7 Traits of Truly Horrible Bosses
Updated: Sep 28
Jack Fehr, The Hartford
Jane is quoted in this article.
If you own a small business, chances are you’re not only a business owner, but a boss. Whether you have employees or are managing vendors, managing people is part of your job description. If you’re striving to grow your business, or reevaluating how to manage one, you can increase your chances of success by avoiding these seven traits of truly horrible bosses.
1. They fail to communicate. You can follow every best practice there is to running a business and still fall short if you fail to communicate those practices to your employees. “The big differentiator of small business success is communication,” says Chester Elton, founder of New Jersey based management consultant The Culture Works and author of What Motivates Me and All In. Horrible bosses often forget this; they fail to share their plans with their employees and refuse to listen to the good ideas those employees have to offer. As a result, they often struggle with employee buy-in, support and morale.
Solution: Communication involves both talking and listening, and many experts would agree that the latter is the more important of the two. “When a boss listens thoughtfully and gives employees permission to speak the truth and be supportive to one another, it is a beautiful thing,” says Barbara Chan, executive coach and certified management consultant of Barbara Chan Consulting Group. But learning to communicate clearly is no easy task. Start by setting goals and sharing your vision with your employees. Put your ego aside, ask for feedback, and make the changes that can benefit your business.
2. They refuse to get the help they need. Many business owners lack the time needed to learn new skills and others downright dislike some of the functions necessary to run a business. “Starting out, business owners wear multiple hats and have a learning curve,” says Jeremy Sisemore, founder of ASAP Talent Services in Kingwood, Texas. “Sometime after I started my company, I realized I needed to hire or outsource where I was weak or unwilling. Just because I was great at recruiting didn’t mean I would run a great business. So my first big hire was an operations person.” Business owners who try to do everything themselves can’t possibly do everything well, and they risk the future of their companies.
Solution: Learn to delegate effectively. This means assigning existing employees to the tasks they’re better suited for, as well as hiring new employees to fill in the gaps. Don’t struggle to do something that you neither have the time or skills to do. Learn to let go and accept help instead of ignoring growing problems. You’ll be setting your business on the path to success.
3. They are insecure. “Great leaders are invested in finding people smarter than them,” says Jane Hundley, an organizational psychologist and founder of Impact Management, Inc., an executive consulting firm. “Bad leaders don’t hire anyone who threatens them,” adds Hundley. “It is extremely important for bosses of any kind to learn their strengths and gaps, and to hire people with the knowledge, skills and work styles that complement their own,” says Chan. “One of my clients was a founder who had hired a lot of people like himself, and he couldn’t understand why his company didn’t perform the way he wanted. Everyone had the same mindset, same skills and knowledge. But it takes all kinds of people to succeed: analytical, relational and creative. Successful businesses need a diversity of thinking and action to come together for the same purpose.”
Solution: If you keep letting your insecurities drive you, you – and your business – are bound to fail. So stop competing with your employees. Accept that they are there to help you grow your business. Going forward, focus on hiring employees and consultant who will complement your skills.
4. They are bullies. Whether you work alone and delegate some tasks to vendors, or you’re managing a staff of employees, people don’t work well with abusive bosses. “I worked for companies where you knew you would get clobbered,” recalls Hundley. “One boss would criticize employees in front of everyone. All this did was create scorn. You want to praise in public, criticize in private…I worked with another company with employees who felt like they were in a pop-a-mole game. Employees said they didn’t speak up because they didn’t want to get whacked. The boss didn’t understand why everyone sat with their heads down in meetings. That’s the worst thing—mismanaging your employees to the point where they become disengaged.”
Solution: If you feel like you’re constantly blowing up at employees or vendors, or preventing others from getting a word in, it’s time to change your management style to create a culture of teamwork. If you think your behavior is fine but your employees are showing signs of mismanagement, take a step back and reconsider if you’re really doing a good job. If necessary, ask your employees for anonymous feedback on your management style.
5. They micromanage their employees. When business owners start out doing everything themselves, it can be hard to relinquish control. “Micromanaging is one of biggest challenges to growing a business,” says Sisemore. In fact, micromanagement can damage both employee morale and the value of a business. Not only do employees find it difficult to have someone hovering over their shoulders, but “micromanagers are tacticians when they need to be leaders,” says Hundley. Rather than focusing on the big picture, they lose the forest for the trees by preoccupying themselves with minor, and often unimportant, ideas.
Solution: “There are many ways to accomplish the same task, but you have to give workers the freedom to find their way,” says Chan. Start by empowering employees to take initiative and rewarding creativity. This means allowing them to make decisions without prior approval and recognizing and encouraging those who take risks, even if their efforts don’t pan out. Make this commitment and you’ll be pleased with the improvements you see in productivity and office morale.
6. They overwork everyone. Some bosses expect their employees to work 24/7. Thus, it’s not surprising that one study found that nearly 60% of respondents believe bad bosses have the most negative impact on work-life balance. When employers take their employees for granted, morale and productivity are bound to suffer.
Solution: Rested employees are happy employees, so make sure your employees are taking time off. “When workers get off the grid—get real rejuvenation—they come back as totally different employees,” says Katharine Halpin, founder of the Halpin Companies and author of Alignment for Success: Bringing Out the Best in Yourself, Your Teams, and Your Company. “They get off the hamster wheel for a while.” In addition to letting your employees take time off, allow for more flexibility in their work schedules. If you have an employee with young kids, respect the fact that he might need to come in a little later or leave a little earlier to spend time with them.
7. They don’t acknowledge employee success. Sometimes, bosses don’t realize their management style hurts employees and, by extension, the company. Others don’t care—they simply lack empathy. “People don’t quit companies—they quit bosses,” says Elton. “We forget to celebrate what employees do right.
Solution: “Employees crave communication—especially positive feedback,” says Sisemore. Therefore, you should take the time to recognize and congratulate employees on a job well done. “Some small business owners want to make it all about how employees don’t do their jobs right,” adds Sisemore. “But if they take the time to coach their employees, they set them up for success.” Focus on highlighting the talents your employees bring to the table and find ways for them to use these skills successfully. You’ll be surprised by how much more invested they are in their jobs.
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