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Top 10 Signs You’re Lying to Yourself as a Manager

Top 10 Signs You’re Lying to Yourself as a Manager

All of us are at times tempted to lie — tempted by the lure of both deception and self-deception. But when you as a manager fall to that temptation, it’s especially evil.

Here’s how to spot your self-deception and overcome it — and why you need to.

Why We Lie

We lie to manipulate how others will respond to our actions and behavior.

If we think their response to the truth will be unpleasant, so we’re tempted to provoke a nicer response by providing that person with outright falsities, selective facts, or selective omissions.

Why We Lie to Ourselves

Lying to oneself is a special category of lie. We primarily lie to ourselves for these reasons. Self-deception makes it easier to:

  • Lie to others
  • Ignore unpleasant facts
  • Postpone scary decisions and actions

Since all humans face the temptation to lie to others, and to lie to ourselves, who cares if you lie to yourself as a manager?

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Lying to yourself as a manager is especially evil, for two reasons:

  1. Managers, due to their role, have a unique combination of high power and low accountability.
  2. Managers are the ones who must confront unpleasant facts, make scary decisions and take action.

High Power and Low Accountability

Managers are unique among all professions, says Henry Mintzberg in his classic Structure in Fives: Designing Effective Organizations, because managers have the broadest and least clearly defined jobs, compared to all other professionals. Managers both define work for those below them, and judge its quality.

This is a potent combination that gives a manager potentially huge power over their own work, the success of the company, and the work experiences of their subordinates.

Power Creates Self-Focus

Experiments show that the more powerful we feel, the less we regard other people’s opinions and feelings. We also (based on the Fundamental Attribution Bias) judge others on their results, but ourselves on our intentions.

Moreover, the powerful are often disconnected from reality.

If we lie to ourselves and then judge ourselves on our supposed intentions, we can give ourselves as managers permission to do things we’d never tolerate in others — anything from dominating meetings, to humiliating subordinates, to theft.

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Common Signs of Managers Conducting Harmful Forms of Self-Deception

1. It’s Not That Bad

You’re putting off an uncomfortable change that is necessary. You’re saying things like “it’s not that bad” and “I think it’s getting better…”

2. Judging Yourself on the basis of Motives, Others on Outcomes

This is also called Fundamental Attribution Error, a classic cognitive bias. It is toxic when you as manager pass judgment on your subordinates without bothering to learn the details of a situation; this is worsened when it comes time to interrogate your own decision-making process, and you are unwilling to accept responsibility for failures.

3. Blaming the Worker for the Results of the System

W. Edwards Deming famously said 95% of the variability of a worker’s output was caused by the worker’s system and were totally beyond the worker’s control. When you as a manager blame workers for variation you haven’t investigated, and tell them to “try harder” or “pay more attention”, and so forth, you’re falling into this error. It destroys morale without fixing the problem. Solution: systems thinking.

4. Assuming Low Performance Means Low Motivation

When a worker isn’t performing, never immediately assume it’s connected to a lack of motivation. (For example, Iiagine someone put a gun to your head and told you to jump to the moon. You’re motivated; you just have no way to comply.) This assumption is toxic and distracting: you’re blaming the blameless while NOT focusing on things that could help, such as: training, templates, job aids, a shared definition of “good work,” samples of good work, and a comprehensive understanding of the system of production.

5. All Your Subordinates Are Idiots

This unhelpful managerial attitude is characterized by thoughts like “I can’t delegate” and actions like ignoring all employee ideas. When you treat people like idiots, you rob them of the ability to be anything else. This is on you.

6. You Have All the Answers

Insecurity and power can lead you to get your emotional needs met through being (or feeling) like you have all the answers. If you’ve created or inherited an environment of low emotional safety, workers may be hunkered down into a “tell me what to do” mode that makes you feel like you have to have all the answers. Don’t fall for it. Get out of this by using a structured system like that set forth in the excellent book Turn the Ship Around! by L. David Marquet. (I’ve interviewed David twice: listen here and here.)

