Signs You’re a Bad Boss

Written By Randy Hall  |  Employees 


I read an article recently in the Wall Street Journal titled Five Signs You’re a Bad Boss, which listed some of the signals that your people really just aren’t that into you as a leader. The article started me thinking about all of the subtle signs that managers could pay attention to, but don’t, for indications that they need to improve. I thought the Wall Street Journal had a pretty good list but I wanted to add some of my own observations from working with hundreds of managers, some of which were at what I would call the very beginning of their leadership journey. Here are three more signs that you are a bad boss.

You get mostly good news.Your people have learned all about your reactions and how you handle bad news. Either the word on the street is that you can handle it and will usually help address the issue in a constructive way, or you can’t and you often shoot the messenger. If you’re a shoot the messenger kind of manager the news you get will be sugar coated at best and a lie at worst. You can’t make good management decisions if they are based on lies. I once worked with a manager who spent hours telling me about how his people trusted him and looked to him for guidance when they ran into problems. I learned pretty quickly that the best way for them to get problems resolved was to convince the manager that everything was fine and then go fix it themselves. They knew that if he got involved someone was going to get yelled at and the fix would take twice as long. Needless to say, they painted a rosy picture for him whenever possible. If your team doesn’t deliver bad news to you immediately, or you ever feel like you have to dig to get it, then they don’t trust you to handle it like a grown up.

You think most of the good ideas have been yours.

We’ve probably all worked with managers who had to have any idea be theirs before it gets implemented. When this happens people adapt pretty quickly by either keeping the ideas to themselves because they know it won’t move forward unless the boss can stamp it as their own, or by spending way too much time trying to help the boss come to the idea on his or her own so they can get something done. It’s frustrating to feel like you are spending most of your time “managing up” when you really care about getting the work done and making a difference. In cases where this continues for a while the a boss ends up with a team who is fine spending their time “managing up” and cares more about the boss’s perception than they do the reality of the business. Would you go out and hire those kinds of people? Not if you want a successful, high performing team. And yet many managers cultivate them on a daily basis.

You wouldn’t hire your team back today if given the opportunity.

That leads us to the last of my three signs. If you have been leading a team for more than 90 days and you ask yourself the question, “would I hire the people on my team again today?” and the answer is no, you’re a bad boss. That may sound a little drastic but here’s the reality. Your job as a manager is to recruit, develop, and coach the best team possible so that they can contribute as much as possible to the success of the business. If you wouldn’t chase them if they left tomorrow, you haven’t done that. People on your team may be high performers that have been there for years or they may be incredible young talent that you are developing into superstars. Both are necessary and both are valuable. But in all cases you should believe that they have enormous potential either to continue their success or to achieve success in the near future. If you believe that, you probably want them back, if you don’t, they need a new coach that can help them get there even if it’s in a different organization. You owe people the opportunity to work for someone who believes in their ability and can help them achieve their potential.

I like to think that there are no bad bosses, just people in different places on the journey to becoming great leaders. What’s important is that we are moving in the right direction. Sometimes signs like these help us learn where we are on the path, and change course if we need to. If you think you might be a bad boss today, that’s just an observation of the current state, nothing else. If you feel like you are still a bad boss six months from now, that was a choice.

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