Movies like Office Space and Horrible Bosses struck a chord with the audience not just because they exaggerate bad bosses who render workers into powerless cogs in the machine, but because so many workers can relate to that experience. They shine a light on a reality of universal emotions that many of us currently face or have faced at some point in our careers. Let’s take an honest look at some of the realities behind the laughs to either identify if you currently have a “bad-boss” or if you yourself have been blind to similar behaviors in your own leadership style.

“Having a bad manager is often a one-two punch: Employees feel miserable while at work, and that misery follows them home, compounding their stress and putting their well-being in peril.” ~State of the American Manager report

Gallup’s State of the American Manager report revealed that one in two employees has left a job to get away from a manager at some point in their career. And what’s even scarier, Gallup found that less than 10% of workers possess the talent to make them a great manager. That means there are a lot of bad leaders out there with far-reaching effects past the office walls.

How do you know if you have a bad boss?
  • You don’t look forward to going to work in the morning.
  • You don’t feel appreciated, heard or included.
  • Your department experiences high turnover.
  • You either avoid conversations with your boss, or there’s some anxiety when you do have those conversations.
  • You feel like your boss owns you.
  • You don’t feel like your needs are getting met, whether that’s for promotions, raises, or professional growth.

If you are experiencing one or more of the above, it’s likely you have a bad boss. Let’s take a look at the red flags of an ineffective leader:

  1. Your supervisor is inflexible, rigid and lacks the ability to see things from multiple perspectives.
  2. Your supervisor is self-serving; puts him or herself before the organization or team.
  3. Your supervisor micromanages.
  4. Your supervisor is unavailable and/or unapproachable.
  5. Your supervisor is thoughtless, perhaps even at times unkind.
  6. Your supervisor drives relentlessly.
  7. Your supervisor doesn’t give you opportunities to grow, have career-pathing conversations with you or provide you development opportunities.
  8. Your supervisor doesn’t give effective or timely feedback.
  9. Your supervisor doesn’t champion you to others.
  10. Your supervisor over delegates or under delegates.
  11. Your supervisor doesn’t provide adequate context for you to support him or her effectively.
  12. Your supervisor plays favorites.
  13. Your supervisor has low EQ.
  14. Your supervisor makes ineffective requests.
  15. Your supervisor has hidden standards and/or expectations.

We hear that last characteristic often in our coaching sessions at JMA. A leader may be very clear on what standards he has, but the problem is, he forgot to communicate those standards to the employees. Take the example of a boss who has a pretty old-school standard, but one that can still exist today: no one should leave the office before the boss does. He doesn’t communicate this standard to you, but rather makes assessments when he sees you leaving after a regular 8-hour workday once your work is done. You’ll never meet his expectations because you are blind; you don’t know that you are actually doing something wrong. These hidden standards are like landmines that you don’t know you are going to hit until you hit them, or worse, when you’re sitting across from him at your annual review.

You’ll notice that communication plays a big part in most of these red flags and was also noted as the most influential factor in whether an employee got along with their boss or not in that Gallup study. An ineffective leader rarely will ask questions about your needs. He has no real interest in being a better leader.

From Bad to Worse

There’s another level of leader that goes even beyond the above red flags. That is someone who is manipulative, who lies, throws you under the bus, is inconsistent and actually enjoys your discomfort. They are transactional leaders – they simply want you to get the work done and make themselves look good.

What You Can Do As An Employee

If you are working under an ineffective leader, your best bet is to communicate as best as you can and make effective requests for what you need or want. But if it becomes evident to you that you are not going to get what you need, it may be in your best interest to leave your position. If you really love the organization and feel it’s a good fit for you, investigate whether there is another position under different leadership. If that’s not an option, you may be better off finding a new job outside the organization. Realize you aren’t alone. According to Gallup, 75 percent of the reasons people quit come down to their managers.

The Cardinal Sin of Leading

Leaders are ultimately responsible for hiring the best talent and keeping those people engaged. Gallup defines the cardinal sin of management as not engaging an employee who is a good fit for their role. This is true for many reasons:

  • Truly talented people are rare.
  • They are the most expensive to replace.
  • They may take other high performers with them if they leave.
  • They are the easiest to engage.
  • And they are the quickest to leave if they are disengaged.

By hiring the best people you can and appreciating them, a leader can keep the engagement and interest in the job high. A good manager trusts his employees to get the work done and checks in throughout the way so this isn’t just blind trust; it’s verified. Workers want more than just directives from leaders. They want someone to look out for them, to champion them and to provide opportunities to learn, grow and advance. When you achieve that, the relationship becomes about caring and that’s much bigger than just the company.

Leaders Can Change

At JMA, our coaches work with so many people who live in this space. It’s especially worse for entry-level positions, but unfortunately, it happens at all levels, and most leaders are simply blind to what they are doing. A blind spot is a gap in perception that hinders personal, interpersonal and organizational effectiveness. Executive coaching helps leaders identify blind spots that are often contributing to their leadership style, and their direct reports’ dissatisfaction.

I can think of an executive I worked with (we’ll call her Diane) who did not create followership at her company. People simply did not want to work for Diane. In fact, they went to extremes to avoid her. They felt she was too directive, lacked empathy and had unreasonably high expectations. Diane had no clue her directs and colleagues felt this way. She only became aware of it through our one-on-one 360° stakeholder interview process. Diane was blown away with the results because leading in that style was never her intention. She thought everyone she worked with was a driver in the way she was, and she didn’t see the damage she was creating. Once she became aware of it, she did a complete turnaround and tapped into her capacity to nurture as well as drive to change her leadership. Today, her team not only works hard for her, but they would follow her anywhere. They are inspired by her, her drive and her leadership.

This is a sign of a strong, tough and compassionate leader. There’s nothing wrong with having high expectations and pushing your team as long as you listen to them, nurture your relationships with them and champion their causes.

Related: How Can “Deep Practice” Make You a More Effective Leader?

On the other hand, another example of a weak leader is someone whose only leadership style is a consensus management style that frustrates everyone. This can be a systemic issue if they lack confidence, can’t make a decision and have to get the entire team aligned before they can move forward. This style of leadership is averse to risk taking and having crucial conversations. Just like with directive and authoritative leaders, people are not going to want to work for this type of person.

Executive Coaching

Our Executive Coaching services can help you become a leader people want to work for as you learn methods to keep your employees happy, productive and profitable.