In the 2011 movie Horrible Bosses, the main characters declare, “Our lives would be better if our bosses weren’t alive!” Showing blatant hostility, trickery, sexual harassment, discrimination, and abuse, the bosses in that film are, if not complete caricatures of terrible managers, then certainly at the far side of reality’s spectrum. Yet still, bad bosses do exist, and even if they aren’t dragging a department or a company completely down, they are surely keeping the unit from truly thriving. While a good boss can inspire a team, instill loyalty, and motivate hard work by making each employee feel valued, a bad one can just as readily generate an environment of discord, cyclical abuse, mistakes, blame, and intolerance—and that supervisor can definitely create a revolving door. Below are some examples of bad bosses and how they act.
1. The Baseball-Cap Leader. This person takes a one-size-fits-all approach to management without thinking about what might be best for the team—or for any given individual. He is inflexible, often unwilling to try new things, and usually unable to see things from other people’s perspectives. He tends to alienate his employees, who will eventually feel undervalued.
2. The Poker Player. With guarded eyes, this manager holds her cards close to her chest. She thinks that knowledge is power and doles information out sparingly, if at all. She is secretive about good news, bad news, and employee performance, unless she sees any of those things as important to her own career—in which case, she’ll lay that ace high on the table, surprising everyone in the game.
3. The “Do as I Say…” Guy. In late, out early, behind with time entry, seldom available (even when he’s physically at the office), not collaborative, and selfish, this manager expects the opposite from his staff and is baffled when he doesn’t get it. Citing clearly communicated employee expectations (and pointing to the orientation handbook, staff meetings, performance reviews, and memos), he will discipline quickly, thinking himself justified, yet will be unable to see declining morale, swiftly reduced loyalty, and increasing mistrust.
4. Superman. This manager is invulnerable—at least, in his own mind. He blames his failures on others and takes credit for his staff’s work; he seldom invests in self-examination and rarely takes steps to improve his own performance, particularly where his leadership style is concerned. This leader’s employees tend to feel downtrodden, as though they can do no right.
5. The “Dropped Call” Leader. This manager is a bad communicator. Sure, she might be great at sending an email to outline a task, drafting a memo to set new-hire expectations, and calling regular staff meetings to hand down information. But, due to some sort of “interference,” she tends not to hear what others say to her—she misses half of the conversation. This leader makes snap judgments about staff members, often engages in multitasking during one-on-one meetings, and seldom veers from her action plan because she’s not actually heard any reason to do so. Her employees feel marginalized and unappreciated, and they often let good ideas languish for lack of receptive management support.
6. The High School Gossip. This leader is insidious because he’s actually rather abusive. In one-on-one or even group meetings, he shares information about other employees’ failures—perhaps thinking he can help everyone else avoid the pitfall. However, he’s creating a culture of fear-mongering, which, instead of building employees, breaks them down, peer level out. As a Journal of Psychology study shows, that can lead to a “greater lack of confidence in the company as a whole.”
Not all managers, supervisors, or bosses are good leaders. As Simon Sinek said in a March 2014 Ted Talk about good leaders, “Leadership is a choice. It is not a rank.” If more companies could learn to cultivate leaders rather than just promote by seniority, help those leaders make good choices, and cull out the bad behaviors, they would see less turnover, higher engagement, and ultimately better performance—and, with time, develop even better leaders.