Frustrated with Poor Management? Ask Madeleine

Hi Madeleine,

I work in a membership organization with a very old-fashioned outlook and a hierarchical structure. I am not a manager, but I did have one direct report at a previous employer. I am very interested in management and leadership and intend to have other management roles in the future.

Management practices here, although not toxic, are very poor. A couple of examples: beyond the broadest headline results, no one is allowed to know the decisions made at the monthly senior management meeting, even if you submit a topic for consideration. You certainly can’t attend in person to present. Offices are in an open plan that is set apart from the senior managers, who never venture out of their areas to engage with their teams.

I’m not planning to remain here very long, but I need to gain some specific skills and knowledge before I move on. My question is this: do you have any suggestions on how to deal with poor management, apart from sucking it up and learning more about how not to do things? I feel very much alone in delivering my objectives, although my manager fondly believes she is supporting me.

I know I can’t singlehandedly change this organization’s culture. I do my best to be professional and positive, but I am often seething inside. I’d be very grateful for your perspective.


Dear Seething,

I think in some organizations, your point of view might be sought out and welcomed—but probably not in yours. The passionate experts of best management and leadership practices will all tell you that the people and organizations who most need improvement are the ones who are the most oblivious and the most resistant to it. It is the way of the world, sadly.

It is possible your organization would be open to hearing your opinions during your exit interview, especially if you are an exemplary employee. And, of course, you can always write a review on Glass Door, or leave some of your favorite management books lying around the office. If your manager actually seems to care about supporting you, clueless though she may be, take the opportunity to ask her questions and seek to understand her experience, approach, and point of view. Understanding and walking in another’s shoes may help you manage your rage.

Which brings me to the seething thing, which is cause for concern. Anger can be useful. It can help you identify your own needs and values, which in this case is clearly happening. However, unexpressed anger can literally make you sick or cause you to blow up at work in a way that will tank any chance of getting a glowing recommendation. So I encourage you to find a way to simmer the seething. How, you might ask? The most obvious way is to get out of there as soon as possible—but you know that. You say you have some specific knowledge and skills to gain before moving on, but I wonder if those are worth the cost. You have made the decision, though, so you may have blinders on to the possibility that you could acquire those skills someplace more aligned with your values.

If you insist on sticking with your plan, here are some other ideas:

  • Pay attention to what is working at your organization. They can’t all be total buffoons. The more you obsess about what management does wrong, the more evidence you will find to support your case. We all do this. It is a form of confirmation bias, and it is worth noticing in yourself. Flip what you pay attention to and start to notice what they do well, or even half decently.
  • Meditate. Ten minutes of meditation has been shown to lower blood pressure—significantly—and keep it down for the whole day. Google it. There a million apps that will help you.
  • Get more exercise. A couple of extra kickboxing classes a week wouldn’t hurt. Just calm down some of that adrenaline.
  • Find the humor. Create a stand-up routine for your group of friends. Start a funny anti-bad-manager blog. Where do you think Dilbert came from?
  • Vent with a friend who doesn’t mind it. Set a timer for seven minutes and just let ‘er rip. Then stop and move on.

Ultimately, if you really can’t change a situation, your only choice is to change how you respond to it. You have an opportunity right now to make the decision to choose a different response. Until you can get out, your best bet is to challenge yourself to do that. Treat this like the AFGO (Another Freaking Growth Opportunity) it is. AFGO’s are never particularly welcome or fun, but they sure are valuable.


Love, Madeleine

About the author

Madeleine Blanchard Headshot 10-21-17

Madeleine Homan Blanchard is a master certified coach, author, speaker, and cofounder of Blanchard Coaching Services. Madeleine’s Advice for the Well Intentioned Manager is a regular Saturday feature for a very select group: well intentioned managers. Leadership is hard—and the more you care, the harder it gets. Join us here each week for insight, resources, and conversation.

Got a question for Madeleine? Email Madeleine and look for your response here next week!

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