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Does your 'evil twin' manager need to be tamed?

Kwon Kiso, Flowers Gallery

Many managers have an evil twin that only their staff see. This substandard sibling is born of poorly executed ideas and inadequately expressed good intentions.

This is a metaphor developed by Jill Geisler, writing for Fortune. She says she has met numerous evil twins while reviewing the 360-degree feedback of managers she has taught and coached.

She says: "I'm not talking about truly bad bosses. These are skilled supervisors, trying to do something positive, but their actions are misread by those they manage."

The author explains: "Imagine that you've always believed that good bosses shouldn't be afraid to get their hands dirty, so you roll up your sleeves and do front-line work from time to time to prove it. You envision yourself as 'the boss who pitches in'. Unfortunately, your staff sees your 'evil twin', the micromanager.

"Or perhaps you want to emulate the best boss you ever worked for, a person with extremely high standards. So, when employees perform really well, you automatically tell them what they must do to raise their game to the next level.

"In your mind, you're 'the boss who builds great performers'. Unbeknownst to you, those employees see your buzz-killing 'evil twin', Captain Impossible-to-Please."

Fortunately, Geisler emphasises, it is possible to discover your evil twins and disown them before they do any lasting damage. To help with this, the author offers the following five tips:

1) Talk about values "early and often". Make clear what you genuinely stand for and "evil twin" scenarios will be less likely to develop.

2) Don't assume people understand your motives. Geisler points to psychological research into "attribution theory" which suggests that humans are constantly trying to determine the motives of others.

"The problem is," she observes, "we're very likely to guess wrong."

3) Don't be afraid to explain yourself. Some managers wrongly believe that they shouldn't have to explain the "why" behind their directives or initiatives. On the contrary - it's always important to provide a context.

4) Invite feedback. This can act as an early detection system for your evil twin.

5) Understand the impact of good intentions. Geisler says: "People appreciate more deeply and forgive more readily when they believe the other person means well."

The author explains that when she asks people to identify the great managers they have worked for, they rarely describe someone perfect. In fact, she says, they often talk about managers who were impatient or demanding.

"But," she adds, "every one of those perfectly imperfect bosses also made it a point to communicate another unmistakable message through their words and actions: 'I do what I do because I believe in you and I'm committed to your success.'"

How Bosses Can Rise Above Their 'Evil Twins'
Jill Geisler

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