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Bad Managers and Lessons from Youth

Updated: May 25, 2023

When I first started working in the professional world, I worked with emotionally and behaviorally challenged youth. These were kids who had extensive trauma in their histories, had been receiving services from various child welfare, juvenile justice, and mental health state agencies, had been in psychiatric hospitals, and had run-ins with law enforcement. These youth landed in treatment programs because they were deemed at a level of risk to themselves or others, and required constant supervision and monitoring with the goal of developing healthier and safer coping strategies and helping to keep them safe.

Their past experiences and the ways they manifested and showed up – were often disturbing, troubling, brazen, in-your-face, aggressive, impulsive, dangerous, etc. We had to be clear about how we were going to approach our given charge with these youth and interestingly, in my opinion, the greatest lessons that were taught were the ones they taught me both personally and professionally. Not the other way around.

These kids could sniff out our motivations and intentions; those of us who were there for the right and others who were there for the wrong reasons … and there was a parallel in the assessment that measured our leadership capacities. Those of us who were effective were solid and strong leaders and those who were not looked a lot like our Bad Managers.

So, what do bad managers look like?

· Drill Sergeants/Breath Down Your Neck Micromanagers

· My Way or the Highway Managers

· Cold-hearted Managers

· Aloof/Head in the Clouds Managers

· No Sense of Self Managers

· No Chutzpah Managers

The lessons I learned from my ten years of experience working with youth have given me insight into bad managers and elements of effective leadership.

Contrary to bad managers, the youth clearly identified the ingredients for stellar management. For us to create impact, build a healthy and strong community, increase engagement at all levels, inspire growth and excellence and be a student as well (do these sound a lot like organizations goals?) we did the following:

· We were in it – from the top down – all hands in, boots to the ground.

· We were the culture bearers – the standard-bearers. We did what we said & asked – exemplified the standards and expectations.

· We knew, lived, and breathed our mission - Maximizing Potential - which applied to everyone.

· We understood, embraced, included all, and appreciated differences

· We knew that everything was relational – we built, rebuilt, and constantly worked on sustaining strong relationships.

· We were resilient and created an emotional leather – we did not get rattled easily.

· We were a source of inspiration.

· We gave immediate, direct feedback with compassion and kindness, and always with the purpose to teach.

· We were dedicated and committed to our own growth and our expanded self-awareness – we ourselves were open to feedback – at all levels

· We celebrated our successes no matter how big or small.

· We were open to change – if it wasn’t working anymore, we reviewed, pivoted, and made the necessary changes.

As leaders, bad managers exist and be found at all levels. Just like the youth who could easily detect bad counselors who negatively impacted our success, your employees can sniff out crappy managers that will result in a toxic and negative work environment.

As an HR professional, step up your leadership game and consider the successful elements of running a safe therapeutic treatment milieu. They offer lessons that can directly influence your leadership and organizational success.


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