Good Managers Versus Bad Managers

Enjoy The Work blog post. Good Managers vs Bad Managers.

(Thank you Ben Horowitz for the inspiration)

Good Managers care deeply about how they show up with their teams every day, want success for all (not just themselves), and approach the leadership of men and women as a discipline to be improved over time. Good Managers recognize that perfection is unattainable, but that progress is always within reach. The below attempts to contrast the stark differences separating how Good Managers and Bad Managers approach oversight/guidance of their teams.


Good Managers explain to their employees why their role exists, how it fits within the larger organization, and how the employee’s individual goals align with the company’s strategic targets.

Bad Managers reduce the employee’s role to a series of tactics without clear connectivity to the larger mission/vision of the company. Bad Managers don’t align targets (or incentives) between those of the employee and those of the overall organization.


Good Managers set clear expectations (and then set them again), they write things out, and always have the patience to explain WHY. Good Managers approach conversations with curiosity. They learn through inquiry and then probe (and probe again) until they understand the current state of affairs. Good Managers check for understanding to ensure that both the manager and the employee(s) understand what is expected (and use phrases such as, “Let me say that back to you to make sure I understood what I heard.”).

Bad Managers fly in like a tornado and dictate action without explaining why. They rely on short-hand text messages or poorly worded emails (often covered in misspellings). Bad Managers assume understanding and don’t confirm clarity. Bad Managers make statements and fail to provide airtime (or patience) for questions. Bad Managers use phrases like, “I assume there are no more questions” or We’re out of time; does anyone have any questions? shutting down chances to ensure clarity and indirectly suggesting that questions are not welcome.


Good Managers are even-tempered, rational, and balanced regardless of circumstance. Good Managers show enthusiasm, optimism, and passion coupled with pragmatism.

Bad Managers are up and down, emotionally unpredictable, and often demonstrate moments of irrationality or outbursts. Bad Managers get over-confident when things go well and pessimistic when things go badly.


Good Managers start meetings on time with a clear agenda (often distributed in advance). Good Managers start meetings with a statement clarifying the goal of the discussion, and then they check for alignment from the attendees. Good Managers bring great energy to the discussion, smile, lighten the tension, and keep tangents to a minimum. Good Managers use meetings as an opportunity to learn, ask questions, and carefully listen to the results. Good Managers ensure notes are taken and that the action items are distributed in writing to all relevant stakeholders. Good Managers listen to understand, not to reply, and overall spend far more time listening than speaking.

Bad Managers are repeatedly late to meetings. Bad Managers fail to prepare for meetings and use an agenda that is unclear or undone. Bad Managers assume agreement on the goal and launch into the content. Bad Managers deplete the room’s energy, expressing negative attitudes or poor energy, and permit substantial tangents (or worse, start them themselves). Bad Managers don’t guide the room to closure and allow meetings to end unfinished. Bad Managers don’t summarize follow-up steps either at the end of the meeting or following. Bad Managers talk too much during meetings.


Good Managers provide consistent feedback to the employees, acknowledging the good and the bad (and using the compliment sandwich to ease defensiveness). Good Managers work with their employees on areas needing improvement and face hard conversations without hesitation. Good Managers provide public kudos whenever employees’ actions are worthy. Good Managers understand the aspirations of their employees and help them on their career paths.

Bad Managers avoid conflict and hard conversations. Bad Managers only criticize (and often publicly) and never acknowledge. Bad Managers surprise employees negatively during performance reviews. Bad Managers don’t take the time to understand what their employees want from their careers.


Good Managers use the SMART acronym for goal setting (Specific, Measurable, Agreed-Upon, Reasonable, Time-Bound). Good Managers document objectives and then regularly ask the employee to report on progress. Good Managers ask, “What help can I provide or tools do you need to achieve your targets?” Good Managers hold their employees accountable for goal achievement through regular reporting, discussion, and aligned incentives.

Bad Managers don’t use SMART goals and instead dictate tactics without collaboration. Bad Managers craft goals that are ambiguous, unrealistic, or open-ended. Bad Managers don’t check in on progress and communicate ultimatums around success/failure. Bad Managers don’t tie incentives to goal achievement (promotions, raises, bonus payments).


Good Managers hire great people. Good Managers document the ideal profile for a new employee and then ensure alignment with all relevant stakeholders. Good Managers work directly with an internal recruiter, carefully describe the role’s mandate, hold an internal kick-off meeting (for new roles), and ensure everyone involved understands why the role has been opened. Good Managers prep before an interview, are distracted free during the interview, and then comprehensively document notes about the prospect for all stakeholders to consume. Good Managers attend post-interview sync-ups, listen to all of the feedback, make decisive decisions on the candidates, and provide clear direction to the recruiter on desired follow-ups.

Bad Managers hire average-level people. Bad Managers don’t explain why a role is open, are passive with the recruiters involved, don’t prep prior to interviews, don’t thoroughly document the interview notes, and are inconsistent (or slow) in providing direction back to recruiting. Bad Managers ignore confirmation bias and don’t listen to the opinions of others on the hiring team.


Good Managers fire people with empathy. Good Managers recognize that firing people can leave a hole in the organization and ensure a transition for the existing team to limit pain (but they fire those truly toxic/dilutive without hesitation). Good Managers never surprise an employee with firing; they recognize that “people fire themselves.” Good Managers always consult HR (and their boss) prior to firing someone and understand any legal risks potentially involved. Good Managers ensure sufficient documentation exists to justify the firing. Good Managers put the whole company first and fire people for the greater good.

Good Managers ensure the relevant stakeholders in the organization are aware of the firing and follow a clear order of communication once the firing is complete:

1) Tell Management.
2) Tell the Team.
3) Tell the Company.

Good Managers allow the remaining employees to absorb the news, ask questions, and (in some cases) say goodbye.

Bad Managers fire people in a mean way. Bad Managers shock employees with the firing and don’t consult with HR or present prior documentation. Bad Managers send out a terse email,

“<insert name> and <insert company> have decided to part ways; we wish him/her luck in their future endeavors.”

Bad Managers don’t take care of how the news is communicated, and rumors are spread as a result.




Bad Managers DON’T!

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