How Smart Managers Manipulate Employees
March 10, 2015

How Smart Managers Manipulate Employees

by Brian de Haaff

Recently, I wrote about how you can outsmart your difficult boss. I wanted to empower you to stay calm and fight back with smarts rather than venom. For most people, quitting is not an option or the right answer when the boss gets a bit nasty.

The most successful people master their emotions. Doing great work and building relationships helps you stay calm and in control.

The response to that post did not surprise me; there are lots of toxic bosses out there. I know, because I have had a few of them myself. And as the CEO of Aha! (which is product roadmap software), I do everything I can to help employees and the business grow.

Here are a few comments you shared with me that highlight how you handle bad bosses:

A true professional can bring about a feeling of insecurity in their boss. If he is not emotionally intelligent, he feels threatened. If a boss is toxic there is usually a reason.
Sometimes you just can’t negotiate, tolerate or reason with a toxic boss because she believes she is always right. Finding yourself between a rock and a hard place with a toxic boss is not where you want to be.

I expected those kinds of stories, but this comment caught me off guard and got me thinking:

One of the things I have learned over the years is that not all difficult bosses are toxic. The managers who challenge us in a positive way are the ones that we learn the most from. Tough situations bring out the best in all of us.

Maybe I had it all wrong. Maybe the greatest leaders actually outsmart and manipulate their employees at times (for good). After thinking it through, I realized that I try to do this myself at times.

Over the years, I have managed a few hundred people either directly or indirectly. I have had the “crier,” the “sleeper,” the “unstable” — employees who self-sabotaged without knowing it. And in each case, I did my best to lead the person to be better than they thought was possible.

Here is how good leaders work to outsmart people who report to them. I suggest great managers:

Remove barriers To connect with other people, we need to know what makes them tick. Do you know your employees’ motivations, or what makes them feel the most accomplished? Having regular one-on-one conversations with your team helps identify the barriers that hold them back from their greatest performance.

Set goals If employees do not know where they are going, how will they get there? Encourage employees to set weekly, monthly, quarterly, and yearly goals for themselves. Review these goals with them regularly, and track progress towards success. If problems arise, you will both see them coming and be able to work through them together.

Push hard Sometimes, people get comfortable underperforming and never reset their own expectations. As their manager, it is your job to push them to achieve more. Assign stretch projects that strengthen their skills and help them address areas of weakness.

The best managers turn potential into performance. They do this by looking ahead and being a resource and an advocate for each member of the team.

Toxic managers run wild. But sometimes we forget to see the boss who has an edge and is using it to make us better. So, be slow to judge. It might very well be that your boss is smarter than you think. And that wisdom might be used to help make you shine.

How has your boss manipulated you for the better?

Brian de Haaff

Brian de Haaff

Brian seeks business and wilderness adventure. He is the co-founder and CEO of Aha! — the world’s #1 product development software — and the author of the bestseller Lovability and The Startup Adventure newsletter. Brian writes and speaks about product and company growth and the journey of pursuing a meaningful life.

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