Am I The Bad Boss?

I’m not a bad boss! I don’t yell, threaten, or manipulate. Really? Do I leverage bonuses, special projects, leadership awards, or trips as factors to motivate people? That’s “carrot manipulation.” The other type of manipulation is “stick manipulation.” – Many years ago, my boss, as we were driving in my company car to visit an account, asked me, “How do you like my car?” I said, “Well actually it’s my car.” He took his cigarette and flicked the ashes onto the console between us and said, “Now.  It’s my car.” Stunned, I just keep driving.  Manipulation is getting others to do things from which we benefit. Here are the 5 most common bad habits that make us The Bad Boss.

Bad Habit #1

I give valuable feedback, helping my people get results.” Our people say, “Here comes more criticism. God forbid I make a mistake!” And BTW – calling a team – “my people” sends a more negative message that we may intend. They are their own person.

Our leadership is only on loan to us by those choosing to follow.  ~ Ken Blanchard.

Herb Kelleher, former CEO of Southwest Airlines, allowed a developer, Mike, to fully develop expansion plans for an airport near San Antonio. The effort was researched and evaluated for 6 months, at costs over $1 million dollars. In the end, they expanded in Houston instead. As Mike came to Herb questioning the plan not to build in San Antonio, Herb explained that the plan was always to expand in Houston. Mike asked Herb, “Then why did you let me spend all that time and money, if you always knew what we were going to do?” Herb reassured him that, “I didn’t know anything until your research and effort showed my Houston plans to be right for this decision. You grew and learned amazing things to prepare us for future decisions.”

If we have to always to be right – we may have a learning handicap!

Bad Habit #2

“Oh, c’mon – I was just being funny.” Our people say the boss’s humor is hard-hitting, below the belt, and makes people feel awful.” I knew a boss years ago who was always the life of the party and everyone thought he was so funny. His team always got him to tell the same stories over and over. Everyone laughed. As some of us heard these stories, we realized they were at the expense of other employees and bosses and, in some cases, became a cruel mockery of their lifestyle. Comedy must be planned and careful. If one person’s feelings could be off-put, then it’s inappropriate for the group. The Leader Humor Rule applies – humor is best when it is making fun of yourself. If we could hear what our employee tells their spouse about our humor, we might stop thinking we are funny. We aren’t their buddy, we’re their boss. Parents can be friends with their kids, but first and foremost, they are still the parent.

Bad Habit #3

That other department (legal, hr, research, sales, agency) is a bunch of idiots.” Our people may say, “The boss is not a team player. I guess to get ahead we have to make the other guy look bad.” I knew a boss, on another team, who just went off about other departments. I was involved at times when we would raise issues with that boss, just to let him go off! It was totally unproductive, and I felt mean watching his veins popping out of his neck, but what fun. The opposite of leadership seems to be the drama created as we take an external focus to problems. We blame others and circumstances, and instead of looking out for our behavior, we use tools that worked when we were kids, trying to make it work as a boss.

Bad Habit #4

I delegate!” Our people may say, “My boss is absent.” I once overheard the staff of a hospital clinic saying how their boss was a jerk and was never around. They groused about his inability to be clear, set direction and even care. He was too busy off doing other things. I recall meeting with that boss later, and how he proudly claimed his team loved him, as he gave them “so much rope to hang themselves.” This is gotcha management, where we go-along, go-along until they screw-up and then we “gotcha!” The clinic team people all seemed to be struggling and were upset, and the boss thought they were thriving! The #1 trait of leadership is self-awareness.

Bad Habit #5

I can’t spend all my time with my people, they just seem so needy.” Our people say, “Oh, I get time with my boss just for her to tell me everything she knows.” I overheard a phone call at the airport yesterday, and heard a young man say, “Just let them decide. It’s faster and easier, and we’re going that way anyway.” As the boss we have knowledge that helps us to be productive, fast, and correct. It can save time and drive the outcome more accurately and efficiently. That’s achievement and accomplishment, but it’s not leadership.  The #1 job of a leader is to build trust. Being curious and helping others to think, learn and grow requires patience and attentive listening – in many cases the opposite of the urgency and precision that got us promoted. As Marshall Goldsmith acknowledges in his book of the same title, “What got you Here, won’t get you There.”

We can control people (compliance) or grow people (commitment), but we can’t do both.

I’d love to hear your Bad Boss Story!


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