In my workshops with sales managers—former sales reps promoted into leadership positions—I always ask them to think back over their career and identify their “worst boss ever.”

Here are the four most common types of managers that fall into that category and examples of their behaviors.

The Passive-Aggressive Manager

The most frequent “worst boss” that I hear about is managers who are dominated by anger but unable to express it in a direct, healthy way. Sometimes they display overt signs of hostility, but more often use subtle words or actions aimed at demeaning sales reps. No matter why a manager acts this way, their inability to directly and constructively deal with issues is a major deterrent to team engagement and improvement.

The Accuser

This type of manager seems to be focused almost solely on catching reps “doing things wrong.” They can’t wait to jump in and point out a rep’s mistakes (though rarely offering helpful suggestions to fix the problem). Generally inflexible, they never engage in a give-and-take with reps nor ask for a rep’s opinion or explanations. Reps who work for these managers tell me they are constantly stressed out worrying that they’ll be the next victim.

The Fire-fighter

These managers are like a hamster on a treadmill, continually busy but never getting much accomplished. They are so consumed with fighting fires that they don’t have time to spend on more-important tasks (like rep development). Reps with this kind of manager struggle along best they can, but never get the coaching they need to identify what they can and should be doing to improve.

The Desk Jockey

As the label implies, these kinds of sales managers are most comfortable operating from their office, dishing out advice without experiencing the front line. They avoid the less-desirable aspects of sales coaching — such as making prospecting calls with their salespeople — and over time they lose their sharpness and ability to contribute value to the team. Salespeople with this kind of manager simply don’t turn to them for advice or guidance because discussing a deal with a desk jockey produces nothing new or valuable.

Feedback Is the Best Cure

Whether or not any of these descriptors sound like you—but especially if they do!—I have two words of advice: get feedback. As I’ve counseled before, start asking your reps three questions at the end of your quarterly review sessions:

  1. What are you getting from me that you like and find helpful?
  2. What are you getting from me that limits your effectiveness?
  3. What are you not getting from me that would help you produce more? Why do you think that would help you at this time?

These questions open the door for your sales team to offer insights that you’re not going to get any other way.  If you act on what you hear and make positive changes, you’ll reap a number of benefits:

  • Gaining the respect of your team
  • Providing a role model for coachability
  • Best of all, seeing better results as your team members improve!
Kevin F. Davis, author of “The Sales Manager’s Guide to Greatness: 10 Essential Strategies for Leading Your Team to the Top.”

Kevin F. Davis is the author of “The Sales Manager’s Guide to Greatness: 10 Essential Strategies for Leading Your Team to the Top.” The book is available for purchase on Amazon.com.