The seven deadly supervisors.

During my forty years in the work force, I have worked with every single one of the seven deadly supervisors.

I’ve found that a key sign there is an issue is an underlying and constant feeling of discomfort while at work.

The few times I’ve worked for a natural, talented supervisor with a knack for dealing effectively with people, the difference was palpable. Although I was not personal friends with any of them, we were friendly and they managed to keep the coworker and management relationships in a healthy balance.

The three biggest signs of an effective supervisor were:

  • a willingness to pull up their shirt sleeves and dig right in when needed;
  • the ability to deal effectively with problem employees; and
  • the communication skills necessary to approach managers on behalf of subordinates and/or about issues at work affecting the workers – and the company.

By Eboney White

The chameleon - just one of the seven deadly supervisors.

The chameleon – just one of the seven deadly supervisors.

“In some regard, middle management can be as tricky and uncertain as a combat soldier walking through a bloodthirsty minefield. In his hands he carries the highly important orders of upper management and must hurry the organization’s “productivity” across the battlefield towards the hill-point of fruition. Just beneath him, the team he manages consists of agitated landmines, ready to explode upon one wrong step. This art of mine-walking requires highly specialized skill, constant reflection, and willingness to learn from past mistakes.

Straddling in-between two worlds, one of meeting the sometimes unreasonable demands of the boss and two, convincing a team of tired, agitated workers to carry the supervisor safely across the warzone is no easy feat. Yet some supervisors carry out this “special ops” task masterfully and intelligently by locating and removing the landmines, while others walk blindly through the field relying on their authority to carry the orders through.

The latter can be called the Seven Deadly Supervisors and like the Seven Deadly Sins, they bring upon the wrath of those they affect.” These Seven Deadly Supervisors are:

1     The Micromanager

This supervisor does not allow for his team to breathe, almost literally. Every move made under this type of supervision is scrutinized through a “fine-toothed” comb and no task goes unchallenged or outright rejected if it has not received approval from the micromanager beforehand.

The Micromanager views his team as a means to his vision and their sole job is to carry out the plan as it has been predetermined in the supervisor’s mind. Simply put, in this world there is only one right way to do things and that is the Micromanager’s way. Team members are infantilized to a degree where they don’t feel comfortable taking even an educated risk, or worse, they rebel, passively or aggressively against the “detail-tyrant” ruler.

2     The E-Mail Assaulter

This supervisor doesn’t need to get in the faces of his workers for a little one-on-one confrontation. He has technology to carry out his frustration. From the secluded office, e-mail after e-mail is fired up and out, like a barrage of hailing bullets. Just as one e-mail is being answered, the worker’s inbox is filled with three more messages, packed with more punch than its predecessor.

Forget the etiquette of a proper e-mail, such as greetings, tone, and “thank you,” The E-Mail Assaulter gets straight to the point, even if the sent message transports corrosive edges. An opportunity for real-time communication gets lost and a series of back to back e-mails can exhaust even the most energized worker. Like pouring salt on a bleeding wound, some of these “war hideaway offices” are a few feet away and yet, verbal communication is never considered as an option.

3     The Nitpicker

This supervisor can build as much white-knuckled anxiety as a Chicago Mob Boss. An impossible deadline to complete an array of tasks is given, but there is one catch… not one mistake is to be made. The Nitpicker is like the Micromanager but with an unquenchable thirst for perfection.

Workers often struggle with the choice to avoid errors by carefully and slowly working through assignments or they begrudgingly take their chances by forgoing perfection to meet demands, hoping mercy is shown.

Evaluation time is nothing short of judgment day as the Nitpicker salivates at the opportunity to find even the smallest of mistakes. Forget a verbal warning or coaching, the Nitpicker will not pass up red-ink and a write-up slip, even if it would save the morale of the team.

4     The Fire Alarm

The Fire alarm sets off every sensory nerve in his workers, emphasizing the dire need to complete every task at once. When asked, “What is the priority?” the response will always be, “EVERYTHING IS A PRIORITY!!!” The team works feverishly against the clock, dreading the fateful last hour.

The Fire Alarm gives out an assignment and in the middle of its completion, two more assignments are given with the expectation that every assignment will be simultaneously done. The Fire Alarm doesn’t care how it gets done as much as when it gets done, for quality control reviews can be saved for another blaze.

Workers either skip breaks, lunch, and/or make sacrifices in their personal life, or they burnout, learning to deafen themselves in the midst of a shrieking “suit-wearing” alarm.

5     The Buddy

The Buddy is the exact opposite of the Fire Alarm and spends workdays enjoying good laughs with his team. On the surface this type of supervisor may not seem detrimental because who wouldn’t want to have fun and get a paycheck because of it. However, a closer look reveals the opportunity for growth is missing in this type of work-relationship.

The Buddy may have a knowledgeable understanding of “office politics” and ways to keep under the radar but professional promotions and bonuses often bypass this unit. Furthermore, The Buddy may spare his team his own wrath but if upper management gets wind of unproductiveness or employee violations, The Buddy cannot avoid the consequences that are headed directly for his individual workers. At some point, the party always comes to an end.

6     The Passive Socialist

Instead of sharing the wealth, The Passive Socialist believes in sharing the work. At the beginning of each workday, The Passive Socialist has a number to reach in terms of productivity and will shift and share work until that number is reached.

In spite of everyone having the responsibility to complete their own workload, the workload of less productive workers is then divvied up and dished out to the more productive workers, with zero incentives attached. The less productive workers are never given coaching, effective confrontation, or reinforcement to function up because the belief is “he or she will be shamed by having others fill in the gaps.”

This misguided view of management does not translate to the workers. Instead, dirty looks from the overworked team member is shot towards the underworked member who is spending his days chitchatting about current events. Under this supervision, one is essentially punished for being a hard-worker and the other is rewarded for slacking off. This potentially creates animosity and the “if you can beat them, join them” mentality.

7     The Chameleon

The Chameleon manages a team of individuals who have no clue as to who their supervisor really is. second attention span.

Workers’ case comments begin “as per supervisor” to protect the future denial of an order. This supervisor is deeply entrenched in the game of office-politics and believes only the strongest survive while every man fights for his or her own game.

Seemingly polite exchanges occur, but the level of distrust and tension is thick enough to slice with a knife. The Chameleon has his eyes on the top of the food chain and wants to get there in half the time.

This numbers-driven individual loses the opportunity to build authentic relationships and loyalty with workers, and while success may be impending, The Chameleon will be unknowingly prepping to lead an organization that dislikes everything he stands for.

“Some workers have experienced the great misfortune of supervisors who possess high degrees of many “organizational sins.”

The first step is to identify the issue and then advocate for an environment in which you can be most productive. Most jobs aren’t as idealistic as Google, for example, however, workers deserve at minimum, a healthy, fair and progressive workplace.

If one finds himself tossed on a minefield and stepped on for bureaucratic gain, instead of blowing up in fury, strategize to work towards a common goal that benefits all. If you find yourself walking that barbed line of middle management; make sure the requirements of work does not morph you into being one of the Seven Deadly Supervisors.”

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photo credit: Steve Wilson via photopin cc

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