What makes a bad boss?

I recently had the opportunity to read yet another great article by Susan Heathfield, who writes frequently on About.com (Human Resources).  I subscribe to her posts because she not only provides expert advice, but she also allows her readers to respond to polls or provide opinions and asks for feedback on articles she submits. 

Within this post, I have inserted a poll that she did with respect to what makes a manager a bad boss.  As you can see, this poll was responded to by a large number of participants and while I do not have the actual comments made on the last question (Please add your own opinion of what makes a bad boss); there were obviously a lot of comments there.

 Of a total of 16,621 people who responded to the poll:

 35% (5,847)   – The manager provides little direction

24% (3,998)    – The manager micro-manages and nit-picks your work

17% (2,958)    – The manager belittles and puts down staff

10% (1,789)    – The manager offers little or no recognition for success and hard work

8% (1,472)      – The manager is indecisive and seemingly changes direction at whim

3% (557)         – Other: (Please add your own opinion about what makes a bad boss)


The reason I found this so interesting, is that I have worked with both the completely ‘hands off’ manager and the ‘nit-picker’ who micro-managed and criticised everything.  I am not sure which one was worse…but judging from the poll above it would seem that more bosses tend to provide little to no direction. The point is, I could most definitely relate to the numbers!

This particular poll ties in quite well to many of the other articles I have written myself about topics such as: performance management, coaching for improved performance, stay interviews, and of course; orientations and on-boarding (or integration of new staff).

If we are not providing direction as leaders, how then can we be managing any kind of productivity amongst our employees? I’ve heard the argument for years about how HR doesn’t contribute to the bottom line of an organization and I would agree that it is often difficult to articulate measurements around emotional aspects of employment relationships. But surely, when evidence such as what is presented in this poll indicates how many bad bosses are out there – why is there no accountability?

I completely accept and acknowledge that there are HR people who have not performed in the way that the executive suite would like to see for the sake of the business…but when I see the numbers in terms of how many bad managers there are, I must question their business savvy.

This article is not intended to bash anyone and I trust that is not the way it will be perceived…but for the organizations that don’t see the tie in to business…I would ask that you contemplate  how high-performers could possibly result from leadership such as that indicated above.

Think about this – if you have that many managers in your organization that don’t even know how to provide adequate direction – what direction are the employees taking?  So, as an HR person, can I give you the exact figure association to the loss of production because of a lack in employee engagement? Perhaps not, but it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that something’s gotta give when there’s that high of a percentage of your employee who don’t even know what direction their headed in…


About hrscoops

This entry was posted in Bad Bosses, Coaching, Communication, Employee Engagement, Human Behaviour, Management Coaching, Orientations, Retention, Workplace Culture and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to What makes a bad boss?

  1. What Makes A Bad Boss?

    After reading the above titled article I started thinking about bad bosses and had to ask myself a question. When we are hiring new staff and we know the boss is a micro-manager, perhaps we should try to hire staff that would work well under these conditions. That is if the boss gets such great results that we plan on keeping him/her over the long term.
    Conversely, if I am a boss who tends to micro-manage, perhaps I should learn to flex my style to work with all my staff depending on where each person falls in a direction vs relationship quadrant. If the appropriate support for a particular function is high task and low relationship then as a manager I’m in a “Tell” mode of communication. However, that same person may only need minimal support (low task, low relationship) for another job function. This is called “Delegation”.
    As an example, I may be poor at follow up with sold clients and require a high task and high relationship approach from my manager regarding this function.
    When it comes to follow-up with my unsold clients I am totally independent and capable requiring low relationship and low task behavior from my manager.

    So, the question becomes which is easier? Training a manager to flex their style to accommodate the needs of individuals for each situation or to create a culture based on the natural style of the manager?

    I personally feel that the manager should learn to flex their style and coach each member of the team for the situation as required. It is not easier, but will develop a much stronger culture and team in the long run.

    Situational Leadership takes a lot of work and a total commitment on the part of the entire organization, but it gives people what they need for the situation and in the end does a lot towards solving the dilemma put forward in this article.

    To learn more about Situational Leadership…look up The Center for Leadership Studies.

    • hrscoops says:

      Yes, I would agree with you in that the manager should do the accommodating because not everyone on his or her team will be the same. There are bad bosses that are too hands off as well – leaving their employees wondering what exactly it is they are supposed to do. How would you know if you were doing a good job or not when you don’t even really know what that job entails…so I think you are right Bruce in the prefrence being for the manager to be flexible and adaptable. Is it something that we should test for before moving someone up into those roles? Just a thought…

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