What Makes a Bad Boss Bad?
Top 12 Characteristics of a Bad Boss According to Readers
Nothing sparks more commentary than asking about what makes a manager a bad boss. From a former website poll and its lengthy comments thread, some common themes in reader responses describe the characteristics that make a bad boss—really bad.
Want to avoid becoming a bad boss? Afraid that you may already be considered a bad boss? Just want to commiserate with other people who have had bad bosses?
Consensus doesn't exist, of course, because bad bosses come in so many different sizes and variations.
What one person counts as a bad boss may not resonate with a coworker who needs different kinds of attention from her boss.
There are also bad bosses who stumble into this territory because they fail to provide clear direction, regular feedback, recognition for contributions, and a goal setting strategic framework that enables employees to see progress.
Other bad bosses are bullies. They are nasty, they name call, and employees can never do enough to please them. On the far end of bad, bosses may harass, physically challenge, and throw objects at employees.
But, several themes occurred most frequently in the comments received from readers over the years. These are worth noting because they reflect real life experience with bosses you would call bad.
Here are your thoughts about what makes a bad boss, well—bad.
What Do Bad Bosses Do?
Bad bosses, in order of their frequency in the reader comments thread, do the following.
- Love brownnosers, tattletales, and relatives who report to them. They choose favorite employees and cover up and make excuses for the poor work of their incompetent favorites. They ignore selected people and discriminate against many employees. They tend to give their favorites better schedules and assignments, more attention, and pal around with them outside of work.
- Fail to communicate, and may not even have clear expectations, timelines or goals. Bad bosses change their minds frequently leaving employees off-balance. Bad bosses change expectations and deadlines frequently. Employees have trouble knowing where they stand and whether they're meeting expectations. Employees fail to feel a sense of accomplishment when expectations don't exist.
- Use disciplinary measures inappropriately when simple, positive communication would correct the problem. Bad bosses ignore employees until there is a problem, then pounce. They seek out the guilty when they want to correct a problem.
- Speak loudly, rudely, one-sidedly to staff. Bad bosses don't provide the air time for staff to respond to accusations and comments. They intimidate people and bully staff. They allow other employees to bully employees.
- Take credit for the successes and positive accomplishments of employees. They are equally as quick to blame employees when something goes wrong. They throw employees under the bus loudly and in public.
- Fail to provide rewards or recognition for positive employee performance.
These six were the top bad boss characteristics cited by readers. The following came up less frequently but were contributed by more than one reader.
The bad boss:
- Is not qualified for the boss job by either skills or experience. The bad boss doesn't know how to lead and interact effectively with people.
- Will not let go of problems or mistakes. The bad boss returns to discuss negative events continually and searches for faults in employees.
- Will not accept constructive feedback and suggestions for improvement. The bad boss can't deal with disagreement from employees who have their own opinions about work-related issues.
- Lacks integrity, breaks promises, and is dishonest. Bad bosses make up stories when they don't know the answer to an employee's question and they are too lazy to find out.
- Does not have the courage to deal with a difficult situation despite knowing that it is the right thing to do.
- Causes dissension among staff members by his or her actions and comments.
Reader comments also made the point that a lot of bad boss behavior is enabled, or at least allowed, by the boss's bad boss. These comments provide a snapshot about what employees believe makes a bad boss. Listen and learn or listen and commiserate.
Have you decided that it's time to do something about your bad boss? You have some options in an organization. You can consider these recommended options. You can avoid being the target of a workplace bully.
You can decide that your actions might justify some of the boss's bad behavior and try to bolster the relationship for the common good. You can solicit help from your HR staff. Ultimately, you can try to fire your bad boss. Understand that this is a risky path that may end up with you losing. So don't start down this path unless you're willing to lose your job.
Ready to Leave Your Really Bad Boss?
These resources will assist you to move on—or not. It really is your choice if nothing else you've tried is working. You deserve a good boss.
