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How To Know If A Manager/Coach is a Psychopath or Simply Has a Hard Edge...

It's one of the oldest questions in the books, and with the news of Rutgers hiring an Athletic Director only to find out one of her past teams performed a mutiny to get her ran out of town (and she's the target of a 2008 harassment suit), let's ask it again:

"How do I know whether a manager/coach who has a reputation for being tough is a psychopath or Neil_reed_AP404539727391_620x350 simply has a hard edge?'

First, some facts - at least facts to me:

1. You can't burp in a high profile job without the media running with it and making it a week-long news cycle.

2. Media scrutiny has made it much tougher to be a hard @SS manager or coach in America.  See #1. You're guilty until...well, you're guilty.

3. It doesn't matter if your manager/coach is obscure and will never be the subject of media attention for being tough. He or she is still going to be impacted by that media coverage.  Employees, parents, kids - everyone - has a different threshold for what's acceptable ever since Bobby Knight threw that chair - or choked a kid out.  

So - as a HR pro, or a parent - you're tasked with figuring out whether that hard #$$ manager/coach is a psychopath or a good coach with a tough love side.  How do you figure that out and not bite on what the media is feeding you - that everyone who is hard, critical at times is ruining the company/your child?

It's simple. Simply measure the positive/negative feedback ratio that's provided by the manager/coach.

Sure you hear the tough stuff. You're conditioned to be sensitive to that these days.  The world has changed, but that doesn't mean your managers/coaches should tell the talent in question that everything is OK.  Their job is to make the talent better, and it's not always pretty.

So measure the positive/hard feedback ratio.  If you have less than one positive, reinforcing comment for every harsh critique, odds are the manager/coach needs more balance.

But - if that ratio is at 1:1 or higher, maybe you need to back off and observe a little more, giving the manager/coach credit for the positive feedback that's provided in the circle of coaching.

Some of the people in the news may have been monsters as managers/coaches. Or they may have been trying to get more out of players and more balanced than they're given credit for.  Circumstances vary.

You should look at the positive/negative feedback ration before you chase the news headlines and consider your manager/coach a monster.

Like Flavor Flav once wrote in a poem to America - Don't Believe the Hype. Make your own decisions.




In Bobby's defense, he saw a little, old lady on the other side of the court who didn't have a seat. He was just trying to get her a chair.

I think measuring the positive/negative feedback ratio is a great idea, and I'm even OK with your 1:1 ratio. I think managers can go 1 step further.

I think managers should do better than 2:1 positive/negative. There has been some good research on this ratio. For example discussion on the research see "How Full Is Your Bucket" (a really easy read) and for something more related to workplace interactions, see

As an aside: great coaches/managers know to consider who it is getting the feedback. Some people can really handle getting roughed up and yelled at "feedback is the breakfast of champions!" and some folks need calm, private feedback so they don't suffer PTSD and shutdown.

If your managers can't remember all those ratios and which employee respond which way, just have them remember "honest, frequent feedback - it is your business and moral duty". You can help them craft and improve their delivery when they start from there.

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