“Senior management is dysfunctional”

mgmtdysfunction_graphic317Sometimes dysfunction at work isn’t obvious. Sometimes we just feel the dysfunction. We know in our gut that things are not right but we can’t exactly put our finger on it. It’s not our boss, at least not most of the time. Our coworkers definitely aren’t perfect, but that doesn’t make them dysfunctional. It’s not them. And our job is fine. In fact, if this other “thing” could be removed, we might actually really love what we do. Sometimes dysfunction is the result of the actions and behaviors that are performed at the top. Sometimes senior management is dysfunctional.

This month, I’m going to take on this challenge – dysfunction within the ranks of senior management. I wish I could say that this dysfunction is less common than ever. Unfortunately, my experience is that the opposite is true. Today, senior management dysfunction is more common than ever.

Are you curious if you are suffering from this all-too-common affliction? Here are some good back-of-the-envelope signs that senior management at your organization is dysfunctional (check off as many that apply to you and if you are senior management, take note if believe any of these apply to you):

  • You feel a general level of anxiety at work and you can’t quite place your finger on “why?”
  • Long periods of time lapse before you see or hear anything from senior management.
  • When senior management does communicate, it is either in business jargon or it seems out of touch with what’s really going on with the business .
  • You don’t know what the strategy for the organization is and neither does anyone else that you ask.
  • Senior management doesn’t seem interested in listening to other’s opinions.
  • Senior management micromanages their direct reports and doesn’t seem to trust anyone in the organization to deliver.
  • What senior management says are the values of the organization are very different from how they behave, operate and reward.
  • Mood swings from senior management are legendary. Senior management may need medication.

How’d you do? Half the battle is acknowledging there is a problem and identifying what it is. If you are a senior leader and some of the above are all-too-familiar, hold tight. Prescriptions are on the way for curing what ails you. If you find yourself working under a dysfunctional senior manager(s), there’s hope for you too. Regardless, we are going to do our very best to cure this dysfunction in 3 weeks or less. Ambitious? Why not…

Got a unique senior management dysfunction that you want me to tackle this month?

Simply shoot it to me via e-mail, comment below, text me, tweet me, leave me a voice mail, send up smoke signals, yell loudly, etc… One way or the other, get it to me and I’ll throw it in the mix!


A note from Brandon
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5 replies
  1. Nancy says:

    Omg…my senior management …and micro management…..are all guilty of EVERY SINGLE symptom. (I may have answered my own question)….

  2. Margie says:

    Hello, I need advice very badly,
    I am a manager and answer to a director. I also have a COO and a CEO above me. I have 16 employees. About 6 months ago, my director had a health issue for which she was being medicated. Her personality changed, her eyebrows were cross everyday, she got withdrawn and felt no one respected her. She did not wish to speak to our employees, she wanted to speak to them through me. She also made statements like “I feel like I don’t have a manager.” “you do things for everyone else and leave me till the end.” When I asked for particulars she said ,”you need to drive the bus, you are in charge.” I tried to ask for specifics, but she could not give me any.

    We are a growing company that had been open for about a year at that point. I was the first employee, she was the fourth. I would discuss and defer major decisions and issues to her our of respect fo her position and knowledge. I went to my COO to express concern about how the director had been feeling and the statements she was making to me. My COO told me that my director had come to her the previous day and complained that I wasn’t doing my job. I gave it some thought and the next day went to my director and read an extensive list of the things that I do as a manager and asked her where I was missing the mark. The two things that she thought I should not be doing involved company growth and outreach, the things that my COO and CEO wanted me to do the most. And they were time consuming, but would become less and less within the next two months as we were very close to our growth goal. My director also stated that she did not want to have any involvement with the day to day activities of the company. “She was conceptual, and that I made it happen.” She told me she did not have enough experience to give me guidance and that I needed to find outside resources. She should be able to do her director responsibilites one day a month, and the rest of the time do the other work for which she is responsible.

    My COO and CEO did not want me to discontinue the growth and outreach activities because as a new company we needed the business, we were just starting to break even financially. There was a lot of pressure from shareholders to turn this company into a profit making company. They said they understood my position and apologized. That they had a discussion when they hired the director that this was a growing company and her position would be very hands on unlike similar positions at other companies.

    Things have calmed down since then, we reached our growth goal, my director went off the medication she was taking because it made her so ill she almost was hospitalized, she works an average of 7 hours a day, and I work an average of 11 hours a day. I make decisions and run the company, we have an operations meeting once a week, she is pretty happy with the way things are going.