“Servants don’t know a good master until they have served a worse,” (Aesop). By the tender age of eighteen, most people have had a job. Whatever that job was, the kind of master –boss encountered most likely made a big difference in how work performance is perceived and what constitutes a good or a bad boss. The collaborative relationship or lack there of, between an employee and employer is a contributing factor when measuring whether or not one has been successful. In these encounters one invariably learns the difference between a good or a bad boss. When comparing leadership capability of bosses, it is important to consider communication, collaboration, and people skills to determine their ability to succeed. Good bosses communicate with their employees effectively, while bad bosses are poor communicators. All bosses differ in their communication style. Some bosses like e-mail while others like face-to-face contact. Employees need communication from their bosses to make good decisions and to make sure a job is being done to specification. For example, a project is due in a week’s time; there are three different ways to complete this project, but there is only one way from management’s point of view.
A good boss will take the time to explain clearly how he or she wants this job to be done; he or she will show the employee the correct way to do the job so the employee does not second guess himself. How a boss communicates with the employee has a major impact on their performance. Good bosses inspire and motivate the people they lead, encourage them to give feedback, and avoid launching into arguments or becoming angry when they think an employee is wrong. A bad boss on the other hand is withdrawn; he or she does not seem to care if their employees perform to their highest standard, and give neither time nor priority to listening as long as they get the job done. For example, an employee is doing a job that he or she could do much more effectively with a little guidance; instead of the boss communicating with the employee, he allows the employee to complete the job and does not show the employee anything.
Bad bosses do not feel it necessary to tell the employees anything about the bottom line or how the company is doing, he or she does not care about the well being of the employee or how they are performing in their jobs. They just do not communicate, and rarely show any emotion-good or bad. A good boss collaborates with employees, bad bosses are selfish. During one’s working career, one will have many bosses with varying leadership styles and interpersonal skills. Despite the disparity of personalities, the collaborative relationship the boss has with the employees is significant and the effects long lasting. Working well with the employees requires a concerted effort to obtain the knowledge and skills forming the foundation of a mutually beneficial relationship. A good boss knows that improving collaboration with the employees is essential to the advancement and completion of doing a good job. He or she will work with employees to achieve goals and complete projects.
If working on an assembly line, a good boss will take the place of an absent employee and do the exact job that employee was doing. Conversely, a bad boss does not know the meaning of team. He will show a lack of interest in the well–being of the people he leads, and he will be prone to be demeaning and disrespectful. He or she will take the credit for a job done well without any acknowledgement to the employees that actually completed the work. When things do not go as planned, bad bosses will place the blame on anyone but themselves, they tend to find it easy to blame wasteful work systems, processes, and staff members for their inability to meet company wide goals and performance standards. Good bosses exhibit good people skills; however, with bad bosses it’s all about them. A good boss will go out of his way to accommodate an employee. Even when reprimanding an employee they will always give them a chance to explain and tell their side of the story.
A good boss will tell an employee not to take it personally and take the time to explain that everyone has a bad day. As opposed to a bad boss who does not care about what the employee is feeling, he or she just wants the job done-no questions asked. Bad bosses tend to flaunt their rank and make sure the employees have no doubt about who the boss is. He or she will never get in the trenches with the employees as this is beneath him. When employees do a good job and are recognized by others, the bad boss wants all of the glory. On the other hand, if he or she is being recognized they do not share the spotlight with the employees. Bad bosses have a false sense of security, they feel that what they are doing is fine as long as upper management does not hold them responsible or accountable for actions or positive change, and things remain in a constant state of confusion for the employees. In the business world, good bosses are an asset to any company.
They appreciate what their employees do and do not mind getting in the trenches with them. The turnover rate in the workplace would be much lower if all companies had bosses that were competent, compassionate and fair. Although there may be as many good bosses as there are bad, it is likely that most bosses are a bit of both, ‘swinging both ways’ so to speak. To have a boss that makes employees realize that they have more ability than they thought they had so they do better work than they thought they could, versus a boss that negatively impacts the work environment by fostering high levels of employee frustration, stress, resentment, and unnecessary labor turnover makes all the difference between a successful and unsuccessful company. When given a choice, most people if not all would choose a good boss over a bad boss every time.
During the working career, one will have many bosses with varying leadership skills and interpersonal styles. Despite the difference in personalities, the collaborative relationship you have with your boss can be significant and the effects long-lasting. Whether the boss is good or bad, some boss-employee relationships can withstand the test of time. Forming a harmonious and productive relationship with the boss can be good but is not always possible. Every boss brings with them different personalities, backgrounds and challenges. The bottom line is in all successful companies the leaders possess a certain degree of collaboration, communication and good people skills. At the end of the day in a successful company the bottom line is really what matters.
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