How To Tell if You’re a Bad Boss

How To Tell if You’re a Bad Boss

Read any survey about why people quit their jobs, and bad bosses are sure to come in somewhere near the top of the list of responses. That’s because, on a day-to-day basis, we don’t work for companies; we work for people. A bad manager can make even the most promising gig into a nightmare, seemingly overnight.

Of course, the problem is that it’s always easier to pick out a bad boss when you’re on the receiving end. Bad managers often don’t know they’re demotivating their workers and creating bottlenecks to productivity, any more than truly excellent managers wake up every morning and think, “Gee whiz, I’m a pretty inspirational leader.”

Why don’t we tend to have a more accurate picture of our abilities? Blame the Dunning-Kruger Effect.

“People tend to hold overly favorable views of their abilities in many social and intellectual domains,” write researchers Justin Kruger and David Dunning in The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. “The authors suggest that this overestimation occurs, in part, because people who are unskilled in these domains suffer a dual burden: Not only do these people reach erroneous conclusions and make unfortunate choices, but their incompetence robs them of the metacognitive ability to realize it.” The good news is that “unskilled” doesn’t mean “unteachable.”

5 Ways to Tell That You’re a Bad Boss

If you’re a less-than-effective manager, you can get better. The first step is to recognize the signs that you’re being ineffective:

You yell.

You’re passionate about your work, and have to express it. Or: everyone is being stupid/lazy/inattentive, and you have to wake them up. Or: you’re just a loud person, and it doesn’t mean anything.

All of these excuses are nonsense. If you’re a yeller, you have to learn how to stop, at least at the office where people can’t decide whether or not to continue putting up with you without major fallout in their professional lives.

When you yell at people, you’re telling them that you don’t have sufficient respect for them to treat them with dignity. Just don’t do it.

How to fix the problem: The old tricks work best, here. Give yourself a timeout if you need it, or count to 10 before you respond. Try not to respond when you’re angry. Don’t tempt yourself to lose control. Think of yourself as the Incredible Hulk: your co-workers really wouldn’t like you when you’re angry. Don’t put them on the spot.

You’re frustrated by the fact that no one can do things without your help.

It’s unlikely that everyone on your team is incompetent. What’s more likely is that you’re a micromanager. (The other possibility is that your company isn’t great at hiring people. More on that in a minute.)

How to fix the problem: Micromanagers need to cultivate trust in their team and learn to let go. Start by focusing on what needs to happen, and now how it needs to be done. Recognize that there are a lot of different ways to do things effectively, and that your way isn’t always the only best way.

If competence is genuinely a problem, the next step is to communicate better with HR about what you need to make your team a success. Often, recruiters operate in silos, separate from the team. They’re dependent on hiring managers to write good job descriptions and keep them up-to-date on requirements. Don’t make them guess about what you need.

Finally, sometimes requirements change. The most successful teams are the ones that give workers the opportunity and support to keep upskilling themselves, so that they don’t fall behind. If your team doesn’t have access to educational benefits, for example, now might be a good time to ask about adding that. Your employer doesn’t need to pay for everyone to get an MBA, necessarily, but a few online coding courses, etc., benefit the company even more than the employees, and make a nice, relatively cheap benefit, as well.

You’re good friends with all of your reports.

Here’s the problem: no, you’re probably not friends with all your reports. Hopefully, you all have respect for each other. Ideally, you even like each other. But friendship requires both parties to be on an even footing, and your reports simply don’t have that with you.

Force them to pretend that you’re all best friends, and you’re veering into Michael Scott territory: ineffective, and spending your friend-energy on people who should really just stay colleagues.

How to fix the problem: Make sure you have a life outside of work. It’s great to have work friends (again, not the people who report to you), but you need other people in your life, too.

Check out these tips for how to (successfully) work with your friends.

You’re frequently the last to know.

By the time the office gossip makes it to your door, it’s got a long, gray beard on it. Worse, every bit of news you hear has been circulating for so long, it’s not even accurate anymore. Three months ago, someone revealed that Bob in Finance got laid off because of restructuring; today, in the cafeteria, everyone is talking about how the entire Accounts Payable Department is being outsourced to India.

You don’t want to participate in spreading rumors, but you need to know what they are, if you want to stop runaway gossip before it becomes a morale issue.

How to fix the problem: Be the kind of boss people can come to with their concerns, and trust to keep things under wraps. You don’t have to let people vent endlessly; you’re their manager, not their therapist. But you do have to let it be known that you want to know about their fears and concerns, and are always willing to answer questions as they arise.

The real way you cultivate this kind of trust over the long-term is by being trustworthy in the short-term. Don’t betray confidences. Do what you say you’re going to do. And don’t keep tabs or punish people – for example, by making a comment on their annual review – for bringing you a difficult problem.

Here’s how to handle the office gossip.

You’re never wrong.

Not only is everyone wrong at some point, even being right today isn’t a guarantee that you won’t be required to change your mind when the situation evolves or you get new information.

How to fix the problem: The mark of a great leader is the ability to change your mind, admit when you’re wrong, and take responsibility for your actions. You don’t need to choose between being infallible or abject. Accept that making mistakes is part of being human, exercise self-compassion, and move on.

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  • March 28, 2021