21 ways to deal with a manager who doesn’t manage

Updated on August 1, 2023
how to deal with a manager who doesn't manage

Are you working under ineffective management? Then, probably, you’d agree that dealing with a manager, who doesn't manage, can be beyond frustrating.

Maybe, your superior is incompetent, lazy, or totally uninvested in the company’s success. Or you’ve been working for an absentee boss, who is simply never available when needed.

No matter the case, it’s best to have a good strategy on how to deal with your manager, who refuses to manage the way they should.

Knowing what to do, when working for a bad boss, may help you continue to thrive in the job you love and even advance your career.

In contrast, feeling lost and not knowing how to cope with a superior, who lacks the necessary managing skills, can make you stressed out and wanting to quit.

What is the role of a manager?

A manager is responsible for planning, directing, and overseeing operations within their area of responsibility. Their tasks often include setting strategic goals, developing and implementing policies and procedures, and coordinating activities to ensure efficiency.

Managers play a crucial role in team building, as they motivate, lead, and develop their employees, fostering a positive work environment that encourages productivity.

They also act as a bridge between employees and higher-level management, representing the interests of both parties.

Furthermore, managers are accountable for evaluating performance, providing feedback, and making critical decisions that impact the organization's overall objectives.

The role of a manager is to lead a company department, organize teams, oversee processes or run projects within an organization, be it business or not.

The manager is a decision-maker at a specific company level, who takes responsibility for business results and outcomes of implemented strategies.

Depending on their title and particular managing position, managers can delegate tasks to employees, be in charge of clients’ accounts, deal with business partners, be responsible for the growth and development of the business, and more.

Does a manager have to manage staff?

Well, not necessarily. One can be in a managing role without having to directly oversee other employees’ level of performance.

Still, as managers do need to plan and ideate, as well as direct business processes, they have to base these activities on some sort of reporting from team leaders and other members of staff.

In that sense, managers need to be present, have leadership skills, and be good motivators. They should not alienate themselves from their colleagues in subordinate positions, as this will naturally affect the overall success of the company.

Ineffectual management, in other words, will inevitably hurt workflow processes, the quality of results, and the achievement of company goals.

Signs a manager doesn't manage

When effective, a manager's role involves steering their team towards their goals, ensuring a harmonious workflow, and fostering an environment conducive to growth and productivity. However, not all managers are effective.

It's crucial to identify signs of a manager who doesn't manage, as their lack of effective management can adversely impact team morale, productivity, and individual career growth.

  • Lack of clear direction
  • Inconsistent communication
  • Avoids making decisions
  • Absence of feedback
  • Lack of support
  • Unwillingness to address problems
  • No development opportunities
  • No clear goals
  • Failure to delegate
  • Low team morale

Recognizing these signs can be the first step towards navigating and mitigating the challenges posed by a manager who doesn't effectively manage.

Whether the solution lies in communicating your concerns, seeking help from higher management or HR, or learning to manage yourself in the interim, it's crucial to address the situation to maintain productivity and job satisfaction.

How to deal with a manager who doesn't manage

What is the role of a manager

Having a manager, who is somewhat not there for you when you need a response, support or a decision to be made, can definitely tire you out and make you feel unappreciated or disheartened.

Everyone has bad days, but if your boss never makes the effort to lead the way by example and motivate their staff, you may start wondering if it’s worth you while investing yourself in the work you do.

Well, don’t rush to resign but try to manage your superior and work around them (if you have to) by following any of the 21 strategies described below that fits your situation!

1. Figure out your manager’s main weakness, first

Bad management can be down to several things. Maybe, your boss has all the technical skills for the job but lacks people’s skills. Or they could have been promoted for all the wrong reasons and are actually incompetent for the role.

Your manager may have had enough and hating their job position has made them apathetic, absent, and not bothered about the company’s objectives.

So, discover what makes them tick and what does not, in order to be able to improve your own standing in the organization.

This way, you’ll figure out a plan on how to continue working under their “management”, depending on what the root of the problem is with their managerial skills.

2. Consult with your colleagues to seek their views

It’s a good idea to check with trusted team members if they have a similar opinion on the matter. Maybe, you’re biased and see the worst in your boss, due to some personal reasons.

There’s also the possibility that the manager treats you differently and they exhibit their shortcomings when having to deal with you only.

Seeking your colleagues’ advice can, again, help you get a clearer picture of what’s behind your manager’s behavior and conduct at work.

3. Try to make your boss more proactive

If your manager’s lack of interest in communicating with their staff on a regular basis affects your work and the chance of career advancement, then, don’t suffer quietly without doing anything.

