How Can Managers be so Oblivious to the Obvious?

5 Indicators of Leadership that is Killing Culture and Engagement

Oblivious ManagersLeaders are meant to be just that – leaders. Unfortunately, in many organizations leadership training is notoriously absent and this lack of leadership leads not only to poor management but also to disengaged employees and financial losses. Without correction, poor leadership can kill a positive culture and environment of engagement far more quickly than one might believe.

Regardless of the title – lead hands, supervisors or managers – the expectation is that those in a leadership role will model desired behaviours. These people, whether responsible for one employee or a hundred and one, need to instill trust, confidence and provide motives for employee loyalty in order to be effective and successful.

Up close, or from afar, employees watch their leaders and quickly make judgements about their abilities very quickly. They see the poor communication and lack of leadership skills through non-verbal cues as well as face-to-face interactions. They want to see and hear communications and behaviours that align with a supervisory role. It’s obvious when people view their leader as someone who knows their stuff, takes charge and assumes responsibility, but when leaders show uncertainty, a lack of caring and an endless cycle of blame and punishment, company results suffer.

It doesn’t take long for employees to pick up on these verbal and non-verbal behaviours. Team members quickly know what kind of leader is on the other side of a conversation. Yet interestingly, while the leadership that excels or fails is obvious to others, it’s not to the leader himself. It becomes a massive challenge when poor leaders, or the leader’s leaders, don’t see or hear (or worse, ignore) the communication challenges that hinder production, negatively affect culture and create unappealing HR metrics.

Some less-than-desirable communication strategies are common among poor leaders who lack skills or aren’t comfortable in their roles. Here are five problematic behaviours to watch for that are obvious to everyone except the leaders.

Indicator #1:  “Noise in the System”

When staff are left to their own devices to get work done, they can be quite successful. Insecure managers who need to prove their importance and involvement create noise in the system by nit picking every aspect of the work and harping on employees every step of the way. The result is people who are frustrated and annoyed from being micro-managed.

Indicator #2:  Deadlines Schmeadlines

Workplace tasks are usually guided by time commitments and deadlines. When leaders clearly communicate what needs to be done and when, success is most often achieved. Ineffective and non-confident managers will be vague and blow off deadlines in an attempt to appear friendly, act easy-going and seem like they want to reduce pressure yet they end up promoting ineffectiveness. Unfortunately a lack of clarity and structure leads to chaos and failure.

Indicator #3:  Emails that Never End

Communication is essential in any workplace to ensure that both cooperation and collaboration occur. Some managers negatively dial up communication when they use email too often, throw in controversial comments, use an inappropriate tone or always feel they need the last word. Employees should not cringe when they hear the “bing” and see new email.

Indicator #4:  Malicious Compliance

Rules are meant to help operations flow efficiently and workplaces function well, but on the flip side are the rule enforcers – leaders who impose rule adherence to an extreme and without regard for special circumstances. Call it malicious compliance or call them rule mongers, uptight or rigid leaders, the focus is on rules and not the crucial people-side of the business.

Indicator #5:  Undercurrent of Hostility

Leaders often become managers because of promotion – they were experts at their job so they are advanced in the company. Unfortunately, promotions often don’t come with supervisor training which leaves managers to their own devices. Without training to be a good leader, managers will probably struggle, fumble and offend people while they experience high levels of frustration. This pressure and stress can’t stay hidden and sometimes surfaces as resentment or hostility.

These communication behaviours create an undercurrent of tension which can fly under the radar. It only becomes obvious when employees have had enough or blame is wrongly laid. Employees shouldn’t have to walk on eggshells and put up with a lack of leadership skills as it kills culture and diminishes engagement.

It is easy for employees to recognize these indicators but poor leaders often explain or defend them as “just the way I operate”. This difference in perception promotes a feeling of stuckness while providing a weak excuse for acceptance of a leader’s poor management skills.

Denial of these bad behaviours, or the reasons for their existence, creates resistance to change and is not acceptable. It is poor leadership actions which cause sick days, medical leaves, resignations and workplace cultures riddled with “screw this” attitudes. Identify the problem communication issues of poor leaders and find ways to solve the culture and engagement killers.


If poor leadership is obvious to everyone but the manager then it is time for change. Help your leaders struggle less by building their skills and confidence with the Building Better Bosses program. Contact us at 604-349-8660 or  to get started on improving the leadership in your company.

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This entry was posted by Pam Paquet and is filed under Bad or Challenging Managers, Employee Training, Leadership. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.