    So here is my dilemma. I have an employee who I want to promote to a supervisory position who has been a proven asset for almost a year. He has 2 bachelors degrees and a masters degree in his specialty. His department runs like a well oiled machine, he has ownership, he is strategic, he is a problem solver, a producer, he gets along with everyone and is highly regarded by his peers. During his initial interview he asked if there was room for growth and that he was looking for a leadership position. We told him that there was. I mentioned the idea of promoting his to the director and she didn’t say much. I brought it up the idea COO a few days later and learned that the director had gone to our COO and told her that she didn’t think this individual was management material.

    This employee will definitely move on if he does not get some sort of official recognition of his leadership. He deserves the position. Our company and clients will feel the loss. Our employees will be disgruntled and a few more may leave. (I don’t think I mentioned that most employees are not enamored with the director and feel she is condescending.) It will be very difficult for me to find a replacement for him because of his unique set of qualifications. Since my director has little involvement in the company’s day to day operation, she now his very little information on which to base her decisions. My COO said she would back me up on my decision to promote this employee, but she also said that the director would be very angry in general and we know what that is like.

    Here is where I need advise: the promotion needs to happen for the benefit of the company as a whole, how do I go about it with the director? I do not believe it is fair of her have such limited information by choice and make major decisions. Here are my feelings, she doesn’t like him, she doesn’t like me, she doesn’t like several other employees in our company, she doesn’t like the CEO. I have been also trying to fill a vacant position in our company and she doesn’t like any of the applicants. Meanwhile the employees are starting to look exhausted and have expressed concern that they might make a mistake. I just feel like she is blocking me from doing my job, when she tells me she doesn’t want to be involved.

    I hope I have given an adequate explanation of the problem. Thank you!

  3. Brandon Smith says:

    You’ve got a tricky situation on your hands. First, you’ll need to make the case for why the employee deserves the promotion. Emphasize the following:
    – The employee goes above and beyond with his duties
    – In many ways he is already functioning at the level that you’d like to promote him to
    – Promoting him will improve overall team morale, signal there are internal opportunities, and ease some of the pressure on staff

    You’ll also need to create some healthy urgency around this situation by explaining what may happen if the employee doesn’t get a promotion. Pick a window of time in which you think he may leave within if not promoted (Ex: “If we don’t promote him, given his talent and work ethic, he’ll be picked up by someone else and will leave within the next 6 months.”).

    Use this to make the case to your Director. If your Director disagrees, you need to be prepared to go over her head. If that means going to the CEO, you’ll need to be able to share this same case with the CEO and also voicing your concerns about morale under your boss (the Director) and how this is a symptom of that poor leadership / bad morale. Share with the CEO that if positive things like this promotion aren’t done soon, people will begin to leave soon.

    Take these approaches and you have your best shot at getting the change to happen. However, if neither your Director or the CEO listen to you, you have your answer. Start dusting off your resume and find a better home with stronger leadership.

    Good luck and keep me posted!


  4. Ellen says:

    I was hired by the relatively new president of a small company, to be the first person to do what I do. Hiring me represented the intent to significantly change how the company did things.

    But after I interviewed and before I received the offer, the president also rehired a former manager to work over me (director level) who had left the company years earlier. This person, my supervisor is doing things exactly as they have been done before, and has little idea what to do with me. I’ve been with the company 10 months: for more than half that time, I did literally nothing, and for another significant amount I did menial aspects of efforts so poorly managed my work was pretty much a waste. I am not empowered to do the job I was hired to do, and my boss seems perfectly okay not doing much of what he was hired to do, including utilize me. Now he barely speaks to me. The president of the company, who hired me, doesn’t seem to care that I’ve been doing essentially nothing. Recently, I’ve realized that the way for me to get stuff to do is to skip my supervisor directly, and find others in the company who can use something with my skills. Why is this kind of management dysfunction tolerated? I know i need to leave this situation, but until I find something else, how can I tolerate it without being PISSED that my I am being so dissed, and that there is nothing I can do about it?

  5. Brandon Smith says:

    Surprisingly, your situation is not unique. Many an individual have written me over the years with the complaint that they are underutilized and essentially, overpaid as a result. While others with the exact opposite problem may envy you, one quickly realizes that money does not bring fulfillment or purpose.

    So, what can you do? I think your strategy of skipping over your supervisor is a good one. However, don’t completely ignore him/her. You never know what power or influence he or she may have. Rather, view everyone inside the company as if they are a potential “customer” who may need your skills and services. Invite people to lunch. Ask about their challenges. Offer ways to help. Eventually, your supervisor is going to get removed. It is at that point, the question will be asked “so what has Ellen been doing all this time?” Have plenty of internal “customers” who can vouch for you and you’ll be just fine.

    And hang in there!

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