Encourage your superior to act, be it to respond to your email, approve a final draft by its deadline or make their mind up about one of two alternatives.

You can, for instance, bring their focus to your problems with a said task, which cannot be completed without the manager’s final approval. Another way to engage your manager is to ask for their opinion on new ideas that you might have.

4. Don’t stress out or feel negative

Regardless of how frustrating the situation is at work, due to your bad manager, try not to get stressed out. It can only harm your mental and physical health. And no job in the world is worth more than your well-being.

Of course, if your manager is the bullying type, who makes everyone around them feel down and depressed, it will be hard to feel positive and go to work with a smile on your face.

Just do your job to the best of your abilities and whenever confronted with their angry persona, stay calm and respond to them with confidence.

5. Ease up on your manager

Believe it or not, managers can also be under a lot of stress themselves for all sorts of reasons, whether personal or work-related.

They are people, too, after all. So, cut your boss some slack if their management skills are lacking all of a sudden.

You can actually offer your support and take some leadership in completing a task that you’d normally not be expected to do and report on.

6. Speak up to someone higher in rank

There are sometimes outright mismanagement situations at the workplace, which one may find difficult to ignore, especially if the consequences are hurting the business badly.

And the domino effect is often first evident to the employees, as they will suffer in one way or another from the repercussions of an incompetent or malevolent manager’s actions and decisions.

In such cases, you should consider respectfully bringing the issue to the attention of someone superior to your manager.

Inaction can prove costly not only to the company and the brand as a whole but also to the entire staff. There’s nothing wrong about becoming a whistleblower if jobs depend on this or the business image is at stake.

7. Consider moving on and finding a better job

If nothing can be done to work around your poorly equipped manager, who lacks all the right skills for the role and makes your working day a nightmare, then you may have no other option but to find another job and resign.

The hard thing is to recognize if tolerating bad management at work means that you’re putting your career growth and personal development at risk.

You shouldn’t also allow your bad manager to cause an adverse effect on your health.

8. Clarify Your Roles

Understanding your tasks and responsibilities is crucial, especially when you're working under a manager who does not provide clear direction.

This can involve directly asking your manager for a job description or clarification about specific tasks you're assigned.

Having a clear definition of your role will allow you to work more independently, reducing the impact of a manager who may not manage well.

Also, it protects you from being assigned tasks that are outside your scope, which could otherwise overburden you or leave you feeling overwhelmed.

9. Seek Regular Feedback

In an ideal world, your manager would proactively provide feedback about your performance. However, if this isn't happening, don't hesitate to ask for it.

Regular feedback will help you understand how you're doing, identify any areas for improvement, and reinforce the things you're doing well.

It also gives you a chance to align with your manager's expectations, despite their lack of proactive management.

10. Proactive Communication

Instead of waiting for your manager to check in on your work, regularly update them about your progress. This practice will make sure they're aware of the status of your projects, and it will also indicate that you're handling your responsibilities competently.

Furthermore, proactive communication can help establish a pattern for your manager to follow, subtly teaching them a more effective management style.

11. Set Clear Goals

Ambiguity can be a significant issue when dealing with a manager who doesn't manage effectively. To mitigate this, ask your manager to set specific targets or objectives for your work.

Clear goals give you a measurable path to success, making it easier to work independently and show progress.

It also allows you to demonstrate your value and productivity, even when your manager is not providing much guidance.

12. Self-Manage

When your manager doesn't provide the necessary guidance, it might be time to step up and manage yourself.

This approach means staying organized, meeting deadlines, maintaining high-quality work, and continuing to improve your skills.

You may need to use time management tools, create task lists, or even seek professional development opportunities on your own.

Remember, your performance is still being evaluated, so it's essential to maintain a high standard of work.

Also, self-management can empower you to be more independent and less reliant on your manager's direction.

13. Ask for specific instructions

In a situation where your manager isn't giving clear directions, it becomes essential for you to ask for specific instructions.

Having a clear understanding of what is expected of you for each task will help reduce errors and rework, and it will make you more efficient.

It will also reduce the time you need to spend clarifying instructions or fixing mistakes, freeing up more time for you to focus on your work.

14. Document your work and possible evidence

This includes your responsibilities, tasks, goals, achievements, and the feedback you receive.

Documenting your work not only keeps you organized but also serves as a record that can be referred to in times of miscommunication or misunderstanding.

In the case of a manager who doesn't manage, this documentation can also provide evidence of your diligence and commitment to your role, which can be useful during performance reviews or discussions with HR.

