Bad managers come in all shapes and sizes -- some are jerks, some are passive pushovers, some can't delegate or give feedback or set clear expectations and some are simply incompetent. And if you work for one of these bosses, you probably try to minimize the impact of these flaws on your own work -- and may have found creative strategies to protect your quality of life. But working for a bad boss can impact you in ways you might not have thought about. Here are five of those less obvious dangers.
1. You will pick up bad habits that can hurt you even after you move on. If you spend too long in a dysfunctional workplace or modifying your behavior to accommodate a bad manager, the experience can recalibrate your ideas of normal in ways that can hurt you personally. For instance, if you work for a manager who always shoots the messenger and punishes dissent, you might get used to keeping your head down, never speaking up and even covering up mistakes when they happen. While that behavior might serve you very well in that job, those habits can be enormously damaging in a healthier workplace -- and can be hard to let go of once they've become ingrained.
2. You are less likely to get raises, promotions, good projects, training opportunities and other benefits that often accompany a good relationship with a manager. Poor managers often neglect to advocate for financial and other rewards for their top performers, or they don't have the political capital to do so. And without a strong track record of performance, they're less likely to score the best projects and resources for their teams. On the other hand, a more skilled manager is more likely to attract the types of high-value projects that make careers -- and to ensure her team is recognized in myriad ways for them.
3. You will miss out on the reputation-building that a manager who likes you can do for you. An effective manager who likes you ensures your work is visible to higher-ups in and outside of your organization, speaks well of you to others and introduces you to people who can become part of your network, help you professionally or even hire you in the future. Moreover, if your manager has a bad reputation herself, it can rub off on you; for instance, you might be directed to take actions that reflect poorly on you, or you might simply become known as part of a lackluster team.
4. You won't get useful feedback to help you develop professionally. Your peers might be able to give you positive feedback now and then, but it usually takes an invested manager to show you where you could be doing things better or differently -- and to do it in a way that's supportive and helps you develop, rather than merely being critical or even punitive. Working for a bad manager could mean giving up years of the sort of growth that comes from thoughtful and targeted feedback.
5. And most of all, bad managers will nearly always harm your peace of mind and self image. Working for a bad manager can instill in you a defeatist attitude in regard to work, praise and recognition, train you to value the wrong things, cause you to doubt your own abilities and just generally make you miserable. And that could end up harming your work as well.
Great managers are few and far between, so you might be tempted to resign yourself to working for bad managers over your career -- but for the reasons above, it's worth doing everything you can to spot and avoid them when you're job-hunting and to move on from them quickly if you find yourself working under one.
Alison Green writes the popular Ask a Manager blog, where she dispenses advice on career, job search, and management issues. She's also the co-author of Managing to Change the World: The Nonprofit Manager's Guide to Getting Results, and former chief of staff of a successful nonprofit organization, where she oversaw day-to-day staff management, hiring, firing, and employee development.
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