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Every Bad Boss Needs a Simple User's Manual...

Here's a good item to react to - Do you believe it would be good practice for managers to provide a "users manual" of sorts to their direct reports to provide a roadmap of their philosophy, likes/dislikes and pet peeves? 

That's the question from a special feature in BusinessWeek, where Ben Dattner believes a "User's Manual to Your Manager" can cut out office dysfunction.  Dattner feels by letting your staff know howBoss_badge you operate, you can teach them how to deal with you and avoid conflict.

Here are my thoughts:

-Pros of manager's user guide- Gives your staff fair warning to your hot buttons, including how to impress you, what ticks you off, what your standard operating procedures are, etc.  Helpful in that regard..

-Cons of a manager's user's guide - The inclusion of what you don't enjoy (see the section on Feedback below) or dislike as a boss can be used as a crutch.  If the user manual includes direction that you don't like to give feedback, then you've given people fair warning and it has a spirit of "that's something I don't enjoy, and no matter how important to you, I'm not going to try to improve."  That kind of stinks.  Additionally, the inclusion of data on when you are going to react negatively is a similar crutch - there's no reason for you to improve your negative reactions if you've done the negative disclosure route.

The negative items in such a user's guide has a "That's just Manny Bob being Manny Bob" feel to it.  No reason for Bob to try and improve as a manager - he warned us!!

The practice seems a little weak from that perspective.  Properly controlling for that, there's some good stuff to be had by such a practice.  Here's Dattner's personal user guide as a manager from BusinessWeek.  Let me know what you think of his guide...


Knowing what makes me tick will help both of us avoid a major meltdown


When I'm under pressure, I get serious. Be ready to answer "why" five times.


Please don't bring important issues to my attention if you run into me in the break room.


I value loyalty to our company's values. The CEO gets the same treatment as the janitor.


Have conviction for your point of view. I respect people who push back. Be prepared.


I am very unforgiving of people who don't admit to or cover up mistakes.


I don't give much feedback. Assume I'm satisfied with you unless I tell you otherwise.


I have a tendency to do things myself. Please suggest things you can take off my plate.


Bruce Lewin

I can't see it doing any harm - if anything it would help increase acceptance, speed 'getting to know you' time and help raise transparency.

I like the guide too :-)

Ben Dattner

I agree with you about the cons you mention, and caution agaist using a User's Manual to justify development needs and to avoid improving on them.

For a more complete treatment of the topic:


Ask a Manager

I think there's a way to mention the weaknesses without implying that the manager isn't bothering to work on them. For instance, I work with someone who tells new reports: "I have trouble giving feedback. It's a problem I've had my whole life and I'm working on. I've gotten a lot better and I hope to keep getting better still, but you should be aware of this so you don't misinterpret my signals."

Michael Haberman, SPHR

This is the whole concept of a DISC profile. Sharing your profile with your employees makes it clear how you communicate and how you like to be communicated with. It works.

Meg Bear

I do like the idea. Being someone with [ahem] a strong style I think it important to "warn" people what they are getting into so that they can embrace or bail. I don't think it's all an excuse for weakness, sometimes it's giving clear heads up on strong expectations.

E.x., I have a high bar with responsiveness. People who are not good at responding in a timely fashion to things, will have a much harder time working for me as I will essentially take on the role of nag.

Kim Bailey

I agree with the DiSC remark above. Also, I think the burden of "catering" to people's communication style falls on the manager, not the employee. I believe in the Situational style of leadership, where the leader has to base his communication and leadership styles on the situation and the employee. I think we can let people know with something like DiSC or Myers-Briggs, or whatever other tool you like how we are "best" communicated with, but a manager's role is to be a leader in the style the employee needs, not the other way around.


I'm a DiSC proponent as well. My team understands my intentions, expectations and responses. Also, I am very in tune with each of them. Some prefer frequent praise, some like public recognition, dislike sudden change, etc... It's important to understand "how you do what you do". Our management team's DiSC profiles are posted in our HR portal for everyone to see as well. So, although not a manager's user guide, it's fairly close.


Ben -

Thanks for checking in with the link. I have a feeling you were the victim of limited space in BW... Great topic and thoughts...

Disc'ers of the world - agree that the user's guide concept is similar to what you can get out of the Disc or MBTI. Here's the big difference - It's called MARKETING.

Which tool gets more views and starts more conversations?

a) go out and take a look at my DISC profile...

b) I did a user's guide for everyone, complete with warnings and recalls from the factory - view it here....

No question. Marketing 101 on how to take an effective, yet bland instrument to the average employee, and bring it alive with some marketing.....

Kim, Meg, Ask A Manager - with Ben having limited space, I agree it's possible to use the tool and work on your craft as a manager, even in the areas you struggle in. I like the tool to start a conversation on where you struggle and engage your direct reports - to tell you when they think your slipping in that area, etc.

I'm plugging this into my management training I'm doing this fall.

Joanne Bintliff-Ritchie

I have used a process in the past called "New Manager Assimilation" that offers the same advantages, and more. The process is interactive. The new manager and his/her direct reports each have the chance to provide a facilitator with questions, answers to the other's questions, concerns, etc. The Facilitator works with each individually and then brings the group together to review the information and resolve differences, in a non-confrontational way. The new manager is not off the hook, and staff feel they are up to speed on the manager's style very quickly. I highly recommend this approach.

Dan McCarthy

Kris - Good discussion starter. The comments by all really helped clarify. I've used DISC and a new manager integration process, and I’ll add the “user guide” to our toolkit. Anything to open up a dialog about expectations can only help.
Here's a link that provides a little more detail on the new manager assimilation process that Joanne recommends:


Aaron Stannard

A user guide to the boss' personality? I agree with you, Kris. I think that seems a little weak. Managers should certainly give their employees a guide, but it should be in the form of "here are the processes that you will want to follow for these tasks, here are the roles of other team members, here is a guide on how to use our knowledge base," and so forth.

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