11 Ways to be a Bad Boss, and 5 Ways to Become a Better One

Almost half of Americans say they’ve worked for a mean boss. One-fifth of Americans find their workplace hostile or threatening, and more than half say they work under “unpleasant” conditions.

And those numbers don’t include those afraid to speak up.

These days, more attention is being focused on “bad bosses,” especially men who take advantage of their position, like billionaire Steve Wynn who just last month resigned as finance chairman of the Republican National Committee after allegations surfaced that he had sexually harassed his casino employees. Perhaps due to momentum from the #MeToo movement, social media’s nurture of self-expression, or Millennial mistrust of hierarchy, employees are becoming less tolerant of bad boss behavior and more willing to speak up.

That means bosses need to change.

According to the Bad Boss Index, a 2017 study conducted by Bamboo HR, here are the top ten things (plus one more) bad bosses do. They:

  1. Take credit for stuff they didn’t do.
  2. Don’t appear to trust or empower their employees.
  3. Don’t seem to care if their people are overworked.
  4. Don’t advocate for employee compensation.
  5. Hire and/or promote the wrong people.
  6. Don’t back employees up when there’s a dispute between an employee and one of the company’s clients.
  7. Don’t provide proper direction on assignments/roles.
  8. Micromanage employees and don’t allow them the “freedom to work.”
  9. Focus more on employee weaknesses than strengths.
  10. Don’t set clear expectations.
  11. 31% of the women studied said their boss acted inappropriately, causing them to leave.

Why do bosses do these things? What’s driving these dopey, dysfunctional, destructive behaviors?

Perhaps it’s a fear of showing weakness. The guy culture that usually prevails in management circles demands leaders be strong…or seem so if they’re not. This leads to leaders bossing people around, trying to dominate. And bosses are afraid of looking weak if they admit they don’t know something. Which, of course, makes them look weak. Finally, many bad bosses fear failing – which leads to temper tantrums, micromanaging and disempowering employees. All of which will result in reduced productivity – the opposite of what you’re supposed to be doing as a boss.

It’s all about fear. That’s the toll guy culture extorts, especially from men.

No one sets out to be a bad boss. People want to do well. But it’s hard to see ourselves as others do, and it’s hard to admit fear. The good news/bad news is that in the current environment, you, the boss, really have no choice.

To become a good boss, you need to ask how many of the eleven characteristics of the bad boss sound like you. Then you need to talk with your employees and, more importantly, listen to them. You need to understand the impact of your bad behavior and see this as a motivator for change. Sometimes, this happens when someone takes a complaint about you up the chain of command.

Good Guy, Bad Guy

Evan was a VP at a national healthcare company. He was a favorite of the CEO. He was young, and hard-charging, and fit in well with the guys. He was a major producer; he brought home the bacon. Evan’s challenge was with everybody else.

Evan liked to party hard. When he did, he said stupid stuff to the wrong people. The people who reported to him saw him as a bully.

Finally, someone wrote a letter to the president saying Evan had created a “hostile work environment.” Evan never tried to make connections with the people who reported to him, and when he did, he did so badly. Especially with women. Reportedly, he had asked a few women when they were planning to have kids, and whether their husbands made good money. At a team cooking event, he stuck a baguette down his pants. You get the picture.

Evan no doubt thought he was being a fun guy, and who wouldn’t want to work for a fun guy? The trouble was that he had forgotten he was a leader, and the people he was supposed to lead were running away from him as fast as they could.

The human resources VP contacted a coach right away. Evan was asked to engage with a professional leadership coach for six months. Fortunately, he was embarrassed and humbled by what had happened. He was willing to change. And that’s the first and most important step.

5 Steps to Becoming a Better Boss

  1. Seek feedback about what you are doing that doesn’t work through a 360-degree assessment. A real one. Listen to what people are saying about you without becoming defensive or argumentative.
  2. Deal with this feedback directly; don’t discount it or blame others. Be accountable for how others perceive you, whether you agree with it or not.
  3. Take immediate action. Identify 2-3 quick changes you can make in your behavior and approach. Try this: For thirty days, offer three appreciations every day to people you work with. Or, try delegating one task every week, and really let go of it.
  4. Make your efforts public. Share what you heard in the 360-degree review with your team and tell them what you are going to do about it.
  5. Have someone hold you accountable to make the needed changes (your boss, your coach, your team).

To become a better boss (which will mean improved performance that will redound to your credit), take the feedback people have about you seriously.

We can all do better. It’s the right thing to do and it’s good business.

By Dede Henley