Over the course of a long career I have worked with and for many, many people. As I reflect on the bosses I have had it is easy to create a list of those I considered to be good bosses and those I considered to be bad bosses.
But I have also always felt that you can, and should, learn from everyone. Whether you consider that they are good, bad or indifferent there are behaviours and qualities that you can see in every person.
Everyone can share similar stories, again both good and bad. It’s how you react, adapt, adopt, avoid, change, and deal with these behaviours that is important.
You almost never get to choose who the boss is that you are going to work for. That decision is made by others. You may be in an existing job and your boss is changed. You may get promoted or moved laterally and you get a new boss. And you may move to a new company wherein everyone is new to you, your boss included.
In some circumstances your new boss’ reputation may proceed them. Or they have be previously unknown to you. Regardless I have always thought that you should give that person your full support and a fair chance.
But over time you can’t help but to notice behaviours as your boss deals with you, with your peers, and with your employees. When those behaviours are positive it can be inspirational and motivational. When those behaviours are negative it can be demoralizing. I have also found that bad behaviours reinforce my belief that I will not emulate, endorse, or support those behaviours in the way that I conduct myself.
So what are some of the bad behaviours that I have witnessed? What are the bad behaviours that I avoid at all costs?
1. Talking about people behind their backs
You are in a meeting and someone you work with is either not there or who has left the meeting. And then it starts. Your boss starts to criticize that person in front of everyone else in the room. They insult them and put them down.
The key lesson for me here is that if your boss is willing and capable of talking about that person behind their back then you must assume that your boss will do the same to you. This creates an environment of distrust which is poisonous.
2. Insulting individuals in a group setting
Things can certainly go wrong on the job. Problems arise, issues occur and unplanned events come up. How you react in that situation says a lot about your character. I have seen bosses who absolutely lose it in a group setting. They start insulting people, putting them down, and questioning their competency.
While the boss thinks they are sending a message to that person all that they are doing is telling everyone else that the boss is a jerk. Everyone resents what the boss is doing to the person that is being targeted. And everyone knows that the boss could turn on them at any instant.
Everyone makes mistakes. And everyone can learn from those mistakes. Always provide constructive criticism and always do it one on one wherever possible.
3. Taking Credit for work that you have done
You’ve worked very hard on a project. You are getting results. And then your boss gathers up your presentation materials and presents it to upper management as their own work, leaving you out entirely. This is underhanded behaviour at best.
4. Covering their own ass
When problems do arise where is your boss? Is your boss standing out in front taking one for the team or is the boss hiding and leaving you exposed and unprotected?
A lack of support inhibits anyone taking risks or making the bold decisions and moves needed to make transformational change. Not every action is going to work. But if you are at risk every time you try something with no support then how much risk are you going to take in the future?
For my part I like to agree with my boss on the objectives that are to be achieved and then have my boss get out of my way. I don’t want to be micro managed. And I don’t micromanage. You have to empower your people, and be empowered, and trust in people to get the work done.
You should provide some forum so that people can solicit your help when they want your help, not when you want to give help. People will only grow and develop if you give them the room to do so. As the saying goes if you want to feed someone for a day then give them a fish; if you want to feed them for life them teach them to fish.
6. No Recognition/Misplaced Recognition
When you work hard you want some form of acknowledgement for the work that you are doing. It could be a simple thank you. Or it could be something more tangible. Whatever the situation the most frustrating thing is doing great work and receiving no recognition at all. Or even worse seeing some else get recognized for something that they either didn’t do, that you did, or that is much less significant than your accomplishments.
Bosses who are out of touch with what is going on will not see this but it does undermine their credibility.
7. Making False Promises/Commitments
There can be many difficult circumstances in the workplace. And you often need to talk with your boss to get help to discuss or address these issues. At times like these you need to be able to get open, honest support. What you do not need is your boss making promises to do something without any intent or ability to back up those commitments.
It’s better to tell someone that you will either try or that you won’t be able to make something happen as opposed to making false promises. Honesty is the best approach.
8. Focus on Physical Characteristics
I have seen bosses who are happy to openly comment on how employees are dressed, how their hair is worn, etc. There are certainly extreme, and rare, circumstances such as personal hygiene where it is appropriate to talk to individuals one on one, for their own benefit.
But I have seen this happen in a group setting with people who are very professionally dressed and presented, yet the boss takes exception to the way they look or how much they weigh. There is NO room for this condescending and offensive behaviour in the workplace.
9. Unable to create a strategy, articulate objectives or get things done
You expect that your boss has a tremendous amount of experience that you can learn from and that will move your organization forward. Yet I have experienced bosses who don’t know how to get anything done. They can’t even articulate a coherent strategy. This can certainly be more difficult if someone has been recruited in to your company because they are supposedly bringing a set of successful skills with them.
Bad Bosses in Conclusion
We have articulated some of the bad behaviours that we have seen over the years. There are many, many more. It doesn’t seem to matter how well-educated or trained someone is because we’ve seen these bad behaviours in people at all levels of an organization.
So what are the bad behaviours that you have experienced from your boss? What lessons have you learned from these bad behaviours and how do you make sure that you don’t repeat these terrible ways of being?
Remember you can learn from everyone. And what you can learn from bad bosses is how to not repeat the poor behaviours that they demonstrate.