Leadership   //   August 15, 2023

Absent, hands-off, overbearing, narcissist: A guide to approaching different types of managers

Being a manager is a lot of work. 

There isn’t always the best training from top executives for new managers on how to approach the role and make sure their team feels comfortable. On the flip side, senior managers might be stuck in their ways, regardless of whether they are actually working or not. Ultimately, a smooth-functioning organization would have frequent management training sessions and check-ins, but unfortunately that’s not always the case. 

That’s why we created this guide to help employees navigate how to work with different types of leaders. It’s a realistic approach for people who want their work lives to run a little smoother and to see success, even if you have opposite ways of working together.

It’s not so black and white either. The 10 different types of managers below is a short list of categorizations. Often managers bounce between them, depending on other factors like the person they’re working with, their personal lives, and so on.

“I wouldn’t label any of these as bad,” said Paru Radia, a business consultant and coach. “We’re all also people and have different traits at different points and all want to show up better.”

The micromanager

The micromanager is one of the most frequently discussed types of managers. “It’s the favorite we love to hate,” said Quendria Johnson-Kerns, a licensed professional counselor with therapy and psychiatry firm ThriveWorks. 

They’re known for giving excessive supervision to employees, closely observing and controlling the work of their team. They often have trouble delegating tasks, trusting team members, or allowing independent-decision making in the workplace. However, it is important to note that this behavior could stem from anxiety in the workplace, which leads to that sense of control. 

How to approach them: If you consider that it stems from anxiety, it’s easier to empathize with this sort of manager and not take it so personally. “Their anxiety is driving them to be in control or to be in the know,” said Johnson-Kerns. She recommends that employees dealing with a micromanager go the extra mile to show them you’re responsible, a self-starter and can get things done without their help. If all else fails, she says you can have a direct conversation, showing up with evidence of their micromanaging and how it’s impacted your workflow. 

“It’s saying ‘I work best when I’m on my own devices and you work best when you are involved in all the details regularly. How can we strike a middle ground here?’” said Radia.

The manager driven by the bottom line

“When a manager is so heavily focused on the bottom line, they forget to consider that their employees are human and have lives outside of work,” said Johnson-Kerns. 

She’s heard her clients talk about this kind of manager more than any others lately. It causes employees to feel stressed, especially when it’s infringing upon family life and it feels impossible to find work-life balance.

How to approach them: Identify what needs to be done on a daily basis that will make your manager feel like things are getting done, while also not taking on more than you can handle. Johnson-Kerns added that it’s helpful to have a clear understanding of what your work goals are, set boundaries and stick to them. For example, if your boss is working around the clock, but you’re sticking to signing off at 5 p.m., say that and maintain the balance.

The manager who is too nice

The empathetic manager seems great on paper. They are someone who we love to work for because everyone loves them because they are always so understanding. However, there are deeper rooted issues when the niceness goes too far. Dominic Levesque, president for executive talent recruiter Tatum and Randstad Business Professionals, says that this is usually the manager who has the highest turnover because they never provided a clear career path or opportunities for development for their team members, who have instead plateaued. 

“What you often see is there are people under a type of leader like this who are very accountable and want to do their best, and then there’s the other people that don’t do much and there’s no consequence because the leader is too nice,” said Levesque. “Your top performer will be demotivated because of that. It’s a very, very bad result for the team.”

“What you often see is there are people under a type of leader like this who are very accountable and want to do their best, and then there’s the other people that don’t do much and there’s no consequence because the leader is too nice.”
Dominic Levesque, president for Tatum and Randstad Business Professionals.

How to approach them: If you’re working with a manager who is too nice, it’s important to directly outline your hopes for professional development and what that might look like. If the manager isn’t able to provide that, employees can ask them to point them to a mentor, business partner, or someone outside of the department who can provide that guidance. If concerns come up around being demotivated, it’s worthwhile to meet with your manager to express that and see how the whole team can work together. At the end of the day, the manager’s role is to ensure productivity, which requires assertiveness at times, which can be difficult for the more empathetic leader.

The absent manager

Working hybrid or remote, we might be physically seeing our managers less and less. If they are hard to get in touch with over the phone, Slack, or on email, it might quickly feel like they are an absent manager who isn’t providing any guidance. This manager might be absent for personal reasons, or they might just be hard to reach. Either way, it can lead to employees feeling like they are not receiving guidance.

How to approach them: In the worst case scenario, where a manager is absent so much that they are breaking workplace rules, then it might be the best decision to consult with HR. However, if your schedules just don’t align, then Johnson-Kerns said an employee should feel confident enough to use their own leadership skills to get things done around the office.

“It provides a good opportunity for you as an employee to show that you can get the job done and are OK with flexibility,” said Johnson-Kerns. 

