Bad parents, bad bosses, and the role of managers


Photo by Yodel Anecdotal

What do you think of this claim?

I also think people should understand that they will learn more from bad parents than a good parent. They tend to get into a cycle where they’re so frustrated that they aren’t paying attention actually to what’s happening to them. When you have a good parent things go so well that you don’t even know why it’s going well because it just feels fine.

When you have a bad parent you have to look at what’s irritating you and say: “Would I do that? Would I make those choices? Would I talk to me that way? How would I do this?”

Sounds ridiculous, right? We would not want bad parents just because it might be more educational for the kids. Replace the word “Parent” with the word “Manager”. Does it still sound ridiculous?

Well, it does to me. But not Carol Bartz, chief executive of Yahoo, who actually said this in an interview with Adam Bryant on The New York Times. While I do agree, like Bob Sutton does, that you should make the most even out of a bad situation, this line of thought makes me angry. I think it is not only a rationalisation for bad managers, it also a misconception of what good managers actually do.

First, I am worried that managers will take this as an excuse to say – “hey, I am a bad manager, but it is better for you. You will learn from it. What does not kill you, makes you stronger. Why should I invest in being a good manager if you can learn more from me being a bad manager?” And of course, that employee will think the same when he becomes a manager. So, because of this rationalisation, we will only end up with bad managers. Is that something we want?

Second, do you really think that if an employee does not even know why things are going well, his manager is doing a good job? A manager is not a supervisor that just needs to make sure the work is done. A manager is a good manager when he makes people think; when he helps employees improve their abilities and capitalize on their strengths; when he supports their own self development, self-efficacy and sense of achievement; and when he helps them prepare for their next role.

Because if a manager is only about making sure that things are as usual, then he is not a good manager. He is a bad manager. And from these kind of managers I agree you might be able to learn something. Learning from mistakes is a good way to learn. But just as children to bad parents sometimes become bad parents themselves, employees of bad managers become bad managers themselves. And that is not something I want to see. As Carol Bartz accurately says, being a manager is hard enough as it is:

Managing is a tough job. When you’re young, you just think it’s a natural progression — I’m good at this so I’m going to be good at that, and it’s not that way at all.


7 Responses to “Bad parents, bad bosses, and the role of managers”

  1. Randy Zwitch Says:

    Yes, that claim is just ridiculous. You may learn more from a ‘bad’ anything, but that doesn’t mean it’s ‘good’ learning. I’m sure I could learn plenty from an abusive parent, but likely not how to be a good parent! Nurture over nature and all that.

    I’ve been lucky in my past jobs in that I’ve had bosses that were very hands off. The first company, mainly out of necessity, as I was the statistical modeler amongst a bunch of electrical engineers. In my current role, my boss is also a modeler, but very busy. So he’s given me huge latitude to figure things out for myself, and only steps in when something gets derailed. I’ve learned more about interacting with co-workers, higher-level management, and everyday how to carry myself than I would’ve gotten through a truly ‘bad manager’ situation.

  2. Two of the most important concepts of feedback « The Comparative Advantage Says:

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  3. sherfelad Says:

    Hey Randy,
    Thanks for sharing. Great examples!

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