Bad Managers, Good Managers, Great Managers

By Anastasia and Michael Tsouroupakis


The other morning we were sitting have breakfast at one of our new neighborhood breakfast places.  When we walked in at around nine we noticed that three tables were  occupied (slow by most standards) and one of the waitresses told us to seat ourselves.  We picked a spot near the window and we were given menus and placed our coffee orders.  As we sat contemplating our breakfast choices we noticed that in addition to sit down customers they had a number of take out customers as well.  Our waitress came back with our coffees and took our orders– a very ordinary breakfast dining experience THUS FAR.  From the moment we placed our order it took 26min for our food to come , and there was mass chaos behind the open kitchen between the cook staff and the waitstaff struggling to fill take out orders and almost ignoring the customers who came in to sit down.  In the midst of this was the store manager who stood watching all of this with his hands in his pockets!! Yes that’s right he was perhaps the most disengaged manager we have had the displeasure of witnessing.  Instead of making the rounds of all the waiting tables to fill up cold coffee mugs HE DID NOTHING! Instead of busing the dirty tables HE DID NOTHING! Instead of working the cash so that the take out orders could be processed efficiently HE DID NOTHING!  Instead of helping the cook staff HE DID NOTHING!   What he did do was stand behind the counter looking over his staffs’ shoulder meandering back and forth between the cash register and the cooks station on the other side, and in general just being in the way.

As we were waiting for our food this prompted a discussion of “What makes a good manager?” or rather what must a manager be to create a positive and productive work environment?   A good relationship between management and staff is based on trust, commitment and engagement.  While we couldn’t asses the issue of trust (although I can make a guess) commitment and engagement was definitely lacking, by standing behind the counter with his hands in his pockets this manager was sending a clear message to his staff, that he was NOT going to get his hands dirty and thus he was neither committed nor engaged.  As a result of his disengagement his wait staff were unapologetic for the untimely service and the cook staff produced less than adequate meals (our med soft poached eggs were hard boiled).  Had the manager taken his hands out of his pocket,  rolled up his sleeves and engaged the waiting customer by thanking them for their patience; or helped the cook staff and wait staff letting them know that they succeed and fail as a team, our experience as customers would have been much more positive.

This manager was practicing the antiquated “Top-Down Management” theory, and  perhaps unknowingly so.  This method does not work for a variety of reason particularly in the service industry. This theory was engineered in the 1870’s to get the most out of the factory workers, managers and bosses yelled and screamed at their subordinates to scare them into producing more  Well after 140 years I would like to think that we have evolved and realize that dehumanizing another will not result in increased productivity nor loyalty.  In addition to the ethical issues, there are the optics of Top Down Management to consider, while the wait staff and the cook staff were struggling to keep up and the manager stood over everyone watching, our first thought was “What the heck is that guy doing?” “Why isn’t he helping” and your frustration is now with the entire establishment.  Not a good thing.

I had read an excellent article by author Mark Graban “What Bad Managers, Good Managers, and Great Managers Do”,  and I remembered this quote “”Bad managers tell. Good managers explain why. Great managers go beyond this.” This manager was a bad manager, and we probably won’t be having breakfast there again….unless maybe we have a couple of hours to kill!