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Welcome to the 4th Quarter of 2016!


In the course of our work, we have been speaking with the various managers of  our clients.  One thing we noticed is that when our clients have some dysfunctional managers working in their organisation, there are certain negative traits that define that individual


We also found that these negative traits or critical mistakes made by dysfunctional managers tend to be the same for other dysfunctional managers across different companies in different industries and across a wide spectrum of cultures.


Hence, this month's topics:

  1. The 5 Critical Mistakes of Highly Dysfunctional Managers; and

  2. 7 Tips for Surviving a Dysfunctional Boss

This issue's main article is on "The 5 Critical Mistakes of Highly Dysfunctional Managers", and we the pathway to failure and destruction caused by these managers, and steps that both managers and these companies can take to prevent or overcome such issues.


In brief:

  • Dysfunctional managers are so afraid of others knowing about their weaknesses, that they not only don't seek help from others, they actually go to great lengths to hide those weaknesses;

  • Dysfunctional managers then try to impress others by either asking immaterial questions, or making erroneous statements and decisions that simply amplify their incompetence;

  • When anyone confronts or challenges their mistakes, dysfunctional managers become defensive and take offense, and may retaliate against that person.   Read on... ...


To read the rest of this newsletter, pls. click here ( 

The 5 Critical Mistakes of Highly Dysfunctional Managers

by c.j. Ng


Throughout the course of our work, we came across many cases of dysfunctional managers working in different organisations, and witnessed them causing poor performance and employee disengagement.


Interestingly, we also observed that these dysfunctional managers have 5 general traits or critical mistakes, regardless of their industry, positions, job functions or cultural backgrounds.  These 5 mistakes can be summarized as:

  1. Being extremely afraid of letting others know that they don't know;

  2. In order to hide what they don't know, they pretend that they know by asking immaterial questions or making comments that are way off point;

  3. When others correct, confront or challenge their mistakes, they become defensive, and may even retaliate against those people;

  4. They then surround themselves with "yes-men", people who basically know how to appease the dysfunctional manager, rather than making contributions to make positive impacts for the company;

  5. When performances turned bad, instead of reflecting on how they could have done better, they blame others for their own mistakes

And just to state the obvious,  the results of having a dysfunctional manager would be:

  • Chronic low performances of the entire team, if not the company;

  • Low engagement and high staff turnover of the best performing employees; and

  • Creation of a toxic work culture that might take huge efforts to undo even when the dysfunctional manager is long gone, and may even prevent potential new talent from joining

Hence, it becomes crucial for management to identify who are potentially dysfunctional managers in their respective organisations, and then find out ways to reduce or correct the negative impacts of such dysfunctional behaviours.


Promoted to a Level of Incompetence


According to Peter Drucker, work is accomplished by those employees who have not yet reached their level of incompetence, and that people get promoted to their level of incompetence.  Hence, it's not uncommon to have managers not knowing exactly what they need to do.  However it is uncommon to have dysfunctional managers that:

  1. Grossly don't know what they need to do, and what they must NOT do;

  2. Pretend to know what they need to do when they really don't know what to do or how to do it; and

  3. Refuse to seek help (from internal colleagues or external coaches) or take actions that will up-skill them to a higher level of competence.

While it might be common sense for high-performing managers to seek help when they encounter challenges or stumble upon areas that are beyond their expertise, dysfunctional managers somehow are reluctant to ask for help, and may intentionally put on a facade that they know much more than they actually do.


At times, in order to impress their colleagues and especially their subordinates, they might:

  • Deliberate over minor details that are not the focus of the discussion by asking questions or going in circles; and

  • Making comments or decisions on areas that they don't really understand

At the same time, when they may also want to limit their subordinates' contact and interactions with other departments in the same organisation.  This may include actions such as:

  • Unwilling to train or empower subordinates, as doing so might make those subordinates know a lot more than their dysfunctional manager;

  • Exclude subordinates from discussions involving colleagues of other departments, and especially the dysfunctional manager's boss, since this may show to others how the subordinates actually know a lot more;

  • Limit the communication between subordinates with other department colleagues, as the dysfunctional manager may perceive such interactions as signs of losing control

Big and Brittle Egos


Dysfunctional managers also tend to be defensive and might be volatile when others try to correct, confront or challenge them for their mistakes.  They can over-react and attack the challenger, or if the challenger is a subordinate, may take retaliatory actions such as supplanting or isolating that subordinate.


Knowing the nature of the dysfunctional manager, subordinates may then be cautious about giving truthful and direct feedback.  Thus, the dysfunctional manager might end out surrounded by "yes-men" who agree with whatever the dysfunctional manager said, rather than to provide suggestions that will deliver better results.


However, being "yes-men" does not make anyone safe from the dysfunctional manager.  Eventually, when business performance falls, dysfunctional are quick to find scapegoats to blame.  Rather than reflecting on how one can improve on the situation, dysfunctional managers tend to blame everyone else (apart from themselves) for all the ills and tribulations that had happened.


