In Part 1 of the Horrible Boss series, we introduced the issue of the horrible boss in the context of managerial effectiveness. We identified the requirements for effective management as well as the symptoms of awful bosses concluding with the three key dimensions of job effectiveness that are at the root of most horrible boss situations. Part 2 and 3 of the series discussed Mental Processing Capability, the first of the three dimensions. In Part 4, we will be discussing the second dimension, Skills and Knowledge, in more detail. The piece begins with an overview of the two types of skills needed for effective management followed by a brief overview of the relevance of each. Finally, Part 4 concludes by examining a few symptoms of the horrible boss that are the result of inadequate skills and knowledge.

Managerial Leadership and Social Processing Skills

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Skills and Knowledge is a vast topic. As it relates to management, there are different components to the concept, but the two that are most applicable are managerial leadership skills and social processing skills. Managerial leadership is, in many ways, a specialized skill in terms of knowing how to work with direct reports and understanding how to balance the five requirements of effective management as described in Part 1 (set context and boundaries, plan, delegate, take action and establish feedback loops). Social processing involves understanding how best to interact with critical members of a team.

Learning How to Manage: Developing Managerial Skills From a Manager

The fundamental question to be addressed is, “Who teaches managers how to manage?” Some knowledge comes from course work, but in terms of real life, people tend to follow the examples that they’ve seen. As a consequence, they also tend to manage like the managers they’ve had in the past. If those managers weren’t effective, chances are they will not be effective. There is no dispute that general managerial skills (set context and boundaries, plan, delegate, take action and establish feedback loops) must be mastered in order to be effective. Knowing how to delegate, to give and receive feedback, and build feedback loops, are managerial leadership skills that are critical to success. If the manager doesn’t know how to do these things proficiently, then direct report managers will feel as though they are not getting the appropriate support and direction they need to succeed.

The Importance of Social Processing Skills

Social processing skills also tie into managerial effectiveness in terms of how well managers interact with their direct reports:

  • Are they introverted and prefer to receive things in writing?
  • Do they shy away from confrontation or are they willing to ask the hard questions?
  • Can they interact with the team in an appropriate way?

If there are any deficiencies in any of these dimensions on the part of the manager, either in managerial leadership or social processing skills, then they are not going to be as effective as they need to be with their direct report managers. The good news is, all of this not usually easy to approach a manager with “you’re not relating with me in appropriate ways.”

From the organizational perspective, it’s critical for accountability and authority frameworks to start with the CEO and work down through the organization. But it’s equally important for managers to solve problems by ensuring their managers are managing properly. If as a direct report you realize that inappropriate knowledge and skills is an issue and you aren’t receiving the right coaching or instruction, it’s often easy to remedy. You can always ask for more information and be more proactive around seeking feedback.


When it comes to detecting whether or not inadequate skills and knowledge is the cause for a horrible boss, the symptoms are straightforward and in many ways, aligned with the five managerial core requirements (set context and boundaries, plan, delegate, take action and establish feedback loops). Managers are often denied access in terms of discussing or understanding a position description. In some cases, there are no appropriate feedback loops or weekly/monthly meetings where a superior manager provides access for a manager to raise questions, or get a feedback report, for example. Furthermore, delegation may feel spotty, making it difficult to identify and see how what’s being done fits together and adds value.

A lack of social processing skills can manifest itself in a variety of different ways. A hesitant or uncommunicative manager may appear to be uninterested when in fact, they may simply be introverted. As a direct report, it’s often left to you to figure out how to get access to that person to get the direction you need to do your work.