It’s so easy to be a bad boss… and the list of things that make a “Bad boss” is really, really long. Here are my top ten “Bad Boss” characteristics. The list is by no means comprehensive. Be warned, this is an exceptionally long answer.
Be the person who thinks being a good “doer” automatically makes you a good leader. I see this in organizations way too often. You need a sales manager so you promote your best sales agent. Need an IT manager? Promote one of the best engineers. The truth is that being good at doing the job is not the same as being good at leading the people doing the job.Sometimes, you get both skills in the same person, but this is not always the case. Good doers can become bad bosses because they are good doers.Tasks seem very easy to them, and they may have difficulty relating to direct reports who are less competent. When you have someone who should clearly be doing the job stuck behind a desk failing to lead peoplethen you have a recipe for a Bad Boss.
Mistake “leading by example” for “doing the tasks that your team does.”I’ve seen this one a lot from new managers. Employees say all the time that they respect a boss who rolls up their sleeves and gets in the trenches with them. There is a time and a place for that. What I see too often from new managers is that they spend too much time in the trenches. They get buried in the work of their team and they set themselves up for a host of failures. They don’t have the time to dedicate to actual tasks of leadership. Worse, they have difficulty stepping back from the work their team does to take the position of a leader. You set yourself up to be compared to your team, and they measure your aptitude based on your proficiency doing the same tasks they do. That’s not an accurate way to measure a leader, but it’s all your team is left to do. The team thinks your a “Bad Boss” because you aren’t as good of a worker, but your job isn’t to be a worker, it’s to be a leader.
Set a bar that’s too high. Bad bosses do this in all manner of ways. You point to your star player and expect the whole team to be like that person. You only provide positive feedback for things that go above and beyond. You have an exceptionally low tolerance for mistakes. Standards are important and it’s vital to hold your people accountable. At the same time, people aren’t machines, and leaders need to be aware of that. Expectations should be clearly communicated, should be achievable, and the employee needs to have buy in to the expectation. If your employees feel that your standards are too high to achieve, they will stop trying.
Burning the midnight oil at all times. I chase managers out of the office for staying late every night. Managers that are there every day before the staff shows up and are at the same time the last ones to leave every day have problems. There’s a time to dig deep, but it shouldn’t be every day. If you’re digging that deep every day, all the time, you’ve got problems. Either you’re not managing your time well, you’re not delegating well, you’re not managing your workload well (see #2, too much time in the trenches means not enough time for your own tasks) or something else is going wrong. What bad bosses don’t realize is that your team sees this. If you’re always there early and working late, it becomes a barrier to your team approaching you. They don’t want to trouble you with things because you’re obviously too busy. They may also feel guilty for not going above and beyond when clearly you do every day. Further, it can send a message that you don’t trust your team… clearly, you aren’t willing to let them work without you present. If you are in a position where you absolutely have to do this all the time then take your work home. Make a point of visibly leaving on time, take the laptop home and get to work there… your team won’t ever thank you, but they will appreciate it.
Failing to admit responsibility or mistakes. Being a boss is hard. We’re human and we make mistakes too. When we make mistakes, it impacts our teams. There is nothing wrong with apologizing to your direct reports. If you cannot admit your mistakes to them (when confidentiality allows) then how are they ever going to feel comfortable admitting their mistakes to you?
Mistake being liked for being respected. You know what’s easy as a manager? Being liked. You can win popular manager of the month every single month without ever being effective. Take the employee’s side every time. Accept every excuse. Grant every policy over ride. Be your employee’s champion! There are lots of things you can do to be liked but that isn’t the same as being respected. Good managers know when they need to be the bad guy. They know when they need to enforce discipline. When you hold your team accountable, they will respect you. That’s harder to manage than being liked. Liked is easy. Settling for being liked will leave your team in a horrible middle ground of performance where failures are tolerated and no one strives for excellence because of it.
Mistake enforcing discipline for creating genuine accountability.It’s easy to become the tyrant. Write people up, threaten their jobs, and crack the whip! That’s easy. That isn’t accountability. This kind of leadership through fear inspires people to work hard enough to not get fired and to hope their mistakes aren’t caught. They disengage, and they don’t share their struggles for fear that exposing their mistakes will cost them their jobs. Again, if your people can’t approach you and say “I screwed up” without significant fear of reprisal, then their mistakes will surprise you when they are discovered and they will cost you more.
Failing to delegate and demonstrate trust. I alluded to this in #4 but it’s deserving of a point in its own right. If you can’t delegate, hand off tasks, or otherwise demonstrate faith in your team, they begin to feel marginalized and replaceable. People need more than a paycheck to feel engaged at work, they need to feel like their work has meaning. More importantly, they need to feel that they have a way to contribute personally that has value. Bad managers may ‘hold back’ tasks because they feel that their employees already have ‘enough work to do’ but the truth is that giving them an additional responsibility sends a message that you have faith in their ability to execute on that responsibility. It gives them a reason to step up, and that’s important.
Failing to engage with your direct reports on a human level. Managers need to interact with their team as human beings. While everyone tries to leave outside of work stresses at home, that isn’t always possible. If you haven’t connected to your team as human beings, you won’t understand the pressures outside of work that affect their performance at work. Saying “I don’t care what’s going on at home, just do your job” is a sure way to manage an employee out the door, to lose the respect of your team and to be a Bad Boss.
Thinking you have all the answers, and that you have to have all the answers. It’s okay to say “I don’t know.” It’s okay to say “I can’t answer that now, but I’ll go find out.” It’s even okay to say “I can’t make a decision right now, let me think about it and come back to you.” Managers who feel like they already know everything stumble badly when they don’t know what they need to. Managers who dispense uninformed answers not only cause mistakes that are their own fault (see #5) but at the same time, lose the respect of their team. Managers who make snap decisions to appear to be experts make costly mistakes.
Good leadership is harder than it looks. There are lots of well meaning paths that lead to horrible results. That’s why so many people have stories about their “worst boss ever.” I will freely admit to have wandered into many of those traps myself. Fortunately, I’ve had great leaders who have gone before me take the time to be the mentor I’ve needed. If I’m lucky, the tidbits above will help people avoid some of those very same traps.
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