I’m constantly hearing stories about terrible managers, and, of course, I’ve experienced quite a few myself. In fact, I can’t come up with many nice things to say about most managers when I look back over my career. (Luckily, my manager at Redgate is wonderful!)
Early in my tech career, I was working at a small startup with just four employees. The owner of the company avoided talking to me in person for several months, making excuse after excuse about why he was too busy when our scheduled one-on-ones were due or we both happened to be in the office at the same time. Another consulting firm had been trying to recruit me for about a year, and I decided to take the offer. When I handed my boss the resignation letter, he finally told me that he hadn’t talked to me in months because he was afraid that I was going to ask for a raise. If he had just given me a few minutes of his time once in a while, I probably would not have left.
I should have gotten used to managers who would cancel appointments at the last minute or just not show up because I continued to see that at other organizations. Maybe, in some cases, the managers had too many responsibilities, but it came across as having no value for my time.
Many readers will have other examples of bad manager behavior such as not paying attention at all to what the team is working on, being a bottleneck to progress of projects, not being able to handle disputes among co-workers, not being able to discipline them when needed, not listening to their team members' opinions and ideas, or being unapproachable so that team members are afraid to come to them when things go wrong.
Bad managers can demoralize the team and be the reason that talented staff leave for other jobs. Not only can this be the cause of project delays as new people must be hired and trained, high turnover is expensive for companies and can directly impact the bottom line.
I began to wonder why managers are more likely to thwart progress instead of leading, inspiring and empowering their charges, and there are dozens of articles talking about it. In many organizations, there is not a good path for promoting great tech workers. How do you promote the best database administrator or developer? If the only path is team leader or department manager, many people who have great tech skills will end up in positions where they are not suited because tech skills and managing people are very different. Other reasons might be that managers are not given training to be managers, and also often the wrong things are measured which leads to managers doing things that reach certain metrics that don't really lead to success.
Of course, having a manager who understands what you do is nice, but managers must have communication and leadership skills. They must be able to empower their employees to succeed and grow. Employees should feel like they and their manager are working towards the same goals and share enthusiasm about the success of projects. While a manager cannot say yes to every idea or request, they should at least listen and think about what the team member has to say. At the end of the day, when their team looks good, the manager will look good, too.