It’s pretty well understood that we learn the most from our worst bosses, in the same way we learn most from our own mistakes. Here’s a look at a few more things I learnt from my worst bosses.
To learn about Traits #1 – #6 see 6 Traits of Bad Bosses – and what to Strive for Instead
#7 Bad bosses are emotionally volatile
We called him Mr Shouty. On any given day, you simply didn’t know which version of the boss was going to come in the door – the nice one, or the monster. He had no ability to regulate his emotional responses, and thought it was acceptable to vent his frustrations on whoever happened to be in the vicinity.
So his people avoided him like the plague. As a consequence, he didn’t find out about things that would have made his job a lot easier. People were too afraid to approach him. His team tried to ‘cope’ for as long as possible before escalating issues because they were scared. You can’t lead if you don’t know what’s going on.
By comparison, great bosses are highly skilled at managing their emotions. This doesn’t mean they don’t have them, or that they aren’t affected by them, but they are able to find appropriate outlets, they understand their own hot-buttons, they have a support network to turn to when they need to, and their own self-awareness (what I would refer to as mindfulness) allows them to create a time-gap between an event (say loss of a major client) and their response. Even if it is as simple as taking three deep breaths.
Sometimes that’s all it takes to put the emotion to one side, deal with the situation, and then resolve the emotional element later – with a bit of distance.
#8 Bad bosses withhold information from their team
Usually this happens when someone’s been promoted to management from a subject-matter-expert role and they haven’t made the transition to leadership at all well. I had a boss who clearly believed that knowledge was power, and he was going to hold all of it until it suited him to dish it out… even if that meant you worked your butt off on a project that had already been cancelled!
Levels of initiative and engagement plummeted, suspicion soared, and team members started behaving the same way – either making up information because the didn’t have any, or harbouring what information they did have and not sharing it with team-mates who needed to know.
Great bosses communicate information as soon as they can, especially when they know it is relevant for delivery of results. Yes, life is busy, and it can sometimes be hard to get the message across in a timely way, AND it’s extra work. But knowledge is the oil that keeps an organisation running smoothly – ignore this at your peril.
#9 Bad bosses talk more than they listen
You know the type… you can’t get a word in edge-wise. You just wanted to let them know about something that happened on the project, and you’re getting chapter and verse about their own experience, what they did, what they would do, what you should do, how busy they are…
Great bosses, by comparison, listen more than they speak. This requires discipline, humility, patience and most of all, a genuine interest in other people. Without taking the time to listen, you can never get vital information about culture, engagement, performance and you can’t build empathy/compassion for your people, because you don’t understand what makes them tick.
#10 Bad bosses demand obedience
They don’t want to know about your great idea, they don’t want the information you have about why that approach won’t work. They know best, and it’s their way or the highway. Sometimes this comes from a lack of experience – and sometimes it stems from jaded ‘over-experience’. Either way the result is the same. Team members feel like cogs in a poorly designed machine – not living breathing humans with great ideas, passion and enthusiasm!
Great bosses understand their own limitations, and just as importantly, understand that they are fallible and
can do make mistakes. Consequently, they value their team’s input to problem solving, and understand that not only is the solution likely to be stronger as a consequence of having more ‘heads’ working on it – the execution will be better too.
#11 Bad bosses have ‘favourites’
Whether intentional or not, some bosses have favourites, and these individuals seem to get better things… better pay, better projects, better perks, first choice of the window seat in the move… This does terrible things for morale – including for the supposed favourites! In an ideal world, this favouritism would at least be based on performance, but usually it isn’t – it’s random and arbitrary. Which leaves everyone wondering what’s going on. If your staff are trying to earn your favour, they aren’t going to bring you the important information you need to hear, and they will be distrustful and suspicious of their colleagues.
On the other hand, great bosses treat everyone fairly, because they take the time to get to know their team – whether they’re ‘a-players’ or ‘c-players’. Ultimately, they understand that everyone’s contribution is essential to success, and that team’s thrive on diversity and trust. Harvard Business Review has done an excellent analysis of the perils of playing favourites, and have some excellent tips on how to ensure you don’t slip into this dangerous pitfall…
#12 Bad bosses put themselves before the team… and the organisation
I had a boss a few years ago who spent so much time covering her own butt, it was a wonder anything got done. Her entire approach to our work was to uber-manage the risk of something going wrong and being tracked back to her. She wouldn’t sign off on things, she didn’t make decisions, she handled all the high-profile stuff if it would make her look good, and handed it off as a ‘development opportunity’ if she was worried it might back-fire.
Consequently, a bunch of really great alternative ideas were never implemented, system and process improvements didn’t occur, and team members left the organisation in droves…
Great bosses? They know they are only as successful as the team around them – not just their direct reports, but also their peers and colleagues across the organisation. They own their mistakes, give other people credit, and ultimately do what is in the best interests of the organisation… which sometimes means they take one for the team, and resign. Nobody said being the boss was easy.
What other traits have you witnessed in a bad boss? What’s your worst experience of a poor manager? Let me know in the comments below.