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7. High Turnover Isn’t My Fault

It’s almost entirely your fault. Gallup found that 68% of voluntary turnover is caused by that person’s direct manager (also known as: you). Look at indirect influences and it rises above 80%.

8. They Won’t Get It Right Unless I Review It

Also known as “They Don’t Care About Quality As Much As I Do” approach. Re-doing someone’s work can rob them of pride in their workmanship. Is the quality standard clear, documented, and buttressed with samples and a step-by-step process for reaching it? That’s another example of the system determining outcomes. Of course you can and should review work — enough to ensure it meets a quality standard that your people are trained and equipped to reach without your redoing it.

Also, the negative expectation that “they won’t get it right” will corrode their self-esteem.

9. My Style Got Me This Far

Your strengths inevitably become your weaknesses, as amply documented in the excellent What Got You Here Won’t Get You There by legendary executive coach Marshall Goldsmith. (This book is itself a compendium of managerial self-delusion, and worthy of a close reading.)

10. I’m Not Them (Management)

Also known as the “My Direct Reports and I Are Friends” approach. No, you’re management. To paraphrase the gurus at www.manager-tools.com (my favorite site for management advice), when you’re management, you are “the company” to your directs. Don’t ever tell your team how you disagree with “those people” above you. You’re them. If you try to build solidarity with your people by throwing your boss or senior management under the bus, all you do is make the team afraid. Your role power as a manager makes you ‘The Man’.

How to Fight Self-Deception

Given these risks to your success as a manager, what can you do? There are actually a number of things, and they include:

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  1. Developing Self-Awareness
  2. Focusing Less on Goals, More on Prevention
  3. Becoming a Servant Leader
  4. Becoming a Systems Thinker

Develop Self-Awareness

The number one cause of a failed management career is a lack of self-awareness. Develop greater self-awareness through developing mindfulness and by regularly conducting anonymous 360-degree assessments. You could also hire a professional executive coach.

Focus Less on Goals, More on Prevention

Research by Professor Andy Yap shows that if you feel powerful, and are focused on prevention (of harm and loss) instead of ambition, you’re more likely to do the right thing. (On the other hand, the combination of feeling powerful and focusing on personal goals leads to rule-breaking, cheating, and corruption.)

Become a Servant Leader

Excellent guidance abounds for those who are willing to embrace the values of the Servant Leader. Such leaders bring out exceptional performances from their teams, which leads to personal advancement and promotions — not to mention the other benefits of building up others (instead of tearing them down).

Become a Systems Thinker

The ultimate in self-awareness and contextual awareness comes when you realize that you are embedded in a system, and that you are responsible for the system that your subordinates are embedded within. When you become a systems thinker, take ownership of that system, and begin to act on it intentionally, you’ll deliver outstanding results to your boss, and create a motivating and enjoyable work environment for your subordinates.

Featured photo credit: Bury your head in the sand by Sander van der Wel via commons.wikimedia.org

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Last Updated on March 29, 2021

5 Types of Horrible Bosses and How to Beat Them All

5 Types of Horrible Bosses and How to Beat Them All

When I left university I took a job immediately, I had been lucky as I had spent a year earning almost nothing as an intern so I was offered a role. On my first day I found that I had not been allocated a desk, there was no one to greet me so I was left for some hours ignored. I happened to snipe about this to another employee at the coffee machine two things happened. The first was that the person I had complained to was my new manager’s wife, and the second was, in his own words, ‘that he would come down on me like a ton of bricks if I crossed him…’

What a great start to a job! I had moved to a new city, and had been at work for less than a morning when I had my first run in with the first style of bad manager. I didn’t stay long enough to find out what Mr Agressive would do next. Bad managers are a major issue. Research from Approved Index shows that more than four in ten employees (42%) state that they have previously quit a job because of a bad manager.

The Dream Type Of Manager

My best manager was a total opposite. A man who had been the head of the UK tax system and was working his retirement running a company I was a very junior and green employee for. I made a stupid mistake, one which cost a lot of time and money and I felt I was going to be sacked without doubt.

