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Management Malpractice

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Management Malpractice

Have you witnessed cases of management malpractice? Hold on, don’t answer just yet.

Before you answer “Yes” or “No”, you need to have a definition of the term. I define management malpractice along the same lines as medical malpractice.

As a doctor, if I do something that harms a person under my care, and I could have prevented that from happening, it is likely malpractice. The same thought process can be applied to management, except the person under my care is not a patient, but someone reporting up to me. The same rule applies in management as in medicine, “First, do no harm.”

What is Management Malpractice?

I’ve seen plenty of management malpractice over four decades* of working in healthcare. I bet you have to. Almost everyone has had a boss that they dreaded working for. The kind of person who makes unrealistic demands, never gives a compliment, or doesn’t provide support when you need it the most. These managers create a toxic environment, and their people likely bring that toxicity home with them to their families and communities every night. These bosses are guilty of management malpractice. They are a root causes of burnout.

Fortunately I’ve seen many more great managers than toxic managers. I’m sure you’ve had great managers as well. These are the people that make you want to come to work because they are there to help you be better. They set challenging expectations that are achievable, and they provide the resources you need to succeed. When you do succeed, they not only compliment you, but they let others know what a great job you did. They remember special things like your birthday or anniversary, or what your favorite food is. They create a positive work environment, and their people bring that positivity with them to their families and communities, making the world a better place.

I’d like to be able to say that I’ve never been a toxic manager. I strive to provide a positive work environment, where everyone:

  • knows what our goals are and why,
  • is empowered to work as a team and solve problems,
  • has the resources they need to do their jobs well, and
  • feels respected.

But I know that I’ve failed at this a number of times along the way. While much of this comes naturally to many, we all have aspects of this that we need to learn. One of my favorite books on this subject is “What Got You Here, Won’t Get You There” by Marshall Goldsmith. He is an executive coach for Fortune 100 CEOs, and was the originator of the 360-degree review. This book showed me many of my blind spots, as have a number of 360 reviews I’ve had in my career.

Great Leaders Are Made, Not Born

When I became CEO of the Sutter Gould Medical Foundation, I met with all 1000 front line staff in groups of 20. I asked them what I needed to know to help them do their jobs better. I quickly realized that we had a small, but significant, number of managers who were hurting their people. I learned that some of them could learn to lead positively, and in fact a few of these became our best! Not all managers could make the transition. When they returned to their prior work in front-line patient care, they were actually happier themselves. A very few had to leave the organization.

The one thing I could not do was to leave a toxic manager in place. Leading this change was not easy. In fact, it was one of the hardest things I have done. But doing nothing would have been committing management malpractice. We shouldn’t let any leader get away with that.

Do you have an experience with management malpractice? I’d love to hear your story in the comments below.

*(Full disclosure: I started in healthcare in 1974 working as an OR orderly as a summer job during college.)