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No Day at the Beach: The Destructive Impact of Seagull Managers

The term “seagull managers” may sound whimsical, but the reality is far from amusing. Despite the best intentions of some who practice it, this leadership style can cause significant damage in the workplace.

What’s a Seagull Manager?

Like micromanagers, seagull bosses make it difficult for employees to work successfully. But instead of endless hovering and meddling, their actions mirror everything people find annoying about the messy waterfowl they’re named for.

We’ve all witnessed their theatrics. When seagull managers spot employees grappling with an issue, they swoop in and squawk out directives without taking time to understand the problem thoroughly. They dump their opinions and soar away without helping navigate solutions, leaving a mess of confusion and stress.

Ken Blanchard is credited with coining the term “seagull manager” in his book Leadership and the One Minute Manager. Along with co-authors Patricia and Drea Zigarmi, he lists the traits of these ineffective supervisors:

  • They only connect with their employees when problems crop up.
  • They offer swift but unhelpful advice.
  • They fail to give continuous feedback and support.
  • They propose solutions without considering feasibility or practicality.
  • They often put their self-interest over team success.

Travis Bradberry, author of Emotional Intelligence Habits, notes that the seagull manager is increasingly common in today’s workplace. As companies flatten to compete in an era of new technology, industry regulation, and global trade, they pare down management. Supervisors are left with less time to manage more people and often become reactive rather than proactive.

In an article for LinkedIn, Bradberry points out that managers thrust into these positions are often unaware of their negative impact because they’re just trying to keep their heads above water. What’s more, he writes that senior leaders frequently don’t understand how the organizational structure that creates seagull managers is hurting their culture and, ultimately, the bottom line.

The Mess Seagull Managers Make

As companies continue to navigate the fallout from the Great Resignation, toxic bosses are frequently cited as the root of the churn. Their tactics poison workplace culture, leaving a disengaged workforce in their wake. There is more than one kind of bad boss, but seagull managers sit firmly in the pantheon, along with micromanagers, tyrants, bullies, and absentees.

Seagull managers inadvertently create a turbulent workplace where employees are uncertain about what to do and ultimately become flustered and disillusioned. Workers’ well-being and even their health suffer because of the stress overload. Those who don’t quit often resort to doing only what they need to draw their paychecks.

Additionally, seagull managers derail innovation and teamwork. Capitalixe co-founder Lissele Pratt explains further in an article for Entrepreneur.

“Their rushed, ill-conceived interventions hinder effective collaboration and communication, causing friction among team members. This strained environment can result in a decrease in employee engagement, inhibiting their willingness to contribute ideas and insights.”

She concludes that these managers’ haphazard approach “limits revenue growth, stifles profits, and hinders business success.”

The Seagull Within

It’s tempting to paint a comical portrait of the prototypical seagull manager. However, Travis Bradberry reminds us that circumstances sometimes push many well-meaning people toward this leadership style. He cautions:

“The real question is not are you a seagull manager, but when are you a seagull manager? It would be wonderfully simple—albeit frightening—if we could each be categorized as the “right” or “wrong” kind of manager. It's just not that black and white.

Every single one of us are seagull managers sometimes, in some situations, and with some people. The real challenge lies in understanding where your seagull tendencies get the better of you, so that you can fly higher and eradicate the negative influences of seagull behavior.”

Bradberry advises people in supervisory positions to pay attention to situations where they realize they are exhibiting a seagull management style. Often, these scenarios happen because people are in a “putting out fires” mode.

To prevent this from happening, he advises: “The key to overcoming seagull management is to tackle challenges when they are big enough to see, yet still small enough to solve.”

Hatching Better Managers

The proliferation of poor managers is partly due to how people often arrive in these leadership positions. They are appointed based on performance or years on the job—not their leadership skills. Unfortunately, these people have the most influence on the work environment and employee engagement. How they handle things and interact with their team sets the tone for everyone.

Bradberry tells CEOs to invest more in management training to protect the company’s culture and potential for success. He notes:

“Few organizations recognize the degree to which managers are the vessels of a company’s culture, and even fewer work diligently, through training and coaching programs, to ensure their vessels hold the knowledge and skills that motivate employees to perform, feel satisfied, and love their jobs.”

The right coaching should help managers differentiate between positive and negative tactics and help them develop the skills needed to succeed. It should also teach them that effective management methods may require more time on the front end but prevent chaos and misunderstandings that waste time in the long run.

Beyond management training, it’s even more critical for CEOs to deliberately create a culture that supports managers and helps them guide their teams to achieve the best results.

Top leadership should aim to infuse several characteristics or behaviors into their culture to cultivate great managers. Bradberry names three of them, calling them the “virtues of superior leaders.” He notes that they are the opposites of the seagull manager traits of “swooping, squawking, and dumping.”

The three critical behaviors that Bradberry has observed in managers with high-performing, engaged teams are:

  • Establishing clear expectations
  • Communicating consistently
  • Extending powerful feedback


Often, things go awry for employees because they lack clarity about what they are supposed to do. This uncertainty leads to floundering, which can trigger the seagull impulse in their managers.

However, all parties are set up for success if establishing clear expectations is foundational to the company’s culture. This simple but powerful step can prevent managers from falling into the seagull management trap. Bradberry writes:

“Managers who set clear expectations ensure that employee efforts are spent doing the right things the right way. This means thoroughly exploring what will be required of the employee, how their performance will be evaluated in the future, and getting agreement and commitment to work towards established goals.

There is a big difference between telling someone what’s expected of them and making sure that what they’ll be doing is completely understood.”

Clear expectations guide employees and provide a roadmap for managers, fostering a more productive and harmonious work atmosphere.


Leaders must infuse best communication practices into their culture to help all staff perform well. These behaviors include generous listening, encouraging people to speak up, sharing information, and communicating consistently in a way others can easily understand.

Leaders need to help managers grasp that the time spent communicating effectively is well worth the effort. Because their team members will follow their boss’s example, everyone will operate on the same frequency, fostering collaboration and preventing confusion.


Two kinds of feedback that should be encouraged in an organization’s culture. Both require people in leadership positions to focus on what their team members are doing instead of letting them operate on autopilot. Executives must pay attention to their managers, and managers must take the time to tune in to their direct reports.

The first type of beneficial feedback is constructive observations about performance. This requires top leaders and managers to monitor their people’s progress and provide ongoing recommendations, support, and encouragement to help them become better problem solvers and grow professionally.

The second type of powerful feedback is meaningful recognition for contributions. Acknowledging people for jobs well done, teamwork, perseverance, and exemplifying high standards is one of the most effective ways to build employee engagement and self-confidence.

Constructive and positive feedback helps keep a workforce on a high-performance loop.

Managers have a herculean job in today’s fast-paced, constantly evolving work arena. They can easily default to poor management styles like the haphazard seagull. But this inadequate management technique isn’t inevitable. CEOs have the power and responsibility to prevent the seagull syndrome. They must acknowledge their managers’ vital roles and give them the support and structure they need to succeed.