6 Traits of Bad Bosses & what to Strive for Instead

I recently had the opportunity to catch up with an old friend and former colleague who has just started his first chief executive role.  He’d invited me to share any insights I had from my own experience transitioning from senior manager to CE.  What an excellent question!  It created an opportunity for me to reflect on my own leadership journey – from two perspectives:

  • How my first few months as a new CE felt; and
  • What I had learnt from my own bosses along the way

As I reflected, I was reminded of the old truism: you learn more about leadership from your bad bosses – who clarify what not to do, than you do from your great bosses.

This is Part One of a two part series.  Traits #7 to #12 are available at 6 MORE Traits of Bad Bosses – and what to Strive for Instead

#1 Bad bosses are aloof

Aloof Bad Bosses
Photo: Pixabay/Manuchi

I had one boss who pigeon-holed me based on my job title before she met me.  Nothing I did could change her view that my skills only suited the role I was already in.  As she brought people onto the team to do roles that I could have done, my confidence plummeted.  My role was an accident of fate – I was the only person standing after a major IT service failed, and I wanted to help out in whatever way the organisation needed.  But when the dust settled, a decent conversation with me to find out what my skills were could have made a real difference, both to my own engagement and to the success of the whole project.

Great bosses get to know their staff.  They actively explore their team-members motivations and what makes them tick.  And as a consequence, their staff feel respected, valued and engaged.  Ultimately, great bosses are able to make changes within the team that play to everybody’s strengths, to the benefit of everyone.

#2 Bad bosses micromanage

If a bad boss delegates (which they almost always do less often than they should) he or she almost certainly delegates the solution rather than the problem – outlining how the work is to be done, rather than what the goal is.

Great bosses can micromanage, if they have to.  But it isn’t their default position.  Great bosses are highly skilled at situational management – they assess the scale of the task, the capability of the individual, and establish their own risk tolerance for failure before they delegate.  In other words, if they hand over responsibility, and they have a level of comfort with the skills of the individual, they will expect the individual to problem solve and work through their own process.

In fact, in some circumstances, they will expect the individual to drop the ball – because they know it’s a great way to learn.

#3 Bad bosses gossip

Bad Bosses gossip
Photo: Pixabay/Jraffin

I had a boss early in my career who spent most of our one on one meetings complaining about my peers.  Initially, I was quite excited to be trusted – to be in her confidence.  It was exhilarating.  However it wasn’t long before I began to feel uncomfortable.  I knew things I would’ve preferred not to, and I began to worry that she was having similar discussions about me in their  one on one meetings.

Great bosses have integrity.  They never say anything about someone that they would not say directly to that person.  They maintain confidences, and focus on the task at hand, rather than the personalities at play.

#4 Bad bosses blame others for mistakes and missteps

Including their own.  These bosses often gain a reputation for being ‘teflon coated’:  that shit doesn’t stick.  No matter how deeply embroiled they were in a project that goes wrong, there is always someone else more at fault than them.  They also have an uncanny knack for switching roles just before the proverbial hits the fan.

Great bosses, by comparison, own their mistakes – and those of their team-members – and focus on what can be learnt and how to make it right.  In doing so they strengthen the resilience of their team and create a culture of continuous improvement.

#5 Bad bosses think they’re brilliant

I’m currently reading Insight: The Power of Self-Awareness in a Self-Deluded World by Tasha Eurich.  It’s great!  But my favourite bit is right on the front cover, courtesy of a review from Chip Heath:

“Fascinating… buy a copy for yourself and another to leave, anonymously, on your boss’s desk”

We’ve all had that boss – absolutely convinced he or she is the greatest leader to walk upon this earth…  And yet they so obviously aren’t.

Great bosses, on the other hand, practice humility.  They seek feedback and constructive criticism.  They don’t assume they are the smartest guy or girl in the room.  They make space for other people’s views and actively seek out ways to give other people the opportunity to shine.

 #6 Bad bosses are self-promoting

I had one boss who never missed an opportunity to take credit for great results in a way that made it seem that he was entirely responsible for the success.  I’m not even sure he knew he was doing it.  The worst part is that we were all in the room!  He was so confident that none of us would speak up to correct him that he would even list specific tasks that he (hadn’t) completed and information he (hadn’t) learnt along the way that had actually been completely the responsibility of someone else!

The end result was that we felt disrespected and undervalued.  If he hadn’t also been in a position of power, we would almost certainly have tried to find a way to let him fail.  We certainly weren’t about to go ‘above and beyond’ for him.

Great bosses, by comparison, seldom take credit.  And if they must (or risk being rude) they always reflect most of the kudos back to the team.   As a result, they have people clamouring to work for them, and loyalty that cannot be bought.


Traits #7 to #12 are available at 6 MORE Traits of Bad Bosses – and what to Strive for Instead

4 thoughts on “6 Traits of Bad Bosses & what to Strive for Instead”

    • Hi Justin,
      I couldn’t possibly comment on the political choices of other countries ?
      But yes, all roles, all levels – it can happen anywhere!
      Thanks so much for stopping by – hope to see you again soon!


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