Are You a ‘Bad Boss’?

“They say that people don’t quit jobs, they quit bosses … so why are there still so many bad bosses out there?”  

This earnest question came from one of my students last week. The whole class turned their eyes toward me, some nodding in agreement, waiting for an answer. Obviously, they had similar concerns.

It’s not a new question. Many, if not most of us, have worked for at least one manager or supervisor who was incompetent, arrogant or unreasonable. Maybe we felt that they didn’t understand or care about the “real issues”; maybe we were frustrated by unfair criticism or unrealistic demands. We fantasized daily about quitting, and eventually we did – taking our experience and expertise with us. Bad bosses foster a culture of fear or negativity that can be difficult to erase.

How is it that so many talented people turn out to be bad bosses? The answer often boils down to an overemphasis on business results while neglecting interpersonal factors.

What Employees Want

Human resources are quite simply that: human. Treating employees like any other resource to be allocated will eventually result in dysfunction. Employees bring their experience and talents to the work place, they also bring their attitudes and emotions. We can’t have one without the other. Employees at all levels and career stages have goals they want to achieve, and expectations about how their jobs will help them do that. Canadian employees are among the most likely to quit to pursue other opportunities. Top reasons for employee turnover are dissatisfaction with management and a poor work environment. In today’s competitive labour market they have plenty of other options. The fact is, to successfully grow our businesses, we need capable employees far more than they need us.

What Bosses are Doing Wrong

Small business owners invest vast amounts of time, money and energy into their companies. They can be forgiven for focusing on the day-to-day details that drive business results – after all, they have the most to lose if the business fails! Yet ignoring employee perspectives will quickly lead to resentment. The most common complaints I hear when interviewing people who work for ‘bad’ bosses include:

  • I never hear when I do something right, but always get criticized when I make a mistake.
  • They don’t listen! They’re always too busy.
  • They treat us like we’re stupid, but we are the ones who know what’s really going on.
  • They don’t care about us, they only care about making money.

Whether valid or not, perceptions such as these can lead to negative workplace behaviours such as absenteeism, insubordination and reduced productivity. The impacts on customer satisfaction and profits are all too real.

Building Trust

Being perceived as a ‘good’ boss comes down to establishing trust. Have you perhaps been too task-focused in the past, preoccupied with assigning duties and monitoring performance? If so, try setting aside time each week to communicate with your employees. Bring them into your deliberations and encourage them to share their concerns with you. Ask for ideas on how to improve but avoid getting defensive or making excuses. Always assume that you have something to learn from your employees, even if you can’t implement all of their ideas.

Demonstrating respect and appreciation for employee contributions develops trust over time. This not only improves your relationship with your team, but such discussions often deliver solutions to problems that your business faces every day.