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The Unproductive and Productive Manager – Which Are You?

Most of us learn how to manage by watching and learning from a peer, mentor or someone we used to work for. But how many of those managers had management styles that were truly productive? And based on what you saw and learned from, how productive or unproductive is your management style?

According to the Gallup Organization’s most recent State of the American Workplace report, employee disengagement is at nearly 70%. And approximately 50% of employees who leave their jobs leave because of their manager. High disengagement is due in part to poor employee-manager relationships, a critical relationship that, though frequently minimized in importance, actually influences employee productivity, performance and retention, all of which affect organizational performance.

 Productive Leadership

Having spent years working with managers and leaders, I see some recurring management styles, some productive, many unproductive.


Productive management styles encourage employees to discover, develop and use their strengths, own their work, think critically, support others, add value and make a difference. Through productive management, employees become more engaged, activating greater contribution, productivity, performance and retention.


Unproductive management styles don’t support a focus on strengths, accountability or independent thinking. They focus on the ego or habits of the manager instead of on the manager’s purpose to activate engagement of and performance from employees.


Here are some of the most frequent unproductive management styles I’ve seen over the years. Note that they are not all negative and controlling; some are unrealistically supportive and do not hold employees accountable.

Unproductive Management Styles


1. Helicopter (or training wheel) manager – You constantly hover over your employees and get involved in every decision, choice and direction. You assist them on everything because you don’t trust them and their decisions, or you feel great pressure to ensure results.


2. Fairytale manager – You only see the good in your employees. You are not realistic about their liabilities, challenge areas or skill shortages.


3. Google manager – You have the answer for everything. You never let your employees discover, learn, solve or try things on their own.


4. Cinderella manager – You allow yourself to be treated like the hired help. You constantly do your employees’ work for them instead of holding them accountable for their performance and for meeting their expectations.


5. Tiffany parent – You give incentives and bonuses to everyone without a specific connection to performance, effort or commitment. Your employees have little or no concept of correlating effort to rewards or incentives for value-building.


6. Thunderstorm manager – You always find some fault with your employees. You are the constant negative voice reminding them what is wrong, not good, or is disappointing about them; your focus is on what’s wrong, not on what’s right. You can’t think of the last time you gave a compliment because you can’t see any reason to deliver one.


7. Drill Sergeant manager – You bark orders, demand, confront and challenge. Your employees fear you and are reluctant to share ideas with you. They tell you what you want to hear instead of what is true, valuable or meaningful.


8. Pageant manager – You constantly make everything a competition or a comparison, always talking about winners and losers and comparing your employees to each other. You use words like worst, best, better, nicer, smarter or better. You pit employees, departments and teams against each other in an unproductive way.


9. Secret agent manager – You are always checking up on your employees, whether it’s their social media activity, their emails or even if they’re just at their desks. You are convinced they are always ready do something they shouldn’t or show up and do less than is expected. You expect your employees are trying to get away with something and use great energy to find it.


10. Parrot manager – You constantly repeat what the latest management sources say as your way of managing, whether meaningful or not, to your employees and your environment. You quote experts but don’t use their wisdom to affect your own behavior. You talk the talk but don’t walk the walk.


These kinds of managers keep the statement of “people quit people before they quit companies” true. These styles help employees feel either over or under supported. What’s missing is consistency and integrity because of a lack of self-management or lack of understanding of what activates performance.

unproductive management styles


Now, let’s review the productive management styles I have seen over the years.

Productive Management Styles 

1. Improv manager – You show up, accept what is going on and use what you know in the moment to choose the best response for the situation and the employee. You don’t use manager scripts or apply a one-size-fits-all approach. You are tuned in to the details of your people, performance and opportunities and trust your instincts to respond wisely in the moment.


2. Coaching manager – You regularly use questions to get your employees thinking and owning their choices, decisions and performance. You ask more than you tell; you listen mindfully to the responses – to hear not only what is said but what is meant. You help your employees discover, create and own their solutions; you get to know each of your employees in a way that helps you guide and support them in their current and long-term success. You treat them personally, care about them and make time for them.


3. Zen manager – You are tuned in. You are self-aware and self-managed. You know how to manage your emotions; you can separate your employee from his or her actions to address productive and unproductive behaviors. You make relationships, connection and transparency a top priority.


4. Professor manager – You encourage your employees to constantly learn. You introduce them to new ideas and opportunities, and help them value self-development, learning and expanding their skills. You applaud and support them in expanding their thinking and raising their performance.


Just like your employees choose how they show up to their jobs, you have the ability to choose how to show up as a manager. First, stop and notice your productive and unproductive management styles. Review the lists above and ask yourself, “What sounds like me?” Make a list. Then review the list again and ask yourself, “How would my team/staff describe my management style?” From that list, assess which productive management styles you have and reflect on something that you can do more of, such as making the effort to better understand your employees’ strengths and increase your one-on-one contact.


From that same list, assess which unproductive management styles you have and reflect on how to make a change that improves your effectiveness. It could be by asking more questions, trusting your employees, balancing your feedback with both applause for success and guidance for improvement, or even allowing your employees to solve their challenges and be accountable for their results.


From an HR or OD perspective, consider how to incorporate these management styles into an education program to help your managers self-discover their productive and unproductive styles. Helping them see and own where they are and how to improve not only helps to enhance their management effectiveness, but also teaches them how to guide their employees to a similar process of self-evaluation, leading to overall performance improvement.


Who is Jay Forte?

As President and Founder of the Forte Factor and certified executive coach, Jay Forte speaks to thousands of CEOs and Talent Management / HR professionals each year, introducing them to practical approaches to hiring, engaging, managing, developing and leveraging talent. He helps organizations build high-performing teams through his coaching, educating, and consulting. He is the author of Fire Up Your Employees and Smoke Your Competition, and The Greatness Zone – Know Yourself, Find Your Fit, Transform the World. You can learn more about him and his services at www.thefortefactor.com.


Tags: Leadership
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