Managers are supposed to get stuff done. They're supposed to coordinate resources, build capable teams, and deliver shareholder value. We all work for a manager in one form or another. And while work isn't the sole domain of life, having a sense of meaning and making an impact are reasons #4 and #5 for coming to work. We want to be fairly rewarded for doing good work. And for that, we need good managers.
So how many good managers have you worked for in your career? Probably not that many. In fact, you'll be lucky if you can nominate more than two. And like most of us, you've probably left more than one position due to a toxic boss. What is the cost of managers behaving badly? And what, if anything, can be done about it?
Cost of Bad Managers
What's the cost of bad managers?
- More than $22 trillion according to the US Government Accountability Office. That's how much the 2008 financial crisis cost the US economy, largely attributed to reckless investment and trading.
- Five to eight percent of annual healthcare costs in the US according to Stanford Professor of Organizational behavior Jeffrey Pfeffer. That's more than $300 billion annually.
- Nine percent of total healthcare expenditure across the European Union according to the European Agency for Health and Safety at Work. That's around £425 million annually in the UK alone.
Managers behave badly when they don't stop to think about their actions or how their behavior might be negatively impacting their team. They "drive for performance" (a curious term that suggests employees are more akin to vehicles). When managers lose focus on what really matters, and when their situational awareness becomes too narrow they behave mindlessly. They "go with the flow" even if that flow is unethical. They choose the path of least resistance even if that means riding roughshod over team members. Mindless managers behave badly because they are self-centered; they are preoccupied with their own agendas, and unable or unwilling to consider how their actions might affect others. Self-centredness arises because of (1) insecurity: they lack confidence and react emotionally to real or perceived threats; and (2) arrogance: They are overconfident and see people as objects to be used for their own purposes.
Managers behave better when they develop focused attention on what really matters, and when they become aware of how others are behaving and feeling. The key is how well managers manage distraction. A recent survey of more than 30,000 managers from thousands of companies in more than a hundred countries found that 71% of managers feel distracted from their current task either "some" or "most" of the time. Sources of distraction included:
- Demands of other people (26%),
- Competing priorities (23%),
- General distractions (13%), and
- Workloads that are overwhelming (12%).
Mindful awareness helps managers to get in the driver's seat of their own mind and see more clearly what is the "right" thing to do for the benefit of all stakeholders. Mindful focus helps managers to be more efficient and consequently achieve better wellbeing.
But it takes training. We are hard-wired for distraction. Focus occurs in the prefrontal cortex, which is the centre of deliberation, reasoning, and choice. Through training and practice it is possible to develop the skill of sustained, focused attention on a chosen task or object. Through training and practice it is also possible to gain self-awareness and develop a more considerate and compassionate approach to others, realizing what is most likely the best choice for all concerned.
To stop managers behaving badly we need to include the skills of mindfulness in any management or leadership training curriculum. The linear MBA-trained logic is necessary but no longer sufficient if it comes at the cost of other skills like self-awareness. The cost of managers behaving badly is just too great to put up with anymore.