Recognizing Bad Bosses

Most people today work for someone else, their boss. A good boss can make a big difference to your work assignment. A bad boss can make your life a living nightmare. There is no scoring range that applies to the boss but there are scales of leadership that apply to bosses. Each is a pair of qualities that scale from least desirable behavior to the best. These qualities can be applied to bosses based on their attention to the organization, the staff and the business operations.

The qualities do not define a perfect boss, a good boss or a poor one. It is possible to have a great boss who is unapproachable, for example, but this is likely rare. A good or great boss will have have more of the positive qualities and less, (or none), of the negative ones. As an employee, you can rate your boss on each of the qualities to see how you believe your boss is doing.

If you are a boss, you can rate yourself and strive to improve those areas that you honestly consider to be your negatives. Most organizations do not support bottom up evaluations, official ratings of bosses by workers. Those organizations that do support the concept are likely to make the process quite anonymous or general. This can be useful for trend analysis of employee feelings but it rarely effects better managerial performance. Instead, it is likely to be met with skepticism and even scorn from the workers when little positive results are seen.

Comparison of Traits

In your career, you should strive to have bosses who personify more of the traits in the left column below, rather than the right.

Bully Friend
Control freak Collaborative
Disengaged Engaged
Disinterested Interested
Egomaniac Partner
Harmful Helpful
Ineffective Effective
Isolated Friendly
Managing above Concern for employees
Micro-manager Empower
Negative Positive
Poor Great
Unapproachable Approachable
Unproductive Productive
Unqualified Qualified
Weak Powerful

Bosses who want to have a more productive staff should try to move their own traits from the "Less Desirable" column to the "More Desirable" column. This isn't always possible to do, of course, but if you strive toward the positive as a goal, you will have better success.

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Top Managerial Questions

Why is it hard to attract talented applicants?

Word gets around that certain organizations are less satisfying to work for. In times of economic hardship, this is less true as more people are looking for jobs of any kind. The organization may have had trouble getting talented applicants but sees a temporary period where this is less true. When more talented applicants are hired but they don't stay for long, the boss and worker relationships may be to blame.

Why do qualified workers leave the organization?

While qualified workers need jobs, they may be highly mobile. Losing their talent can be harmful to the organization. The best workers are

Why is the employee turnover so high?

Staff who leave organizations with bad management will do so. New hires are anxious for a good job but won't stay if the management is bad. People will retire as soon as possible. All of these employee actions point to bad bosses in the management of an organization.

Why do the employees not apply for advancement?

While this may be due to the lack of perceived reward for additional work, it can indicate that the organization has managerial problems. People just putting in time with a bad boss are not going to rise up and work harder. They will look for other jobs instead. There is often little an organization can do to entice people to apply for more senior roles with more pay.

Why is production dropping?

Difficult bosses will not inspire staff. Staff will work the minimum amount necessary to get by when they feel the boss is unreasonable, uncaring or otherwise exhibits traits of bad management. It can often be difficult to pinpoint why production is dropping. A bad boss will cajole employees to work harder, using threats and intimidation. Good bosses will work to improve working relationships, provide a better work environment and implement other progressive reforms that are desired by the staff.

What is the level of staff engagement?

Bad bosses are not going to get much feedback, positive or negative. If staff are disengaged, they will feel that nothing will help the situation at work so why provide any comments at all. The mere act of the company asking for feedback provides disengaged staff with a reason to complain. "Nothing good ever comes from these surveys so why bother?" is apt to be a familiar comment if any are provided at all.

Are staff members happy?

Bad bosses certainly won't care what the answer to this question is. They do their work in isolation from the staff. This is a big mistake. Staff happiness is an intangible item that is hard to measure but it can have dire consequences. Bad bosses will not receive useful suggestions from unhappy staff on how to improve things. Not that bad bosses would listen to such positive suggestions anyway. When staff are extremely unhappy, low productivity and staff turnover result, as has been explained. Actively disengaged, unhappy staff may even start to cause additional difficulties for bad bosses. This can be very easy to do. A staff member might know something that will have repercussions but they choose to ignore the information rather than pass it to others. The exact a measure of control or revenge on a bad boss through these types of inaction practices.

Comments from the Workplace

S.T. writes that she has had both good and bad bosses. Good are the best. She notes that sometimes bad bosses are actually good people. She is also award of some who have terrible personalities. These can be bullies who should be avoided.

K.A. reports that some of his bosses were excellent but some scared him. He worked harder for those that he liked, even volunteering for extra duties. When he worked for good bosses, he felt that his job seemed less like a chore.

Q.R. reports that she was called stupid by her boss on the first day. Q.R. quit on the spot and hasn't looked back. Her next boss was an excellent person, and fun.