Damage Control

Now, there are a few things that management can do to rein in and reduce the damage caused by dysfunctional managers.  As the saying goes, prevention is better than cure.  Here are some preventive measures:

  • Focus on suitability in addition to eligibility criteria, especially in areas such as ability to adapt to a different role, as well as being able to learn and apply new knowledge on the job;

  • Assess if the would-be manager has the aptitude to lead and work through others to get results, and if need be, conduct a 360 feedback on the would-be manager;

  • Continue to assess and appraise new managers, keeping vigilant to spot any possible dysfunctional behaviours.  If need be, conduct another 360 feedback 6-12 months into the managerial job;

Now what if there are managers that already are displaying dysfunctional behaviours?  Here are some actions that management can take to mitigate the impact of dysfunctional managers:

  • Give direct feedback.  Tell the dysfunctional manager that there are certain behaviours that are hurting the team, the company and the individual dysfunctional manager.  Let the dysfunctional manager know that there needs to be changes to those actions;

  • Get help, such as hiring a coach or send the dysfunctional manager for training.  But don't just stop there.  Make sure that there are behavioural changes after these interventions;

  • Be serious about making the behavioural changes.  Many dysfunctional managers will not want to change their behaviours if they can get away with it.  Some simply will not change no matter what is done.  Management will need to send a strong message that either they shape up, or risk being shipped out.

Whichever course of action that management chooses to do, one thing is clear: it's much better to take immediate action to address such issues, than to drag and let small issues become huge catastrophes that cause major destruction.


Need help in managing dysfunctional managers in your company? Simply e-mail or call +86-21-6219 0021 or WeChat: cydj001 and arrange to have a deeper discussion.

Power Breakfast Hour: 23 Nov 2016

The 5 Critical Mistakes of Highly Dysfunctional Managers

  • How to identify dysfunctional behaviours in managers, and the steps you can take to reduce the negative impacts;

  • Do's and don'ts when coaching is being introduced to help the dysfunctional manager;

  • Practical ways on how to improve the emotional intelligence of dysfunctional manager


VENUE: Crowne Plaza Shanghai • 400 Panyu Road (near Fahuazhen Road) • 上海银星皇冠酒店 • 番禺路 400 号 (靠法华镇路)


DATE: Wednesday, 23 Nov 2016TIME: 08:30 a.m. - 10:30 a.m.




To make this a more conducive discussion, we are expecting a small group of about 15 people only, so please register early to avoid disappointments. Please e-mail your registrations too


Pls. check out our web sites and for more inspiration.

Tips for Questioning Techniques:
7 Tips for Surviving a Dysfunctional Boss


by Aline Kaplan

After one of my posts on bosses who exhibit the symptoms of one disorder spectrum or another, Dr. Brian Monger of @SmartaMarketing asked me if I could recommend any ways of dealing with someone like that.  It’s a tough question.  Assuming that none of us in corporate America have the kind of education and clinical background to make an accurate diagnosis (and why would we be working in a corporation if we did?) we employees are left to cope with a set of inexplicable behaviors, attitudes and communications.  And no platform on which to stand while we do it.

This isn’t exactly a hidden problem. Steve Tobak on CBS/Moneywatch offers “7 Signs of a Dysfunctional Boss.”  Les McKeown of Inc. recommends “How to Fix Your Dysfunctional Boss,” Pragmatic Marketing has some good “Strategies for Dealing with an Irrational Boss.” Googling this topic brings up a long, sad list of articles on everything from Forbes to Monster. Books have been written on the topic and TV loves dysfunctional bosses because they make such good dramatic tension.

The fact that so much is written on this topic indicates the scope of the problem in American business.  My problem with some of this advice, though, is that the authors glom different behaviors into the one label whereas behaviors differ depending on what his problem really is.  Having said that, here are some purely personal ideas and suggestions that might help, regardless of his dysfunction:


7 Survival Tips:

  1. Don’t try to change him;

  2. Observe his behaviour carefully;

  3. Provide Strength Where He Is Weak

  4. Maintain Your Identity

  5. Stay Organized

  6. Be Invisible

  7. Bottom line

Don’t try to change him. This is the first and biggest hurdle to clear. The behavior of your boss, your VP, your co-worker, or the CEO was set a long time ago. Whether it’s genetic and inherited from parents, driven by his/her cultural upbringing and education, a set of coping mechanisms developed in childhood, or the result of fluctuations in brain chemicals, the behavior has been with him/her a long time. Nothing you—or possibly even a psychiatric professional—can say or do will change that. Attempting to do so will just make you frustrated. It might also cause him/her to target you as a threatening person and a troublemaker.

Observe his behavior carefully. As Yogi Berra famously said, “You can observe a lot just by watching.” You want to familiarize yourself with the person’s behavior because it’s important to know what you have to work with—or work around—as you go about your job. If you can predict that his “Behavior A” will cause your “Reaction B,” then you can prepare for or avoid that behavior. Conversely, if you know that saying or doing something will cause a negative or unpredictable reaction in him, you can train yourself to avoid that behavior.

