Work Matters

Straight Talk and Solid Evidence About Organizational Life

11 Signs You're a Bad Boss

Dear Boss: How Self-Aware are You?

Thanks to Guy Kawasaki and Matthew May, two posts have recently appeared at the American Express blog for small business, OPEN Forum. Matt describes these as "yin and yang" posts because the first, by him, was a review and discussion called "How to be a Good Boss" (that cool sign kicks off his post). That was followed with an opposing post that I wrote (with a lot of guidance, coaching, and editing from Guy -- he amazes me with his ability to frame things and use language so that ideas are sound, fun, and sticky) on "The Top 11 Signs that You're a Bad Boss."  Drawing on central themes from Good Boss, Bad Boss,  I argue:

The most crucial test of a boss is self-awareness. The best bosses are in tune with how the little things they say and do impact people, and they are adept at adjusting to bolster both performance and dignity. Several studies, including one by the College Board, suggest that the more incompetent a boss is, the more out of touch he or she is likely to be. Unfortunately, too many bosses think they are in tune with their employees, but live in a fool’s paradise. If you’re a boss, I suggest that review this list of the top eleven attitudes to figure out if you’re acting like a bad boss.

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1. “I am going to get mine.” Let’s face it, you deserve to get more goodies and get them first. After all, without you, your underlings would be nowhere.

2. Ride them hard. You keep a close eye on your people because, otherwise, they screw around and screw-up.

3. All transmission and no reception. You pretend to listen to others somtimes; but you are really just “reloading,” thinking of the brilliant thing you are going to say next.

4. No thanks. You don’t baby your employees with all that insincere manners crap. Saying “please” and “thank you” is overrated, wastes a lot of time, and makes you look like you kissing-up to your subordinates.

5. Do it right or don’t do it. When your people make mistakes, you make sure they pay a steep price.

6. Mistakes were made, but not by me. You are so good that you rarely mess-up. Anyway, a smart boss doesn’t display ignorance, admit mistakes, or apologize – that’s what doormats and wimps do.

7. Credit hog. After all, when your people do something good, it is because of you.

8. Kiss up or shut-up. You despise underlings who challenge your ideas and point out your mistakes.

9. Star lover. You focus your energy on hiring, grooming, and encouraging your very best employees. After all, the B players are far less important and a lot easier to replace.

10. Implementation is for the little people. Your job is to develop and talk about big ideas, not to waste time thinking about all the little steps required to make them happen.

11. I don’t how it feels to be you and I don’t care. It’s not my job to hold your hand or understand what it feels like to work for me. I am your boss, not your mommy or daddy.

If you’re an employee with a boss, you should take my survey called the BRASS (Boss Reality Assessment Survey System). It will help you determine if your work for a bad boss. Or, as Guy Kawasaki likes to put it, if you work for a certified brasshole.

Follow me on Twitter at work_matters.

See my book, Good Boss, Bad Boss: How to be the best... and learn from the worst.

Bob Sutton is an organizational psychologist, Stanford professor, and author of five books including bestseller The No Asshole Rule and Good Boss, Bad Boss (September, 2010).

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