Bad Boss? Really?

It’s there everywhere. Apparently bad bosses are the reason employees are unhappy if one were to go by latest reports.

Who are supposed to be bad bosses? There is a complete list out there of types of bad bosses for those who are interested.

Bullying, micromanaging, insecure, unapproachable, people-pleasing, credit-stealing, the list goes on. Bad bosses are apparently to be blamed for almost everything going wrong, from attrition, unhappy employees, poor customer service, to toxic work culture.

Of course all companies, big or small, have their share of black sheep or rotten apples. All the above about bad bosses being true, a consistently dipping graph of unhappy employees says something else altogether. There are questions that beg answers in these cases.

1.   Who hires bosses?

Every boss is also an employee who was hired in the first place because he or she showed promise and potential. Is there a method for hiring bosses? How are they termed competent for a leadership or supervisory position? How are they inducted into the role of a boss for the first time? Is it a “sink or swim” law, or is there a structured approach to releasing them into the role?

2.   How does a boss become bad?

A boss is a human being with insecurities and vulnerabilities. According to psychology, bullying is a behavior that is born out of a deep sense of insecurity. Same goes for self-serving behavior where individuals take credit for others’ accomplishments, or people-pleasing behavior. Indecisive behavior is usually due to a lack of confidence, whereas incompetence and insensitive behavior is due to a lack of awareness and direction. Is there a life-support system for bosses so they feel safe and secure? Who boosts their confidence and provides them a sounding board when they need it?

3.   How is a bad boss able to thrive? How is the boss able to get away with being bad?

Everything, including viruses, needs a suitable environment to breed. Everyone, including children learn the rules of behavior not only by observing, but also by perceiving what is tolerated by the environment. A child that learns to cheat and lie does so because she feels she is able to get away with it. At times a boss is someone who makes her boss look good (by probably fetching good revenue or sales), but behaves poorly with her team. Is there a way to objectively get the team’s feedback? How tolerant is your system against poor performance? (Because, a bad boss who is not liked by the team, is a poor performer at least in the people’s department.) Are there necessary mechanisms in place to arrest toxic and unconstructive behavior? Are there necessary mechanisms to reward positive behavior? Is there a safe environment for employees to give feedback about their bosses to upper management without worrying about retaliation? Is the feedback even addressed?

4.   Doesn’t every boss have a boss?

Someone hired that boss, and besides, the boss reports to someone higher up in the chain. Who takes responsibility for the boss’ behavior and performance? Are there clear and transparent lines of authority and accountability? Is there a process to measure and review a boss’ performance, especially the way he works with his people? Is the boss provided a regular and consistent feedback on her performance? Does the boss have someone she could trust with her vulnerabilities and insecurities?

5.   A bad boss? Not me!

Matrix reporting without clear lines of ownership adds to the confusion. A boss may just have the title, but not the authority. Perhaps someone else is calling the shots and the boss is probably a puppet in the game. That said, the team may not be aware of the fact, and may judge the boss to be an ineffectual, powerless leader. Are teams aware of their boss’ circle of influence and his extent of power? Does the boss feel empowered enough to make decisions without fearing the consequences?

Do we have bad bosses or poor leadership?

It is always easy to pin a problem on someone. Everyone loves a scapegoat. Having a bad boss also makes it easy for employees to demonstrate poor performance and unconstructive behavior with the excuse, “What can I do? I have a bad boss!”

When we look at the entire picture non-judgmentally, especially when we look at bad bosses causing a downward trend in employee satisfaction surveys, we just need to reflect on the following:

How are bosses hired? Is there a competency assessment and evaluation in place to select or promote the right person?

Are bad bosses inherently bad, or is the system making them bad?

Is there is a learning and development system in place for not just developing, but nurturing leaders?

Is the organization tolerant and supportive of vulnerabilities in leaders?

Is the organization intolerant towards apathetic leadership?

Lastly, this is probably the question we need to ask:

Is this a case of bad boss or poor organizational leadership?

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