Updated: Nov 28, 2018
People don’t quit companies. They quit their boss. All the great attributes and qualities of a company will not stop staff leaving when they have a bad boss. Nor will having the greatest job in the world. According to a 2017 Gallup research survey, 75% of resignations are attributed to bad management. A bad boss simply atomises all the goodwill we feel towards our employer. They suck the life from us. They dampen our spirit, destroy our morale and some staff believe dumb them down and take their high performing edge and blunt their talent. I’ve heard staff with bad managers express their fear that they are devolving: literally going backwards in skill and performance due to having a bad boss.
A good boss however, can make us rise above our feelings towards a bad job, or a bad company. A good boss makes us rise above and buy into a vision greater than ourselves and to contribute to something larger and beyond what we can see in our horizon. A good boss has us buying into a vision and our part within it, which transcends our role as we focus on the greater outcome being delivered under that vision.
"Leadership is a potent combination of strategy
and character. But if you must be without
one, be without the strategy." Norman Schwarzkopf
But bad bosses are not always bad people. Sure, sometimes they are and the two go hand in hand but more often than not, a bad boss is that way because of the bad things they do as opposed to being bad within themselves and to their core. Not every bad boss is a psychopath or narcissist. Many, probably most, just don’t know how to manage, let alone lead. Perhaps they themselves were victims of bad bosses, emulating bad boss behaviour. Perhaps it’s fear or lack of confidence. Either way, it boils down to some simple failures: skill, knowledge, application, desire.
The top 8 bad boss types consistently nominated by exiting staff are:
1. The overloader. This boss type promotes the “do more with less” philosophy. They administer cut after cut, loading more responsibility on staff without compromise, resulting in staff having to spend more time, doing more tasks with less resources.
2. The micromanager. Whether it’s due to their perfectionism, need for control, lack of technical knowledge, inferiority, superiority – this type saps higher performers’ morale rapidly.
3. The absentee. While opposite to the micromanager, their effect is the same. Their lack of input, participation, awareness and involvement is destructive leaving staff to fend for themselves.
4. The yes collector. This boss type likes to surround themselves with yes-people. They favour staff who pander, agree, fawn and flatter creating a division from the talented, performers and high achieving staff who get results.
5. The non coach. These bosses don’t develop their staff, manage talent or show interest in the career progression of their staff, sapping morale and spirit.
6. The meeting mismanager. This boss type cannot run effective meetings resulting in chaos, anarchy and morale sapped staff.
7. The it’s-all-about-me manager. This boss type is all about themselves first, the team second. They are above rules, and won’t do what they expect from staff.
8. The no vision / change vision manager. Worse than a boss with no vision is a boss who constantly changes the vision, causing frequent strategic and execution right angle turns leaving staff confused, unappreciated and questioning their confidence.
These 8 boss types kill great jobs, and destroy staff advocacy in their company no matter how great they are. Yet great bosses make us feel like we can fly, soar at unheard of altitudes and perform feats of wonder and great achievement. How do they do it? What is the secret sauce, the magic bag of tricks that great bosses use to achieve this and make us feel this way?
Google has done extensive research on this question for their own company and leadership development and identified the 10 behaviours that their great managers should show, and they fairly well conform with most top 10 lists that you can find around the web.
1. Coaching. Great bosses are great coaches. They put energy into enabling, resourcing and up-skilling their team so they can overcome problems dynamically. They share insights and let experience and success compound.
2. Empowers, not micromanages. Great bosses empower their teams to find their own style, to develop, experiment and achieve the outcome their way for success.
3. Inclusive with concern for success and well-being. Great bosses work to create and maintain trust within and across their teams to foster collaboration, risk taking and promulgation of new ideas.
4. Productive & results-oriented. Great bosses embody the spirit they seek to engender. They walk the talk and lead by example and by demonstration.
5. Good communicator: listens and shares information. Great bosses listen and engender this in their teams to foster understanding. They value transparency, realising the benefits this brings to staff. Praise is shared often and early. Negative feedback is not withheld but given constructively and is easy to learn from.
6. Develops staff and performance. Great bosses are invested in their teams’ success and want their staff to succeed and grow. They don’t hold people back and help them to reach to their goals.
7. Clarity of vision & strategy. Great bosses know where they’re going and why, and make sure their teams aren’t in the dark and know as well. They’re also realistic with expectations for execution and roles required.
8. Technically adept. Great bosses know the job and are well skilled themselves in the core functions.
9. Collaborator. Great bosses don’t create silos, and seeing the bigger picture can work toward the greater goal.
10. Decision maker. Great bosses take charge and can make tough decisions while making sure everyone understands the reasons why. Then they commit to following through, followed quickly by actually doing that. They understand that execution is key, and critical.
Great bosses make us soar with the eagles and achieve great feats. Bad bosses make us head for the hills and run. They destroy morale by stripping away the spirit and dampening the souls of their staff. But how is it then, that in the face of such destruction and negative impact that they can be allowed to continue their wanton march of destruction through the lives, jobs and careers of their staff? Here are some clues:
1. They manage up well. Their own bosses are blind to their style, and have allowed themselves to be hoodwinked into thinking great results are the work of the bad boss, and poor outcomes are purely the fault of the staff. They've had the wool pulled over their eyes.
2. Dysfunctional culture. If the organisations culture is dysfunctional, bad bosses will thrive knowing that their more negative influences will be masked, and their escapades combined with the impact on staff will be camouflaged.
3. Their bosses are worse. Not a sobering thought, but think about your bad boss having worse bosses still? In this case, your boss could be a better version of what lies higher up the organisation. Scary thought, I know.
4. Their bosses don’t know. By being at a distance from the business, their bosses (eg a Board) just don’t know how bad the bad boss is and that action is required. Their ignorance is their bliss and they are totally unaware.
5. Their bosses don’t care. Perhaps their bosses are getting the results they want, so they don’t care about the method used, or the opportunity cost in respect of alternatives. Either way, if they don't care then there are no reigns being pulled to bring the bad boss to heel.
So what do you do if you find yourself with either boss? Well if they're a good boss - stick to them like glue. The sad reality is that they're not common, so when you find one it's like winning the workplace lottery. Value every moment and if possible, run a mentor program with them and take the opportunity to drive your professional development.
A bad boss is harder to deal with. Running from them is an option, and you'd be in good company with 3 out of 4 other people quitting your company doing so for the same reason as you. I found myself in this position once not long after I started a new role with a new company. To my horror my boss turned out to be one of the bad ones. Thankfully the company ran corporate wide staff 360 degree reviews, and my boss was exposed and it triggered their exit from the company to the great relief of the staff. If you're happy in your company and it's big enough, try transferring out to a different team and hope your boss doesn't get transferred to follow you (sometimes you can't help bad luck).
Surveys show that we pick our bosses more than we do roles. Perhaps for many it's unconscious but the research is clear that we gravitate towards the good bosses and recoil from the bad. It's human nature.
Share your experience with bad bosses. What were they bad at? How did you handle it? Have you had a great boss? What made them great? How did you shine while working with them? Leave a comment and share your experience.
About the author: Allan Evans is Founder and CEO of The Solution Engine, with a keen interest in leadership and organisational culture, design and effectiveness. The Solution Engine is a business advisory, consulting and solutions agency helping clients across Australia to create or unlock value in their enterprise with offices in Sydney and Newcastle. For more articles visit The Solution Engine's blog.