Levesque also suggests getting to the root of why the leader is not there. If you have a better understanding, it will help avoid resentment. In the meantime, the employee can keep doing their work and looping in their manager so they never feel blindsighted.

The narcissistic manager

Radia describes this kind of manager as someone who thinks they are the smartest person in the room, always believes they are right, and doesn’t take into account any other variables that are necessary to build a relationship with other people. It can be hard to get through to this type of person and can lead to a toxic work relationship and environment.

How to approach them: Radia suggests that when working with a narcissistic boss, start by telling them they’re right. “It helps calm them down, and then you can bring up what you’re questioning,” said Radia. “In response to them, you can say ‘that’s not how I see it, can you tell me more?’ rather than calling out their behavior as bad, which won’t be received well.”

The last-minute manager

This manager is doing everything in the last hour, which can lead to an employee feeling under-valued. For example, if a manager says just a few minutes before the meeting that they are going to cancel it, it might leave others feeling stressed out. Or, it could lead to an employee not receiving as much feedback as they would’ve liked because they aren’t maximizing their time together. On the flip side, there might be last-minute assignments, which can also be stressful. Overall, this person isn’t prioritizing their time as well as they could be. If this happens sometimes, there is a general understanding that it’s OK because they might be dealing with unexpected things, either in their personal or professional lives. But if it’s all the time, an employee needs to speak up.

How to approach them: In the case of a last minute cancellation, Radia suggests sending a note saying ‘hey, I really need to discuss this because it’s important.’ While the manager might not have anything to share, it doesn’t mean that the employee doesn’t. 

“You can say ‘it’s important it happens today,’” said Radia. “If it gets worse, you can say you have concerns about the relationship and how you work together is impacting results.” 

If nothing changes, she suggests considering talking to the manager’s boss to see if this is happening there too and ways to come up with a solution.

The manager who blends professional and personal a little too much

It’s no secret that since the pandemic, our personal and professional lives have blended more than we were once used to. However, this manager might be spending the first 10 or 15 minutes of a meeting gossiping, talking about deeply personal matters or getting a little too close for comfort. While there are clear benefits to building relationships at work, this approach might cross a line and leave others feeling uncomfortable and like time is being taken away from getting work done. 

“I think of managers who bring their personal lives to work, and you don’t know from one day to the next what they’re going to be upset about, because they had an argument with their significant other or they’re upset because their boss came down on them,” said Johnson-Kerns. “It’s all about having those skills, knowing when to leave your feelings at the door and to be a leader.”

“I think of managers who bring their personal lives to work, and you don’t know from one day to the next what they’re going to be upset about."
Quendria Johnson-Kerns, a licensed professional counselor with ThriveWorks. 

How to approach them: It all goes back to boundary setting. Employees can consider using language like: “Let’s circle back to the task at hand” or “Let’s get back to business.” It is great to talk about how everyone’s weekends were, but if it keeps crossing a line of the manager over indulging, it might be worth having a bigger conversation. 

The laissez-faire manager

This manager, adjacent to the too-nice manager, doesn’t put their foot down or give much direction. It’s a hands-off approach, often used when they trust their team members to make decisions and complete tasks independently. However, it can lead to more responsibility for the employees and it risks underperformance and not having enough guidance or feedback.

How to approach them: If you’re not sure how to work with this kind of manager, Linnea Bywall, head of people at job candidate assessment platform Alva Labs, advises asking yourself: How can I make myself look like the best employee for this manager? That might mean defining what needs to be done without stepping on toes, setting targets, and navigating what it is that they need done.

“My suggestion is to be specific and ask for feedback,” said Bywall. “Help them know what you want to be successful.”

The transactional manager

They’re only at work for just that: to work. This manager doesn’t see any need to make small talk or dive into personal things at any level. Similar to the bottom-line driven manager, this manager values order and structure and has frequent checks and balances. They often use a system of rewards and punishments to help move things along.

How to approach them: Bywall says it’s crucial to figure out what it is they reward so that you can reinforce and understand how to wow them. It’s asking how you can deliver something that stands out based on what they think is the best approach. For example, do they prefer a few things that are perfect or a lot of things that are good enough? Knowing the answer to that question can help you work with them and stand out. 

The servant manager

“This person always wants to do everything,” said Levesque. “The leader has all of the problems and people don’t take ownership because they know the leader will fix it for them.”

Managers with this philosophy prioritize the greater good rather than personal objectives. However, it leads to a lack of accountability across the team. If the leader isn’t there, then the rest of the team might not know what to do. Similar to a micromanager, this sort of leader can become overbearing if they are always asking what you need or offering to fix things for you.

How to approach them: While a manager is paid more to take on more responsibility, if you are looking to work with them more and erase the idea they need to do it all, it’s worth having a conversation with them. It’s worth having team check-ins so that everyone is aware of their own responsibilities.