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Administrative incompetence

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Administrative incompetence is a term used to describe administrative behaviours that are dysfunctional or that hinder attainment of organization goals. Given the importance of managerial responsibilities within an organization, havoc can result when administrators are incompetent.

Maladministration can result from the incompetence of managers who do not know how (or are unwilling) to encourage others, although encouragement can motivate staff, increase staff performance, and save time and scarce resources.

Examples of common and potentially damaging deficiencies:

  • Poor communicator: The manager that has difficulty expressing himself can leave his subordinates confused. Often relies on buzzwords to appear to be communicating.
  • Aloof: The manager that keeps to herself may seem cold and uncaring to subordinates.
  • Inconsistent: Does not apply the same criteria in similar circumstances.
  • Hypocritical: A hypocritical manager applies differing rules in similar circumstances; for example, the manager may apply one set of rules to his or her behavior, while applying completely different rules to employees in the same situation.
  • Cowardice: Has a poorly performing subordinate, but will not confront employee for fear of conflict.
  • Dereliction of duty: Has a poor performer but gives a good performance review to facilitate the employee's movement to another department.
  • Self-centered: The manager whose self-interest comes first will appear selfish to subordinates. A variation on this is the manager whose chief drive is to curry favor with senior managers at higher levels in the organization.
  • Secretive: While some information cannot be released at certain times or to certain people, this habitually secretive manager withholds information as a way to control people. This can endanger trust.
  • Focused on minutiae: Some managers employ micromanagement, which can irritate employees. Some managers do this from a desire to feel involved; others from a genuine belief their employees are not competent to make decisions themselves.
  • Focused on appearances: When a manager places undue emphasis on the appearance of the workplace, more important priorities can be neglected.
  • Focused on short-term: The manager who is not strategic in his focus can fall victim to the demands of the moment. This 'fire-fighting' style might be appropriate at a crunch time, but can be demoralizing when it becomes the manager's norm.
  • Inflexible: While, as a general rule, policies and procedures should be followed, the manager who refuses to be flexible may be viewed as 'insensitive' to the needs of others.
  • Unrealistic expectations: The manager demands that a task be completed on an unrealistically small budget, or with an unrealistically close deadline. In some cases, employees who point out the unrealistic constraints are castigated, and discouraged from making such comments in the future. This may exacerbate the problem, since future excesses may not be reported during planning. Typically employees are blamed for failure to meet the manager's expectations.

As dysfunctional as the above behaviours are, worse forms of incompetence may include:

  • Intellectual incompetence: The slow-witted manager, prone to misunderstanding people or processes.
  • Harassment: The manager who 'crosses the line' into illegal harassment, whether sexual or not, has created a hostile work environment.
  • Malice: This is the manager who, for some reason, sets out to make his subordinate's life miserable. This may, in some cases, be the run-up to a planned termination.

Often, two or more of these traits are combined. The 'Intellectually incompetent, Focused on minutiae, Self-centered, Inflexible' traits have been satirised in the Dilbert comic strip as the Pointy Haired Boss. And the 'Harassment, Malice, Secretive' traits have been satirised as a BOFH in computer circles.

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