I was nervous, beating myself up about what I had done, what would happen. At the end of the day I was called to his office, he had made me wait and I had spent that day talking to other employees, trying to understand where I had gone wrong. It had been a simple mistyped line of code which sent a massive print job out totally wrong. I learn how I should have done it and I fretted.

My boss asked me to step into his office, he asked me to sit down. “Do you know what you did?” I babbled, yes, I had been stupid, I had not double-checked or asked for advice when I was doing something I had not really understood. It was totally my fault. He paused. “Will you do that again?” Of course I told him I would not, I would always double check, ask for help and not try to be so clever when I was not!

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“Okay…”

That was it. I paused and asked, should I clear my desk. He smiled. “You have learnt a valuable lesson, I can be sure that you will never make a mistake like that again. Why would I want to get rid of an employee who knows that?”

I stayed with that company for many years, the way I was treated was a real object lesson in good management. Sadly, far too many poor managers exist out there.

The Complete Catalogue of Bad Managers

The Bully

My first boss fitted into the classic bully class. This is so often the ‘old school’ management by power style. I encountered this style again in the retail sector where one manager felt the only way to get the best from staff was to bawl and yell.

However, like so many bullies you will often find that this can be someone who either knows no better or is under stress and they are themselves running scared of the situation they have found themselves in.

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The Invisible Boss

This can either present itself as management from afar (usually the golf course or ‘important meetings) or just a boss who is too busy being important to deal with their staff.

It can feel refreshing as you will often have almost total freedom with your manager taking little or no interest in your activities, however you will soon find that you also lack the support that a good manager will provide. Without direction you may feel you are doing well just to find that you are not delivering against expectations you were not told about and suddenly it is all your fault.

The Micro Manager

The frustration of having a manager who feels the need to be involved in everything you do. The polar opposite to the Invisible Boss you will feel that there is no trust in your work as they will want to meddle in everything you do.

Dealing with the micro-manager can be difficult. Often their management style comes from their own insecurity. You can try confronting them, tell them that you can do your job however in many cases this will not succeed and can in fact make things worse.

The Over Promoted Boss

The Over promoted boss categorises someone who has no idea. They have found themselves in a management position through service, family or some corporate mystery. They are people who are not only highly unqualified to be managers they will generally be unable to do even your job.

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You can find yourself persistently frustrated by the situation you are in, however it can seem impossible to get out without handing over your resignation.

The Credit Stealer

The credit stealer is the boss who will never publically acknowledge the work you do. You will put in the extra hours working on a project and you know that, in the ‘big meeting’ it will be your credit stealing boss who will take all of the credit!

Again it is demoralising, you see all of the credit for your labour being stolen and this can often lead to good employees looking for new careers.

3 Essential Ways to Work (Cope) with Bad Managers

Whatever type of bad boss you have there are certain things that you can do to ensure that you get the recognition and protection you require to not only remain sane but to also build your career.

1. Keep evidence

Whether it is incidents with the bully or examples of projects you have completed with the credit stealer you will always be well served to keep notes and supporting evidence for projects you are working on.

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Buy your own notebook and ensure that you are always making notes, it becomes a habit and a very useful one as you have a constant reminder as well as somewhere to explore ideas.

Importantly, if you do have to go to HR or stand-up for yourself you will have clear records! Also, don’t always trust that corporate servers or emails will always be available or not tampered with. Keep your own content.

2. Hold regular meetings

Ensure that you make time for regular meetings with your boss. This is especially useful for the over-promoted or the invisible boss to allow you to ‘manage upwards’. Take charge where you can to set your objectives and use these meetings to set clear objectives and document the status of your work.

3. Stand your ground, but be ready to jump…

Remember that you don’t have to put up with poor management. If you have issues you should face them with your boss, maybe they do not know that they are coming across in a bad way.

However, be ready to recognise if the situation is not going to change. If that is the case, keep your head down and get working on polishing your CV! If it isn’t working, there will be something better out there for you!

Good luck!

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