15. Take a direct approach

It might be uncomfortable, but sometimes the best way to deal with a manager who doesn't manage is to address the issue directly. This should be done professionally and with empathy.

Communicate your concerns about the lack of management and how it's impacting your work. Suggest ways in which they could provide more guidance or support.

Your manager may not even be aware that their management style is ineffective, and your feedback might initiate a positive change.

16. Offer constructive criticism

When providing feedback to your manager, remember to do so constructively. Identify specific areas where you think they could improve, and offer suggestions for how to do so.

Frame your feedback in a way that it highlights the potential benefits for the team or organization. This approach will make it more likely that your manager will consider your suggestions seriously.

17. Develop your skills

Your professional growth shouldn't be stunted because of a lack of management. Look for opportunities to improve your skills and expand your knowledge.

This could involve online courses, attending seminars or workshops, or even taking on new responsibilities at work.

Developing your skills will not only make you more efficient at your current job but also better equipped to handle future roles or challenges.

This practice also allows you to work more independently, which is an asset when working under a manager who doesn't manage effectively.

18. Build strong workplace relationships

Building robust professional relationships with others in your team or organization can serve as an effective strategy for dealing with a manager who doesn't manage effectively.

Strong relationships can provide you with a network of individuals who understand the organization's workings and can offer guidance or support in the absence of clear management.

They can also provide you with different perspectives and help you navigate workplace challenges. Networking within your organization also fosters a sense of community, which can make your work experience more enjoyable and fulfilling, despite managerial shortcomings.

19. Show initiative

Even in the absence of strong management, it's crucial to continue demonstrating initiative in your work.

By proposing new ideas, solutions, or processes, you show your commitment to your role and the organization.

This proactive approach not only keeps you engaged and growing in your position but also can lead to improvements in the team or department's operations.

This strategy can also inspire your manager to take on a more active role as they see you taking the initiative.

20. Find a mentor

A mentor can provide the guidance and support that your manager may not be providing. A mentor can be anyone in your professional network who has more experience or knowledge and is willing to guide you.

They can help you navigate your current situation, provide valuable advice based on their experiences, and even help you develop new skills or perspectives.

Having a mentor can be particularly beneficial when dealing with a manager who doesn't manage effectively, as they can fill in some of the gaps left by your manager.

21. Lead by example

If you're finding that your manager isn't managing effectively, consider stepping up and modeling the behaviors you'd like to see.

This doesn't mean taking over your manager's role, but rather demonstrating qualities like initiative, effective communication, and responsibility.

Not only does this show your capabilities as a leader, but it might also inspire your manager to adopt some of these positive behaviors.

What to say to a manager who doesn't manage

If you decide to take a direct approach and talk to your manager about their professional deficiencies but have a hard time finding the right words, then here are a few examples of common poor management situations and how you can comment on them.

1. Lack of Clear Directions

"I understand that you have a lot on your plate, but I've noticed that our tasks often lack specific instructions. It would be really helpful if we could get more detailed directives so we can produce the most accurate work possible."

2. Lack of Feedback

"I'm aiming to improve in my role and deliver the best work I can. To accomplish this, I would appreciate more regular feedback from you on my performance and areas where I could improve."

3. Lack of Communication

"I feel that improved communication could greatly benefit our team's productivity and overall morale. Perhaps we could schedule regular check-ins or status updates to ensure everyone is on the same page."

4. Lack of Decision-Making

"I've noticed some decisions that impact our work aren't being made promptly. This can make it difficult for us to progress effectively. Could we discuss ways to improve the decision-making process?"

5. Lack of Support

"I believe that our team could benefit from more support and guidance in our roles. Is it possible for us to explore ways in which we can get the necessary support to optimize our performance?"

Why employees need to be managed

Employees need to be managed, in order to feel supported. This leads to them being more engaged, invested, motivated, and productive, which inevitably results in improved profitability for the company.

Good managerial practices create happy employees, which translates into a low staff turnover, too.

Workers, who are feeling enthusiastic about their job, contribute to the better image of the company.

Customer retention rates usually also grow when the employees in a company enjoy good management and feel satisfied in their work environment.

Effective managerial practices involve offering guidance and direction, setting up goals, giving feedback and interacting with the employees on a regular basis.

Employees always look up to a manager, who offers their mentorship and advice.

What happens when employees aren't managed

Badly managed employees can quickly lose interest in their work and gradually start slacking on important job duties.

The lack of clear goals also leads to poor accountability. Overall productivity also suffers, which can stagnate business growth.

