A friend and I had an interesting conversation some time ago where we talked about good supervisors that we had (& conversely) bad supervisors. I noted some of our thoughts for a later (now) blog post as I've come across an article that fits really nicely into this theme.
The obvious bad managers were micromanagers or those that were abusive (throwing things, yelling, rampant favoritism/selective punitive treatment, etc.). However, in our conversation, we agreed that management is a spectrum; although at some point those in the middle will tip towards bad or good. Ineffective managers, managers who neglect their staff, and saboteurs also fall into the category of bad managers - regardless of whether their intent is benign or malignant. The intention is completely irrelevant; the results of the actions are long lasting and devastating. Not only demoralizing - bad managers can kill the career of even the brightest star.
Perhaps the worst roadblock in a career is the saboteur manager. According to wikipedia, "saboteurs try to conceal their identities because of the consequences of their actions." Yes, we have all known saboteurs in our lives - these are the fake friends, the gossips, the people who will sell you out in a heartbeat, those who PRETEND to help but work against you, the obstacle builders and the power stealers. This is true of managerial saboteurs also. On the surface, they may seem like advocates, but that is just an illusion. Saboteurs may not be even working on their own behalf; they may be creating acts of sabotage on behalf of another party, such as a favored child.
Wikipedia states that "Sabotage is a deliberate action aimed at weakening another entity through subversion, obstruction, disruption, or destruction. In a workplace setting, sabotage is the conscious withdrawal of efficiency generally directed at causing some change in workplace conditions." (emphasis my own)...
In the article How to Completely and Utterly Destroy an Employee's Worklife the author posits 4 steps to destroying a person's sense of worth (and thus joy in their career and perhaps, even career) itself which all seem to fall into acts of sabotage.
Step 1: Never allow pride of accomplishment -- in other words never phrase or reward achievement. Adding to that, only praise and reward some accomplishments, preferably from the favored children.
Step 2: Miss no opportunity to block progress on employees’ projects -- one of the keys here is to give employees no sense of autonomy. I would also add if your employees have had autonomy, take away that power. Or if you want to really make the situation bad, only block the progress of some employees.
Step 3: Give yourself some credit -- in other words, you, as a manager might be the problem. It's not just personality or bad morale (and if it is bad morale, who do you think had a hand in it?)
Step 4: Kill the messengers -- deny and strike back (ah, the two pronged approach - hide the problem, discredit the employee)