Bad bosses are a dime a dozen. Want to know how I know this? Everywhere I work, whether in a for-profit or not-for-profit organization, a Fortune 500 company or a small business, or in the US or outside of it, nothing gets people talking more than a conversation about bad bosses. We’ve all seen them and most of us have worked for at least one of them.
What makes a boss bad? Sometimes it’s inexperience. Sometimes it’s simply incompetence. But, in most cases, it’s about the underlying thought process that drives their behaviors.
So most people will read this article with a particular person in mind. An alternative way is to read it and see if any of the approaches mentioned apply to you. This gives you an opportunity to step out of the footsteps of all the bad bosses that came before you and be something more. However you decide to read the article, here are five prevalent approaches of bad bosses.
- Following a belief that employees are inherently lazy and incompetent. Unfortunately, this often isn’t true. Think about it. Name one employee that works with you that came into their interview thinking, “I’m going to find every way possible to do no real work here and to screw up the work I actually wind up having to do.” Even the worst workers came to the interview table wanting to impress and were excited for the opportunity on their first day of work. That is an ember waiting to be turned into a flame if I’ve ever seen one. The question that has to be asked is what happened to snuff out that ember? What prevented it from burning brightly? Well, if the boss’s assumption was correct that employees are inherently lazy and incompetent, then the logical management style most people would grasp would be to micromanage them. This boss feels like he must oversee each and every employee at every turn or the job will fail to be done. Can you think of anything more effective at preventing a flame from burning brightly than to crowd it and give it no room to breathe?
- A failure to recognize the importance of trust. Trust is the foundation of any healthy relationship—even between boss and employee. Without trust, the employee doesn’t believe the boss has his best interest at heart. Without trust, the employee feels that he’s the only one that will take any action to provide for his security and stability. And, worst of all, the employee may believe that the boss is out to steal the credit for his work and use him as a scapegoat when things go poorly. Does anyone believe that an employee in this position will go above and beyond for this boss or the organization?
- Spending too much time “fixing problems.” To most bosses, a problem is something they will ultimately be held accountable for, especially if it affects the end results or metrics of something. When the problem is an employee’s attitude, work ethic, or ability, it’s magnified. The real issue here isn’t in the fixing of the problem, but in how much time the boss devotes to that action. As an employee, what would you think if your belief was that the only time the boss wanted to meet with you was when there was a problem to be fixed? If you were an average employee, would you want to be like the superstars who went above and beyond if you didn’t see them getting recognized—if the boss didn’t give them time for their heroic efforts? Good bosses are to the point with “problem employees,” spending as little time in that as possible, and, they reallocate that time to visibly thanking and recognizing employees who are tops at the task in question.
- Creating unhealthy “win-lose” scenarios between employees. When, in a meeting, an argument breaks out and the boss pushes back in their seat and just watches, it always reminds me of the cliché of a Roman gladiator tournament. The winner is the one left alive at the end. Even worse is when this type of thing occurs and the boss incites it to higher levels. This is the equivalent of throwing a few hungry lions onto the field for fun. Competition between employees can be healthy, but even the best bosses have to be careful in how this is set up and how it plays out. One of the approaches that bad bosses take is wrapped up in the belief that competition of any kind is good because it pushes employees to perform better. Unfortunately, for many employees, when it becomes evident that they cannot win, they simply put up their protective walls to prevent as much of the hurting as they can from landing on them. This is not good for the short- or long-term of any team’s dynamics.
- Lack of focus on getting employees to want to do what the boss needs them to do. Simply, the effort involved in this is too much for many bosses. For many, it’s easier to intimidate, coerce, or force people to do what they need done. The unfortunate thing here is that it creates a culture where employees only do the required minimum without the immediate pressure of intimidation, coercion, or force by the boss. You can see this the case when the boss is out sick, gone for training, or away for meetings, and there is a distinct drop-off in the quality or amount of work that actually gets done. Or, if the boss is out for any time, they cannot go more than an hour without calling in to try to apply their leadership style long distance. This might get the job done in the short-term, but it isn’t sustainable.
Bad bosses are everywhere. The solution is pretty simplistic, but not easy: Good bosses are simply willing to do those things that bad bosses are unwilling to do. Yes, it’s like that. Bad bosses can put a ceiling on the capabilities of entire organizations. We’d call it a bottleneck, if we were consulting for your organization. Do you have bad bosses at your place of work? Are you one of them? How do they affect the bottom line?