I'm normally given the task of solving difficult situations, so I frequently inherit underperforming teams. Additionally, I frequently work with recent graduates.

I would say I'm quite good in what I do. But while the higher-ups are happy with me, I would also like to make sure I'm not a jerk to the people below me.

As every project and change manager knows, introducing changes is difficult. Especially when the changes are big and when they mean more accountability, more efficiency, etc.

I don't think team members are normally to blame for the fact their team is underperforming. In my opinion that's normally a previous manager's fault: they selected people unsuitable for their jobs or they didn't manage them well enough or the goals weren't clear, etc. etc. So I don't blame my team members, just propose new ways to do things, organize trainings, etc.

But when I introduce changes, the team members do protest, e.g. when I would like to see progress on projects from week to week (after they spent several weeks presenting me exactly the same).

How can I check whether my expectations are realistic or expect too much of my people?

  • 1
    The "good manager" aspect of this is going to be extremely difficult to answer in this format. You might want to narrow this down to just figuring out how to set realistic expectations (as a new manager).
    – Lilienthal
    Commented Jul 3, 2020 at 12:59
  • 2
    If somebody protest when being asked to show some kind of weekly progress, that person is not doing his job correctly and may be part of the problem. I was a team member in a team that received the 'special measures' of somebody like yourself. The people who was trying to do a good job received the new manager with hope because we wanted to improve the situation. The people who were part of the problem started to complain about every change taken and became very defensive. That's my experience at least.
    – LaintalAy
    Commented Jul 3, 2020 at 13:49
  • I'm usually upfront with my folks. I tell them right at the get go that I'm never going to ask for "reasonable" or "realistic". Then when they accomplish things I praise them for their work. When they don't complete my unreasonable asks, I never get on them about it. I position things like status reports as tools to help me be better for them rather than tools used to babysit them. I can't help them or be better for them if I'm not plugged into their work. Commented Jul 3, 2020 at 15:03

1 Answer 1


It's very difficult for a leader to get reliable feedback from their subordinates. When you are a good leader, they will tell you that you are a good leader. When you are an angry despot, they will still tell you that you are a good leader, because they are afraid of your vengeance.

Complaints are no good feedback either. When you receive complaints, then that means not everything is perfect, but at least people see a point in talking to you. So receiving no complaints either means everything is great, or it means everything is so hopeless, people don't even see a point in talking about their problems.

Anonymous surveys don't work because nobody trusts that they are truly anonymous.

So the only way to find out objectively is to look at secondary indicators:

  • How is your employee retention? Are more people leaving your team under your leadership than under that of your peers?
  • How hard is it for you to hire from within the company? Bad bosses often gain a reputation within the company which will make people think twice if they want to take a position below them.
  • How does the average number of sick days of your employees compare to the rest of the company? Stress and unhappiness do not just make employees more likely to call in sick, it also affects their health directly.
  • I disagree with this statement - It's very difficult for a leader to get honest feedback from their subordinates. It's super easy. I get terrific honest feedback from my directs all the time. The thing that seems difficult for most leaders is accepting honest feedback. If a leader can't listen to feedback, absorb it without rebuttal and act on it, then it'll stop coming. Listen, believe, act, repeat. Super easy, just few are willing to do it. That being said, this is still a good answer. Commented Jul 3, 2020 at 15:00
  • @JoelEtherton I changed "honest" to "reliable". You might get feedback from your subordinates, but how do you know how reliable it is? You can't look into their heads, so you can not know what they don't tell you. Not unless you are a very good leader with excellent social skills. But when you are such a leader, then you don't need to read this question.
    – Philipp
    Commented Jul 3, 2020 at 15:04
  • That really doesn't change it for me, and perhaps that's just my perspective. I've found that by providing a guaranteed safe space (and then acting on it), I get both reliable and honest feedback. As for what directs don't tell a leader, I have difficulty with the comparison. I've always had people bring me their tough to share problems, and my peer leaders have different mileage in this area. If I were to move to a different organization where trust with leadership was badly damaged, I would have to spend deliberate work rebuilding it. Commented Jul 3, 2020 at 15:10
  • @JoelEtherton: While it is possible, I don't see how it can be "super easy" to create such an environment and I would be happy if you explain more. In my experience, you cannot do much if you happen to work in a company which doesn't explicitly support this.
    – guest
    Commented Jul 5, 2020 at 8:05
  • @guest: It actually really is. Even in organizations which do not support this, it comes down to how much energy you're willing to invest in the relationship with your direct reports. Honest feedback starts at the local relationship not the macro. Care about your directs, listen to them, and keep them in the loop as much as is allowable. They'll respond in kind. When they give you feedback don't EVER offer rebuttal. If you disagree with something, ask a question about it. Ask them this question always: How can I be better for you? Then do what makes sense. Commented Jul 5, 2020 at 16:36

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