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MENTOR - SALVATION FROM SATANIC BOSSES

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Bad communication, limelight hogging and favouritism are just some of the deadly sins of management. Sally O'Reilly...
Bad communication, limelight hogging and favouritism are just some of the deadly sins of management. Sally O'Reilly reports

Bosses from hell make great TV - step forward David Brent - but they can make life hell for their underlings. And the chances of working for a dreadful manager are higher than ever. In a survey of 1,500 people, law firm Eversheds found that nine out of 10 employees complained of suffering from incompetent boss syndrome. Another survey, by MORI and The Work Foundation, said one in four workers find their boss uninspiring.

But what are the worst faults of managers? There is a wealth of underperformance to choose from, but LGC's top five no-nos are: failing to communicate; inflexibility; hogging all the credit; inconsistency and favouritism.

Poor communication gets a thumbs down from staff, with mind-numbing jargon scoring highly as a key irritant. So overcoming the urge to use phrases like 'blue-sky thinking' is a good start for any manager wanting to build bridges with staff. But using jargon is preferable to saying nothing at all.

'Not communicating is a big gripe in any organisation,' says Jan Parkinson, managing director at Local Government Employers. 'It's not malice, it's often that managers think that information they have isn't important. But it's not for them to judge this. Just because you don't mind that core flexi-times are going to change doesn't mean your staff won't - many might be working more flexibly than you.'

Problem number two, inflexible management, causes no end of problems. 'Too many managers think there is a single way of managing,' says Doug Crawford, head of employment engagement at HR consultancy

Chiumento. 'And when they are under pressure, too many managers move into an old-fashioned, command-and-control style. That might be appropriate sometimes, but managers need a repertoire of styles.'

Rigid bosses are likely to be focused on managing tasks rather than people, says Mr Crawford. 'As leaders they need to enable the people they manage to be successful,' he says. 'Managers who are task-focused need to change their mindset and think about how to help their team make a bigger contribution.'

This team-focused approach could help managers avoid a third crime: hogging the limelight. 'If you cherry pick the best projects and take the glamorous stuff, leaving the less challenging roles for others, you will create teams that can't deliver,' says Lucy McGee, a director of HR consultancy DDI. 'You do need to build the talent in your team.'

And these same managers tend to run for cover in times of trouble, she warns. 'A good manager will act as a buffer when the team gets flak - they don't just pass it on.'

While flexibility and a team-focused approach can boost performance, managers still need to be fair and consistent - and inconsistency is the fourth deadly sin. 'Being a different person on different days of the week undermines both trust and credibility,' says Ms McGee. Fairness is an issue here - staff will not respect a wavering boss, and without respect it's impossible for a manager to get the best from anyone.

Last but not least, favouritism is a blatant example of unfair management, and it's a pet hate for many staff. 'Teams can't work effectively if the manager favours the person they have a drink with after work,' says Ms McGee. 'Managers have to be seen as even handed - for instance, when doing performance evaluations.'

Of course, perfect managers are hard to find in an imperfect world, says Jonathan Evans, head of HR at Westminster City Council. 'Management styles are as complex as human nature itself,'

he points out. Ironically, the best way to learn the skill is to be managed well, he believes. 'The very best training is a good boss - it makes all the difference.'

But Mr Evans is a firm believer in being clear about where management failings lie - and cites 360-degree assessments, in which a manager's performance is assessed by senior and junior colleagues, as a sure-fire way of getting people to see where they are under-performing.

'You can ignore negative feedback from one person and say it's just their point of view, but you can't ignore the views of 12 colleagues,' he says.

As for the management ideal, Mr Evans believes there is one golden rule which should help avoid all five management sins. 'The best managers listen, listen, listen,' he says.

'They don't think they know all the answers, and they are open to feedback from the people they are managing.'

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