How to Handle a Seagull Manager

How to Handle a Seagull ManagerIn the previous post, “Do You Have a Seagull Manager?”, I explained characteristics of Seagull Managers and how to identify them. According to Ken Blanchard, “Seagull managers fly in, make a lot of noise, dump on everyone, and then fly out.” These toxic leaders rush into situations they do not comprehend, raise excessive alarm, criticize others and then disappear, leaving a mess behind. However, there is hope for the servant leader that must deal with seagull managers.

To cope with seagull managers, consider the namesake of these individuals. Here are tips on how to address each of the seagull manager’s negative tactics:

Fly In

Seagulls circle above for signs of any opportunity to steal food away. Seagull managers practice similar tactics. These individuals circle above, avoiding any detail, awaiting the right opportunity to swoop in and steal focus away. Picnickers on the beach fend for their food by keeping it in sight and having a team they trust surround it. To avoid the fly in by seagull managers, do the same: pay attention to the details and surround your issues with team members you trust.

Make a Lot of Noise

The seagull squawks and screams at other birds, bullying them around and calling attention to themselves in the hopes of getting the food. Similarly, seagull managers like to get attention by raising alarms and crying wolf. With the birds, you simply ignore the noise. With seagull managers, the solution is the same: ignore the noise and focus on reality. On occasions, the squawking has a legitimate issue at its root. Remain open to the feedback of all those you serve, but maintain focus on the facts.

Dump On Everyone

There are two ways to deal with dumping birds: either utilize an umbrella to stop it from hitting you or wipe it off quickly after it hits (unpleasant thought, I know). In business, it is the same. As a servant leader you owe it to those you serve to act as the umbrella. You must shelter the team from distraction and junk falling from above. Then, you need to brush it off when it hits you. As a leader in the organization, you will ultimately face plenty of seagull managers that want to dump on you. Your success, and that of the team, will depend at least in part, on how you respond to these attacks.

Fly Out

After flying in, squawking and dumping on everyone, seagulls fly away having provided no benefit to those left behind. Seagull managers do the same. These individuals are all talk, no action. The bad boss often makes a lot of empty promises then fails to deliver. To avoid these unfulfilled promises, take thorough notes with clear action items to trace accountability. If necessary, follow up to ensure the seagull boss does not fly out without leaving some benefit behind to the team.

If you have a manager with a reputation for acting like a seagull, consider how you would respond to the birds and adjust those practices for the office. By tracking the details, focusing on facts, sheltering the team from dumping, and tracking accountability, you can resist the oppression of seagull managers.

Question: Have you dealt with the antics of bad managers? What other tactics do you employ?

About the Author:

Ben Lichtenwalner is the founder - the leading blog on servant leadership and top 35 site for any leadership topic, globally. Ben also speaks and consults on IT and management topics for a large variety of clients. Find out more about him at


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  3. Ryan McKinney February 11, 2012 at 1:20 pm - Reply

    Any strategies for helping seagull managers realize they do this?  Or actually holding them accountable for what they say and do?

    • Ben Lichtenwalner February 12, 2012 at 4:34 pm - Reply

      Great question Ryan! I’ll answer that in my Tuesday post this week.

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