Make sure that your annoyance doesn’t come from a clash between his working style and yours. I once became very annoyed with a boss who was never in the office because I wanted to talk with him personally and go over my plans and accomplishments with him face to face. He, on the other hand, thought it was more important to be in the field, helping the sales force and was irritated that I wasn’t communicating with him through email and phone messages. Once this discrepancy was pointed out to me—along with the fact that the boss gets to set the working style—I adjusted my own behavior and we both became much happier.

Provide Strength Where He Is Weak. Someone who is bipolar, ADD, Asperger’s or in possession of another behavioral dysfunction will most likely have a visible weakness. Remember that your first job is not to perform the function for which the company hired you, the one that involves all the expertise and achievements on your resume. Your first job is to make your boss look good and to make his life easier. Accomplishing that will help you to succeed with most normal people and quite a few dysfunctional ones as well. They typically know where they are weak and are grateful if someone on their staff is willing to back them up.

I once asked my boss for the monthly Actuals Report so I could manage my department’s budget and know exactly how much I had left to spend. He thought for a moment, then turned and pulled the report out of the trash. I asked him to please send it directly to me the next time he received it and I would take care of it. After that, I managed his budget for the whole department and he was happy to have me do it. That way he could take credit for being on top of things without actually spending time on something he hated. Managing the budget directly made my job easier as well and gave me some valuable experience.

Maintain Your Identity: Do everything you can to put mental space between you and his bizarre or infuriating behavior. Remind yourself often that you are not the problem and you are not responsible for his actions.

Create distance between you—physical if possible and mental if not. Move your office far from his if you can. Wear headphones while you work. Meditate every day and/or go out for a noontime walk. Retreat to a conference room to work and leave a sign on your desk so he can find you when needed. Exercise as often as you can in order to blow off stress and pump up your endorphins.

Stay Organized: A dysfunctional boss is often disorganized as well. Keeping all your ducks in a row will accomplish two things. It will make you the dependable one he can turn to when he’s confused or under pressure to provide the board with information he doesn’t have at his fingertips. It also gives you any background information you may need to cover your butt or look good if he wanders into the weeds or goes off the deep end.

Be Invisible: When all else fails, hide. I once interviewed a candidate who had spent over four years in an event company known for its volatile, abusive, and insulting founder with consequent high employee churn. With a smile, I asked him how he had accomplished this amazing feat. “I’m tall,” he replied. I didn’t see how that was relevant so he explained. “I could see over the cubicle walls and he couldn’t. So when I saw him coming, I just went somewhere else for a while.” That’s good street smarts.

Having said all of this, I know only too well that any or all of these suggestions may work just sometimes—or until they don’t. Unpredictability is a hallmark of the dysfunctional boss. It goes along with his lack of interest in your job satisfaction, general happiness or ability to pay the mortgage. The only thing that matters to him is his job, his career, and his mortgage. If you can help him with those things, you’ll be in better shape than if you fight him, go around him, or show your contempt for his work performance. Above all, do not go over his head and complain unless you have a sizable group of people who are willing to go with you to Human Resources. And I mean actually walking into the HR department with you. It’s not enough for people to say they’ll back you up if you complain. That makes you the focus of the problem.

Keep in mind that HR probably knows he’s a problem, knows all about the churn, has heard stories of the weird or abusive behavior, and agrees with your assessment. But that doesn’t mean they’ll do anything about it. In my entire career, I can only remember one instance where HR stood up on their hind legs and fought for the members of a department against a VP. Even more astonishing, they won. But don’t count on this happening. It’s far more likely that you’ll be targeted as a troublemaker and you really don’t want that to happen. After all, it’s far easier to get rid of you, an employee at will, than it is to fire an executive with a contract.

Bottom line: If all else fails and you can’t stand the thought of going to work every morning, . . . If your stomach hurts when you see an email from him . . . If you wake up at 2 am worried about what he’s going to do to you next . . . If you start snapping at your spouse or kids and want to kick the dog . . .

It’s time to leave.

Note: If you have developed a successful technique for dealing with a dysfunctional boss, I would really love to hear it. You can comment on the post or send me an email at

Good luck.

Directions Management Consulting


Directions Management Consulting is the partner of LeadershipIQ in China and Asia. LeadershipIQ helps more than 125,000 leaders every year through the facts drawn from one of the largest ongoing leadership studies ever conducted is used to help companies apply resources where the best possible results be achieved.


In addition, Directions Management Consulting is a leading provider of sales performance, innovation and experiential learning solutions in China and many parts of Asia.


Using the Belbin Team Role Profiling is the sales performance arm of Directions Management Consulting specialising in conducting training, research and consulting services for sales managers and their team.


Currently, Directions Management Consulting has served clients such as Delphi Packard, InterContinental Hotels Group, Alcoa Wheels, Standard Chartered Bank, Merial, ThyssenKrupp, Lowe's Global Sourcing, Diehl, Kulzer Dental etc.


Directions Management Consulting will increase its efforts to conduct leadership studies in China and other parts of Asia, so that more companies apply resources where the best possible results be achieved in this part of the world.d.


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