We wrote a lot about good leadership, from understanding the basics of being a leader to the consequences to expect from being a good leader.
We also discussed at length why being a manager is not enough, and the reasons why good managers should do their best to become leaders.
Great leaders are a rare commodity, and good managers are not so frequent either.
The majority are neutral – they’re just there, doing the best they can – which is often not that much:
If they don’t give their associates the gnack to go conquer the world, at least they let them go with their daily routine without bothering them too much.
The real issue is the bad manager.
Before we look in details at what makes a bad boss, let’s ask ourselves what does make a great boss? The answer is easy:
It’s the ability to deliver results by teasing the very best out of their workforce.
Few reports explain why bad bosses are the cause for most employee frustration at work:
For instance, a 2011 Accenture study describes the main reasons why associates leave their jobs:
“The old saying, which is still true, is that people quit bosses, not organizations,” says Robert Sutton, a professor at Stanford University.
As discussed in an earlier article, there have also been clear links drawn between likeable bosses and financial performance.
A 2002 Gallup study looked at 36 companies and found that, as employees’ satisfaction with their jobs increased, so did customer satisfaction, productivity and profit.
Furthermore, employees’ turnover lowered dramatically.
“One implication is that changes in management practices that increase employee satisfaction may increase business-unit outcomes, including profit,” the researchers concluded.
To summarize, a good boss matters.
A bad boss endangers the company.
The main question now is:
Why so many firms (may I dare say ‘the great majority of them’?) are managed at all levels – from CEOs to middle management - by bad bosses?
Robert Sutton believes that it comes from the old way of conducting businesses that put more emphasis on immediate profits than investing in people able to bring long-term benefits.
“There’s still a lot of companies that focus on money too much, and there’s some evidence that they tend to drive out talented folks,” Sutton adds.
What are the bad boss attributes?
The bad manager only 'vision' is to bring more money in, no matter of what.
Of course, every corporation aim is to be profitable.
Without a real vision, the bad boss might not see that the race to immediate profit might eventually lead to a dead-end that might jeopardize even more their company.
Furthermore, no team can be motivated exclusively by the pursue of company’s profits.
They need a higher reason to work hard, and only then profits will come.
Decisions based on emotions
This is often the consequence of the previous point:
A vision is a map that allows good managers to make decisions.
Without a vision, the bad boss doesn’t have a roadmap – often disregarding their subordinates’ -, and therefore make decisions that could very well contradict the choices they made themselves the week, when not a couple of days, before – even without realizing it.
The sky is blue? All goes well, the bad boss is happy.
Few clouds appear on the horizon? They immediately decide to change direction – even if it destroys months of work.
The sun shines again? They don’t ‘understand’ why their subordinates recently changed direction – the bad boss will not acknowledge (realize?) their inconsistency.
Doubting associates’ competences
Again, this goes together with the previous point.
And again, it is very much related to the ‘weather’ conditions.
The bad boss wants to micromanage all hiring.
(Micromanagement is also a very common bad managers’ trait)
Which means they are eventually personally responsible for any single recruitment.
Nevertheless, as soon as the wind blows too strongly or the sky is too dark, they immediately doubt their employees’ competencies, re-checking their CVs and references (which they already did upon recruitment), doubting that they made the right choice.
A good manager, on the other hand, would know that there is no time for doubt in turbulent weather, and that a good boss is by the side of their associates, supporting them to final victory; not doubting them - as the latter eventually leads to demotivated workforce and best talents loss.
Policies first, people later
Bad managers are hiding behind a set of policies – actual or invented as per the needs of the moment.
Bad bosses are often insecure and / or immature; they see policies like high walls behind which they can hide and defend themselves – their very own fortress.
These policies are not designed to protect the firm and its employees as satisfied associates means successful company (as the above-mentioned Gallup report highlights), but to shield the bad manager.
Unfortunately, these rules are often counterproductive as they go against their workforce best interest.
By doing so, bad bosses demotivate their workforce, and undermine their performances.
The bad manager is not a ‘fact checking’ adept!
They often make decisions based on what they feel are facts, without ever taking the time to verify if they are wrong or right.
Frequently, their assumptions are based on what their think their own bosses will want to hear:
The bad manager is much too regularly an unfair tyrant to their subordinates – without being necessarily a bully -, and a courtesan to their superiors.
The bad boss reads and knows that they should allow their direct subordinates to discuss their decisions, and even criticize them.
Unfortunately, the ‘open door policy’ is limited to their office door being opened, and the level of criticism their associates should allow themselves to should be limited to their boss’ tie color – if it is not his favorite!
We’ve seen earlier that the bad boss makes decisions based on ‘the weather’, not on non-arguable facts.
These new decisions may wipe-out entirely what a team may have been working on for months.
The bad manager never considers, even for an instant, what will be their latest decisions impact on the relevant team.
The Bad manager decides (because that’s what a boss is expected to do, right?).
How that decision will translate to the team in terms of workload, delays on other projects, etc. doesn’t cross their mind.
Because they couldn’t care less.
To summarize, a bad boss really doesn’t care for his team, and therefore the company (even if they would argue that they have their firm best interest at heart), as they care only for themselves.
The real issue is that many bad managers think of themselves, and their own profits in terms of high salary and bonuses and other side advantages, before considering their employees and firm' long-term benefits.
They know they are not liked, but they do not know why; they live far away from the true reality of their firm.
They are their company’s major threat.