Take up these action items at the start of the next retro (I like to do them bi-weekly).

    More info: http://www.funretrospectives.com/

    Good luck!

    14 points
    • Joao Carvalho, over 2 years ago

      As a manager the best advice I was given was that bad managers rely on the old "My door is always open!" wisdom. This is a bullshit management strategy because it puts the onus on your people to bring up issues. Your employees that feel anxious, confused, burnt out, or embarrassed by something they don't know shouldn't also endure the turmoil of finding the courage to come to you. Don't do that. Go out and find issues. Shake the trees until nothing falls out.

      Good point

      6 points
    • Timothy Turner, over 2 years ago

      I'm curious how one would go about "shaking the trees". Can you give more detail on this?

      2 points
      • Andrew C, over 2 years ago

        Retros and 1-on-1's. Ask them how they like the project they're working on—what the next step of their career is, etc. And use your 1-on-1 to discuss any issues that come up in the retro that may need more a private follow-up.

        1 point
    • Timothy McKennaTimothy McKenna, over 2 years ago

      You know, I am guilty of saying "My door is always open" or some variation of it and I would agree with you that the tactic does force the practitioner to come to the manager....it's not a two way street. I've always followed up "My door is always open" with the phrase "My first priority is the team"....which also sounds like a cop out to me at times because if I am not bringing value to the organization....then I am jeopardizing everyone.

      What I can say that I feel I am doing good with is that I schedule "formal" one on ones with everyone, but more often I swing by everyone's desk at each day to do an informal check in, see if they need anything from me (follow up on something, check in with another team, etc) and I make sure they are doing well. So far, my team has responded very well and on more than one occasion, my people have IMed me or pull me aside to have a confidential talk so they can get something off their chest, discuss a problem, or ask for guidance on something.

      Areas that I know I can improve is being more resolute, more deliberate, and more disciplined....which honestly is difficult because I try to be as open &inclusive as possible. My team appreciates that I am open, but they have asked me to be more deliberate and committed to a decision once it's made.

      I'm glad you brought up retrospectives. We do do them and we have turned it into a fun activity...for instance...I lead a small team in a design sprint for an internal app and after a week, we did our retrospective. I sat with the team and had someone else not part of the sprint facilitate the retrospective. We put on a white board 4 columns: What worked, What didn't work, What can we do better next time, What did learn as a group. Everyone gets a nerf gun and takes turns firing at the whiteboard. They fire into their chosen column and the facilitator writes down the comment under their dart. Firing Nerf Guns is cathartic and once we're down, the team connects the dots and makes a fun constellation. This sounds kind of out there, but the feedback I have received from the team is that it's a fun way to end a project and it makes the retrospective more real. We take the constellation and recreate them as posters. I can tell you bringing in Nerf Gun's to a place that requires federal clearance was not an easy task...

      2 points
      • Andrew C, over 2 years ago

        lol awesome idea with the nerf guns. I'll try that (no federal clearance required!).I think most managers struggle with inclusiveness/decisiveness (if I don't tell them what to do, will they question my judgment?)

        1 point
    • Megan CleggMegan Clegg, over 2 years ago

      +1 on retros. They are HUGELY important. If one decides to do a retro, make sure you keep them focused on a topic, if possible, and do them regularly - our first retro clocked in at nearly 2 hours long because it was a free-for-all from 8 people who had been working together for a few months at that point. Things built UP.

      Retros are best when everyone speaks openly and safely, but if one finds they have a team that is still too reluctant to speak up - for fear of retribution or just out of shyness - one can run retros anonymously using Google Docs.

      Set up the document ahead of time and send the link to the team the day before your meeting to fill out (keep it public to keep contributors anonymous.) 30 mins before your retro, ask participants to review the doc to add their +1's to the comments that have been added, to help you judge later how important these issues are. When y'all review the doc together in your retro, the lead can read each comment out loud and then pause and ask if anyone wants to elaborate or add onto the comment. If no one volunteers, jump right into brainstorming the solution together instead (that part will need active participants). After a few of these retros - and after charting the improvements that come out of them - team members will see the safety that has been established and be more willing to put themselves out there.

      3 points
      • Timothy McKennaTimothy McKenna, over 2 years ago

        My team is really enjoying doing retrospectives and I'm hoping to get the other team member within my department to join in....sometimes their managers have different priorities for them though.....but hey...nerf guns....

        1 point
      • Andrew C, over 2 years ago

        Great idea on the anonymous doc. Luckily for me my team are generally OVER sharers when it comes to feedback. Another benefit I can imagine is that some people just prefer to not do critiques on-the-spot. They want to vet their own feedback for whatever reason. This would give them that personal time to reflect before getting in to it.

        Neat. This thread has been chalk full of great ideas..

        1 point
  • Dan Taplin, over 2 years ago

    I think Marc Edwards top comment here is absolutely spot on, I want to chip in but he's nailed it. Just gonna add that it's super nice to see something positive with people engaging in actual discussion, without sarcasm or attitudes on Designer News for the first time in god knows how long. This is great!

    4 points
  • John Williams, over 2 years ago

    UX Designer here. At my last job, I wish I left earlier after identifying a bad VP that went through 4 different UX managers. Your career goes nowhere with that many changes. You're only as good as your leaders and if you spot that they're terrible to their subordinates, plan to leave ASAP.

    2 points
    • Timothy McKenna, over 2 years ago

      I am in agreement with you in a fashion that you are only good as your leaders. Bad bosses and managers hold people back for various reasons and I wholly agree that people don't leave companies, they leave managers.

      2 points
  • Mitch Malone, over 2 years ago

    To be clear—I don't think leaders and bosses are the same thing. You report to bosses and more or less have to do what they say. But you choose to follow a leader.

    It would be easy to deal with a bad leader. You simply don't follow them.

    The first thing I do if I have a bad boss is communicate the challenges I'm having with them as clearly and delicately as possible, a la Radical Candor style. If progress isn't made after that in a timely manner, I might see if I can switch teams to be under a new boss. If that's not possible, I would strongly consider leaving. I have left companies in the past due to a bad manager.

    2 points
    • Timothy McKenna, over 2 years ago

      I totally agree with you on that point. Leaders and bosses are not the same thing, I should have made that distinction.

      My goal is to be a good leader. I am much younger than the team that reports to me. (I'm 33, the next closest in age is 40) so initially, I didn't know how I would stack up with folks who have been practitioners and past managers for much long. I try to come in with a no bullshit approach....I won't force feed anyone bullshit and I won't act like I know everything. I'm human, so I want respect and appreciation...so I know they only way to garner that is to truly respect and appreciate those on my team. They make it easy though, I have a damn good team. So I am going through this leadership academy to 1) better serve my team 2) bring value to the organization and 3) be more mindful and self aware.

      2 points