The issue is the manager doesn’t provide clear expectations or direction, and often changes his mind, leading to conflicts and misunderstandings, as well as delays in projects.
Example 1: A finished project was approved by designer, stakeholder, art director, and manager. A co-worker with seniority with the company, but completely unrelated to the project, casually walks by and provides feedback criticizing the project. The manager agrees with the feedback and decides the entire project needs to be redone. The project timeline gets extended and it must go through the entire design, review, and approval process again.
Example 2: (Day one) After a long and drawn out discussion, the manager states that from now on it is critical he reviews, with employee, all the tasks assigned to that employee in order to explain each task. Employee provides documents for review; they schedule time to review for Day Two. (Day Two) At scheduled time, the manager cancels the meeting and doesn't reschedule. He says that he has reviewed the tasks himself and employee should go ahead with the work. (Day Three) Employee begins work on tasks. Manager gets upset that the tasks weren't reviewed with him before work began, and questions why the employee is doing the work in a certain way (differently than he would have done it). When directly asked for clarity on which process the manager wants to follow, the manager either doesn’t respond at all (written), gives a conflicting answer or claims his original request had a different intention (verbal).
This is a very frustrating experience. Multiple team members have expressed frustration about how the manager communicates, specifically about unclear or changing expectations. It can be difficult to get a straight answer. It's not clear how to “manage up”, or communicate with a manager like this.
HBR has a few articles, classified under "Managing Up", and they have one specifically one about managers that with give conflicting messages. https://hbr.org/2014/11/when-your-boss-gives-you-conflicting-messages