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Are You This Type of Toxic Boss? Here's How to Know — and How to Be Better Uncover the impact of this specific type of toxic boss on your team's success and learn to evolve into a superior leader.

By Lissele Pratt Edited by Kara McIntyre

Key Takeaways

  • Seagull managers are leaders who swoop in, give unhelpful advice and leave their team to deal with the aftermath, which can lead to high employee turnover, stress, missed opportunities and financial setbacks.
  • Instead, you need to set clear expectations, communicate consistently and provide powerful feedback.

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Have you ever considered whether your management style might be undermining your team's potential for success?

Unfortunately, we've all been there: that moment when a business leader, confronted with a team wrestling with a challenging problem, feels compelled to intervene. However, instead of gathering facts and working collaboratively with the team to discover a viable solution, they swoop in, bombarding their employees with directives reminiscent of a squawking seagull. Then, without warning, they make a hasty exit, leaving the team to navigate the ensuing chaos. In the corporate world, these managers are often called "seagull managers," and they stand as a formidable obstacle to effective leadership.

This management style can wreak havoc on teams — so here are some actionable tips on evolving into a superior, supportive leader and, most importantly, challenge you to ask yourself the vital question: Are you a seagull manager?

Related: I'm the Former VP of HR at Microsoft. I've Witnessed Many Bad Managers in My Career — and They Almost All Had These 4 Traits.

What is a seagull manager?

The term "seagull manager" was coined by Ken Blanchard in his 1985 book Leadership and the One Minute Manager. These managers are like the seagulls you encounter at the beach: They come in, create a commotion and then depart, leaving employees confused and stressed. Seagull managers tend to:

  • Only interact with their team when problems arise.
  • Offer quick but unhelpful advice.
  • Avoid continuous feedback and support.
  • Propose solutions without considering feasibility or practicality.
  • Often prioritize self-interest over team success.

The impact of seagull managers

Even though the term took flight years ago, it's safe to say that its relevance has only grown in today's fast-evolving work environment. With the Great Resignation in full swing and a fresh cohort — Gen Z — entering the workforce with a whole new set of expectations, the role of seagull managers has taken on a renewed and profound significance. The impact of a toxic management style can be seen in various ways:

High turnover

Bad management styles often lead to a revolving door of employees, creating a turbulent workplace marked by uncertainty and disengagement. This can, in turn, escalate into a toxic culture, breeding conflict among team members and a breakdown in collaboration. The outcome? Decreased employee engagement as enthusiasm wanes.

In fact, a recent study in the U.K. laid bare the extent of the problem. Almost one-third of U.K. workers have cited a negative workplace culture caused by bad management as the reason for quitting their jobs. This startling revelation underscores the real-world consequences of poor management on employee retention and organizational culture.

Undue stress

A negative management style can introduce a storm of stress and anxiety to the workplace. Their abrupt and unhelpful interventions create a sense of discomfort among team members. These managers often appear oblivious to the emotional turmoil they've incited, compounding the toxic atmosphere. This environment takes a toll on employee well-being and overall health, leading to increased work-related stress and absenteeism.

Figures from Great Britain's workplace regulator, for example, show that in 2021-22, there were an estimated 914,000 cases of work-related stress, depression or anxiety. Moreover, an estimated 17 million working days were lost due to work-related stress, depression or anxiety. Seagull management adds to this stress, creating an unhealthy work environment.

Related: What Bad Managers, Good Managers and Great Managers Do

Missed opportunities

Seagull managers are notorious for grounding innovation and teamwork. Their rushed, ill-conceived interventions hinder effective collaboration and communication, causing friction among team members. This strained environment can result in a decrease in employee engagement, inhibiting their willingness to contribute ideas and insights. Consequently, the stifling atmosphere created by bad or toxic management styles can squander opportunities for innovation, growth and progress.

Bottom-line results

The consequences of bad or toxic management styles extend beyond employee engagement to impact a company's financial performance. Research shows a direct link between employee experience and an organization's financial health. A positive employee experience fosters higher revenue and profitability. In contrast, the disruptive approach of these managers limits revenue growth, stifles profits and hinders business success.

The traits of superior managers

Having worked under toxic and brilliant managers throughout my career, I've had the unique opportunity to absorb invaluable lessons that have played a significant role in shaping the way I run my business.

I've discovered that superior managers, who propel their teams to peak performance and job contentment, consistently embody three crucial habits.

  • Clear expectations: Exceptional managers are masters at setting clear expectations. They ensure their team understands not just what is expected of them but also how their performance will be measured and evaluated in the future. It's about more than just telling someone what they should do. You need to be making sure they have a deep understanding of their role and responsibilities.
  • Consistent communication: The best managers don't just talk to their employees. They engage in consistent, meaningful communication. They keenly observe their team members, have open conversations about their work and provide the resources, guidance and recognition necessary for success.
  • Powerful feedback: Providing feedback is an art, and the most effective managers have mastered it. They pay close attention to each employee's performance, offering praise as readily and passionately as constructive feedback. Your powerful feedback shouldn't tear your employees down but reinforce their successes and realign their efforts when they veer off course.

Related: 5 Essential Tips on How to Be a Great Manager

Final thoughts

So, there you have it — a deep dive into the world of seagull managers. Our quest was to uncover if you might be dabbling in toxic management, but here's the unvarnished truth: It's not about asking if you fit the seagull manager description, but when you inevitably tumble into the seagull trap.

Management isn't a neat checklist of right or wrong. It's complex and ever-evolving. My primary goal here isn't to point fingers at "problem" managers. It's about shedding light on the fact that, at some point, each of us has likely dabbled in seagull management — whether it's in those trying moments or with specific individuals. The crucial skill lies in recognizing these moments and rising above them to mitigate their harmful effects.

Remember this fundamental truth: People may join a company, but they often leave a manager. No one wields a more significant influence on an employee's morale and productivity than their immediate supervisor. It's a simple yet profound reality. So, let's not allow seagull management to limit our potential. Instead, let's soar higher by cultivating a culture of respect, understanding and effective leadership, thereby unlocking the full potential of both our teams and ourselves.

Lissele Pratt

Entrepreneur Leadership Network® Contributor

Chief Growth Officer & Co-founder

As chief growth officer and co-founder of Capitalixe, Lissele Pratt helps companies in the medium to high-risk industries obtain the latest financial technology, payment and banking solutions. She was listed on Forbes 30 Under 30 Finance list in 2021 and has been featured in leading publications.

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