Beware! The 4 signs of “Under-Management”

If you do a Google search for the term “micromanagement,” you’ll find over 5.8 million hits! Micromanagement has been studied, dissected, and written about extensively. But there’s a quiet, timid, opposing management style — and it does just as much, if not more, damage than micromanagement. Victor Lipman, in his 2018 article in the Harvard Business Review, calls it “under-management.”

Micromanagement gets most of the spotlight, but under-management is something we encounter regularly in our executive coaching engagements. Under-management is marked by a lack of engagement and avoiding any management or leadership action or behavior that might be construed as uncomfortable — a head in the sand, I-hope-it-all-works-out approach. Here are 4 signs that you — or someone you know — might be an “under-manager.”

1. Goals? What Goals?

Under-managers fail to establish clear expectations for their employees. They communicate organizational, departmental, and team goals in a vague and/or inconsistent manner. Their employee’s sense of mission and vision are hazy. Under-managers avoid creating meaning and setting the tone of the work. If you know of a team whose mantra is “one-day-at-a-time,” it is likely that they are under-managed. For more about goal setting, read Arden Coaching’s “How to Set Goldilocks Goals that are Just Right.”

2. No Accountability

When employees regularly drop the ball and miss deadlines — and there appear to be no consequences for poor performance — they are probably suffering from under-management. When it comes to accountability, under-managers tread lightly. They will typically make excuses for their employees and defend them, no matter what. Ironically, this defense of their team makes an ineffective under-manager popular among many of their employees. For more about accountability, read Arden Coaching’s articles, “Essentials of Team Performance: Accountability,” and “Remote Teams Need Accountability Too.” 

3. Employee Feedback Rarely Happens

Under-managers avoid monitoring their employees or evaluating their work. If an under-manager fails to establish goals and expectations, and does not hold people accountable for their performance, substantive feedback is impossible. With hazy expectations for work and poor supervision, an under-manager is in no position to offer any meaningful employee assessment or feedback about their performance — even if they wished to. For employees, merit increases, bonuses, and other work rewards will feel arbitrary and random. For more about employee feedback read Arden Coaching’s articles, “How to Give Feedback Constructively,” and “The Power of Praise.”

4. Running Away From Conflict

This is a huge issue for under-managers. They want to be liked. They want their employees to like each other. They think, “Why can’t everyone just get along?” And when problems do appear — missed deadlines, poor performance, inappropriate behaviors, interpersonal squabbles — an under-manager just hopes it will blow over. They are extremely uncomfortable addressing an issue directly. Avoidance is the primary behavior of an under-manager. This tendency to run away from conflict also has a big negative impact on managing and leading change. If organizational goals are changing or priorities are shifting, what happens if an under-manager’s employees disagree or are upset? For more about managing conflict read Arden Coaching’s articles, “6 Tips for Having Difficult Conversations,” and “Waiting to Feel Comfortable.”

Under-Managers Need Coaching

One reason under-managers persist is that they are generally liked by their employees. They are nice people! Who would not want a boss that is undemanding, stands up for you, and pretty much lets you do whatever you want, whenever you want, however you want?

The flip side is that strong employees will realize that they are not being professionally challenged. They are not growing. With unclear expectations, no accountability, no feedback, and conflict avoidance, they will feel unrecognized and unrewarded for their performance. Those employees will move on. Mediocre employees who feel comfortable in this environment will hang on. The fact is that, no matter how nice they seem, under-managers are poor leaders and they hurt the long-term performance of the organizations they work for.

Coach them up! With even small shifts in mindset, communication skills, and leadership development, an under-manager can be transformed into a positive, effective leader.

To learn more about how to lead and manage effectively, contact the executive coaches at Arden Coaching at [email protected] or 646.684.3777.