Have you ever had a manager that promotes your work, tells you all the right things, and generally is positive to your face, but then you find out the manager badmouths you to others, takes credit for your ideas, and essentially freezes you out from key meetings and conversations? That is a gaslighting manager. Gaslighting is a form of psychological abuse where a person will say and do things and later deny they ever happened. They will undermine you, manipulate you, and later convince you that you are the problem.
Research shows first that almost 30% of bosses are toxic. Further research shows that many employees leave for other jobs because of their boss. For organizations experiencing the talent war, manager training is top and foremost in the solution toolbox. The manager’s manager needs to hold the manager accountable, and leadership needs to hold the manager’s manager accountable.
The manager might be skilled at managing up, presenting themselves as an inclusive leader while they are mismanaging their reports. And no one is checking up, doing skip levels, or otherwise engaged, because there are only so many hours in a day and too much work to do. Unless the actual appearance of a problem is in the headlights, what is unknown stays unknown.
Many companies are being more reactive during this time of the great resignation and don’t have the time or energy to investigate the true causes of employee turnover. But this is the time to straighten up organizational weaknesses, starting with managers. It is being argued that management is a problem. No longer is it managing people to get work done for the organization or helping employees achieving their best, it is more about managers having a “team” to do the manager’s work and the managers get credit for that. As one commentator puts it:
“Each manager is not managing people but is effectively a mini-boss that gets a mini-company that they can take credit for and get applause for. The association with management isn’t anything to do with getting the best out of people and helping them manage their workload, but the offsetting of work by the manager who, in turn, can get paid for that labor rather than their own.”
And that’s the problem. The commentator then states:
“Good managers are seen as stewards of successful organizations that they rarely interact with the actual work product of - but because they’re in ‘management,’ they are given credit.”
These managers are idealized simply for the role, not the work, and as it turns out, nobody asks what they do all day long. With gaslighters, they are working very hard, at least that is the PR they push.
What are some signs of gaslighting managers? First, how many times has a good employee suddenly turned into a bad employee? “When high performers become quiet and disinterested and are then labeled as low performers, we as leaders of our organizations must understand why,” says Lan Phan, founder and CEO of community of SEVEN, who coaches executives in her curated core community groups. “Being gaslighted by their manager can be a key driver of why someone’s performance is suddenly declining. Over time, gaslighting will slowly erode their sense of confidence and self-worth.”
Second, why are managers not bringing key employees to meetings? Ask the question and see what responses they have, from “Oh, they had too much on the plate to attend” to “the employee wouldn’t be of value to the meeting.” They may badmouth the employee or the employee’s performance. If this happens, skip-levels by the manager’s manager should occur and investigate.
Finally, HR’s trust level may not be high in the organization, either by managers or employees. It’s a difficult situation walking the tightrope between managers and employees and continually putting out fires. But the more important question is why these fires are arising and could they have been predicted? Therefore, review termination and performance evaluations of the employees. If an employee survey has been conducted, finetune the cut to see where the negativity is generating from. If surveys have been done in the past, compare. It’s likely the same employee group is griping. The manager can easily be identified.
Training and coaching can help, but even more importantly, evaluate the manager stripping away the PR from the actual performance. A good manager may have to be let go or reevaluated if they are a gaslighting manager.
Source: Harvard Business Review 9/16/21, The Words of Ed Zitron 9/20/21