You may have heard the term seagull manager. If not, the description is pretty simple: viewed from the perspective of the employee, a seagull manager is one who flies in once in a while, poops on everything, and then leaves.  It evokes an indelible image. [Believe it or not, a google image search of seagull does produce an image of a seagull pooping in mid-flight but I did not post that one in case you just had lunch. You’re welcome].

First, seagull management happens a lot.  Out of curiosity, I asked 10 or so friends and colleagues if they had heard of seagull managers.  Less than half were familiar with the term. However, upon being provided a description, every single person reported being victimized by seagull management.  One friend jokingly commented they experience seagull management daily, usually before lunch.  If you think about your work experience, I imagine you also may be able to recall a case or two (or a couple dozen).

Second, continuing on towards the obvious, seagull management is kind of bad. Just a partial subset of the negative effects of this behavior would be:

  • decreased morale
  • damaged employee/manager trust
  • impaired communication system
  • reduced innovation
  • reduced core competencies due to discouragement of employee proactivity or entrepreneurship
  • diminished employee development and potentially avoidant attitudes (i.e. don’t stick your head above the water)
  • increased risk of employee turnover
  • introduction of damaging cultural characteristics.

The list could go on and on. I am stopping there only because the list started to get redundant and I have reached my limit for the number of synonyms for ‘decrease’ and ‘damage’ I can pull off the top of my head.


This is part 1 of a series that will hopefully help us understand how and why this seagull management pattern emerges in real life.  The next 3 posts will cover seagull management in more detail.

  • First, I will describe a situation where I experienced seagull management in a previous job and the influence it had on me personally
  • Embarrassingly, in the second post I will present a situation where I committed a particularly egregious violation of seagull management and briefly discuss how a former victim could possibly transform into a perpetrator.
  • Finally, I will provide a systems-driven analysis of patterns that drive seagull management and why it may be destined to happen more and more frequently moving into future