Are You a Tough Manager or an Abusive Manager?

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Critics of Senator Amy Klobuchar have been questioning her tough management style. Her response? “I have kept expectations for myself that are very high. I’ve asked my staff to meet those same expectations.”

I do think that good sales managers should have high expectations of themselves and their staff. However, what that looks like in execution can sometimes go awry. Instead of being a tough sales manager with high expectations, you may come off as abusive.

Here’s how you can be a tough sales manager and motivate your staff to be more successful without crossing the line into abusive.

Coach for success, not failure

I am a sales coach and strategist for an entrepreneurial program. There is a wide variety of business people in this program, and—how should I say this?—some members have less concern for personal hygiene than most. I was in a meeting with one particular client in which I had to open the door because the scent was so strong.

Can you imagine such a business owner going to a banker asking for a loan and the banker takes a whiff? The meeting would end immediately and the business owner would never get what they needed to grow their business.

So how did I deal with this sensitive coaching dilemma? A program leader suggested raising this issue with my client after his next business meeting, but that would mean I would be setting my client up to fail at his next meeting. Abusive sales managers set their teams up to fail, but tough and effective managers work with salespeople to help them adapt and be successful.

Yes, there are gender issues to consider

I wonder if Sen. Klobuchar would have received the same criticism if she was a man—I suspect not. There is a double standard for women regarding assertiveness. My issue with my client also had gender overtones, but they were different. I can’t talk with a male client about hygiene habits; it’s just too personal. Instead, I redirected the conversation to be about appropriate dress in the business world.

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I instructed my client that he must treat all meetings with business professionals as very important meetings. That means he should dress more formally than informally. He must wear clothes that are freshly laundered, neatly pressed, and perhaps always have a sports jacket ready to make his informal attire more formal. My hope was that freshly laundered clothing would appear with a fresh scent. My client could be successful and he could preserve his dignity.

Even subtle abuse is not OK

Some managers may not realize that their behavior is subtly abusive. I was recently in a meeting in which members of a sales team attempted to have a frank discussion with their manager. This three-hour meeting, with all stakeholders present, had been set up to develop clear communication channels with specific action items. The meeting produced action items and assignments. But what happened after the meeting? Crickets.

The manager was asking for feedback but then did nothing to implement the feedback her team offered. Understandably, this left the manager’s employees frustrated and confused.

Imagine my surprise when I spoke with the manager afterward. It was clear she was unable to tell the staff that she was not going to implement any of the action items. Can you imagine the team’s added frustration to learn their three-hour meeting had been a big waste of time from the start? I advised her that not answering a request is worse than telling a person no.

Think about that. Some people believe that by not responding, they avoid hurting people’s feelings. Instead, they are frustrating people and making a bad situation worse. I had to counsel this manager that her staff could handle hearing no, but she needed to develop the backbone to tell them directly.

Beware the micromanager

Another subtle form of abuse is micromanagement. I once worked for a micromanager and it was an incredibly frustrating experience. My manager assigned me a project to complete, and then told me step-by-microscopic-step how to do my work.

Micromanaging is inappropriate unless you are talking to someone brand new who has no idea how to proceed. Even then, I would first ask, “What’s your plan for the project?” and only offer my guidelines after asking, “Would you like me to give you a framework?”

Micromanagers insult their employees’ intelligence and waste their time. They hire their employees for their brains, but then refuse to allow those same employees to use them.

Senator Amy Klobuchar is one of the most productive senators, having co-sponsored 1,967 bills from 2014 until 2018. Did her staff have to work harder? I bet they did. I just hope she gave them the credit for her success—they earned it together.

RELATED: 10 Signs You May Be a Horrible Boss

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