Which Type of Boss Do You Work For?

Leaders come in all types, good, bad, indifferent. Which types have you had?

Posted Aug 17, 2014

In studying managers and leaders, it is clear that they range from the very best to some of the most horrible people on the planet. Here is a typology of bosses based on studies of leadership, and what it is like to work with each.

Let’s start with some bad bosses.

Laissez-faire. This is the “do nothing” boss. Despite given the responsibility to lead by virtue of his or her position, the boss fails to lead. In fact, laissez-faire leaders essentially give up their power and responsibility and just play the role, never making decisions or any progress. I once worked for a prototypical laissez-faire manager, and the department was left in shambles by year’s end because the leader did absolutely nothing.

Management-by-Exception. This is the type of boss who waits around until something goes wrong, and then kicks into action. Some of these M-b-E bosses only perform when there is a fire that needs putting out. The rest of the time they leave everyone alone. So, there is little direction, except in emergencies.

Punitive. This is the type of boss who believes in all stick and no carrot –“You should be grateful to even have this job!” would be a typical view. The expectation of the punitive boss is that you will do an outstanding job, but if you don’t, you get punished. Punitive bosses can range from outright bullies, to a more “benevolent” type that is like a strict parent. The latter boss may try to use humiliation in front of co-workers to try to get you to improve. Most workers under punitive bosses, however, don’t get better. They just find ways to not get caught. 

Toxic. Toxic leaders, according to Jean Lipman-Blumen, are those whose "destructive behaviors and dysfunctional personal characteristics generate serious and enduring poisonous effects...on those they lead." Toxic leaders work toward their own selfish ends and usually leave followers worse off than they found them. Enron executives, Andrew Fastow and Jeffrey Skilling are good examples of toxic business leaders, as well as leaders of various cults.

Here are “better” bosses.

Transactional. This boss operates on a “social exchange” process. You do work for the boss, and you will get rewards (pay raise, bonus, praise, etc.). For the most part, feelings and emotions don’t get involved. It is a purely transactional work relationship. Research shows that transactional leaders are actually effective – they get things done, and workers are generally ok with the arrangement (although workers tend not to be highly inspired or loyal – they will change jobs or departments if a better offer comes along.).

Relationship-oriented. This type of boss is all about having good relationship with employees. There is more emphasis on team members being happy and getting along, and the focus on getting things done is secondary. Generally, relationship-oriented bosses have very satisfied employees, and those employees can be quite productive if the task requires lots of coordination and mutual helping from team members.

And, the Best!

Transformational. This is one of the very best types of bosses to work for. Transformational leaders are visionary, they are positive and ethical role models, and they work hard to establish good interpersonal relationships with each and every employee. Teams led by transformational leaders have highly satisfied members, and are extremely motivated and productive. [You can read more about transformational leadership here.]

Read more about good and bad leaders here and here.

What types of leaders have you worked for?

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