Failure to manage staff with a focus on their performance, productivity and engagement, as well as on their need for acknowledgment of their achievements, will lead to low morale at the workplace.

In addition, when employees aren’t managed appropriately, communication with their superiors can easily break down.

This leads to distrust and a lack of mutual respect. As mentioned, morale gradually drops, which often results in experienced employees being the first to leave.

My experience dealing with a manager who didn't manage

As a project manager for an international tech giant, I've always considered myself fortunate. The world of technology pulses with an exhilarating rhythm, filled with dynamism and constant innovation.

My role involved driving diverse teams, cutting across multiple geographies, working towards the culmination of something truly extraordinary. I relished it – until I crossed paths with Richard, our new Department Manager.

Richard had joined us from another big tech firm, riding on a reputation of leading successful projects and supposedly possessing an uncanny knack for management. His charm and confidence won over everyone, from the tech associates right up to the board members.

But it didn't take me long to see through the façade. Beneath the smooth veneer of charisma was a manager who was out of his depth. Richard had no idea how to manage our team or the sophisticated projects we handled.

His directions were unclear and often contradictory, and he failed to communicate effectively, resulting in a tangled web of confusion and inefficiency. Our once high-performing team was beginning to falter, deadlines were missed, and the quality of work was dwindling.

At first, I thought I was the only one seeing this, that perhaps my expectations were too high. But soon enough, the symptoms became too glaring to ignore.

Teams were often caught in the crossfire of Richard's indecisiveness, forced to backtrack or rework entire sections of their projects.

Also, the lack of feedback from Richard left us all unsure of our performance, and morale began to plummet.

Finally, a botched client presentation served as the final straw. Richard's ill-prepared, misguided pitch not only cost us a significant project but also put a dent in our previously unblemished reputation.

The company executives couldn't turn a blind eye any longer.

I decided to take a stand. I began by rallying my project team. We developed our own internal communication channels and feedback loops. I made it a point to clarify Richard's vague instructions and set clear, measurable goals for everyone.

In addition, I also encouraged my team to upskill themselves, making us less reliant on Richard's questionable management.

Meanwhile, the rest of the department, tired of Richard's ineffective leadership, started to follow suit. Other project managers established similar systems within their teams, and soon, we had a network of employees effectively managing themselves, and supporting one another in the absence of competent leadership from the top.

The transformation wasn't immediate, nor was it easy, but we were determined. Our concerted efforts started showing results. Projects were back on track, and the quality of our work was improving. In time, our self-management didn't go unnoticed by the executives.

With mounting evidence and the negative impact on the company becoming more apparent, the executives were forced to take action. Richard was relieved of his duties, and an interim manager was appointed while they searched for a permanent replacement.

We had weathered the storm, proven our resilience, and learned valuable lessons in self-management and leadership. As for me, it was a vivid reminder that titles and reputation are no substitutes for genuine competence and effective management.

Frequently asked questions about dealing with a manager who fails to manage

How can I communicate effectively with a manager who doesn't manage?

It's crucial to take the initiative in communication. Regularly update your manager about your work and seek feedback. This keeps them informed and subtly prompts them to engage. Don't shy away from asking for clarifications to ensure you understand tasks and expectations clearly.

How should I approach my manager about their ineffective management style?

Start by being empathetic and respectful. Express your concerns professionally, focusing on the impact of their management style on your work and the team's productivity. Be specific about the issues and suggest constructive solutions. Remember, it's about improving the situation, not blaming.

How can I self-manage when my manager doesn't provide adequate guidance?

Begin by setting clear goals for yourself. Stay organized with a schedule or to-do list, and keep track of your progress. Seek feedback from colleagues if your manager doesn't provide it. Use self-learning opportunities to improve your skills and work more independently.

What should I do if my manager's lack of management is impacting team morale?

Encourage open communication within the team. Share concerns and brainstorm solutions together. Foster a supportive environment by helping each other and sharing successes. If you're comfortable, discuss the issue with your manager, focusing on the team's welfare and productivity.

When should I consider escalating the issue of a non-managing manager to HR?

If you've tried discussing the issues with your manager and there's no change, or if the situation is severely impacting your work or well-being, it might be time to escalate to HR. Document specific instances of poor management to present a clear case. Remember, HR is there to ensure a productive and respectful work environment.

Written by:
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co-founder / office worker
Alex has been an office worker for more than 10 years. He is dedicated to helping other office workers to achieve the perfect life-work balance through well-being, effective communication, and building productive habits.

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