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Why Are There So Many Bad Bosses?

Five reasons why so many people hate their bosses.

Key points

  • Many organizations don’t implement good selection and development programs to ensure managers are qualified and well-trained.
  • Bad bosses simply don’t know how to management. They have outmoded ways of thinking about what it means to be the boss.
  • If bad bosses exist in an organization, their bosses are not doing their jobs of managing them.

I’ve been talking with friends and associates and nearly every one of them has a story about working for a bad boss. In many of these cases, it caused the person to request transfer to another department, to try to “outlast” their boss hoping that the next one would be better, or simply quit the organization. That’s not surprising because psychologist Robert Hogan claims that the majority of managers are incompetent or poor leaders.

Why are there so many bad bosses? Here are five reasons:

  1. Poor Selection. In many cases, companies simply don’t know how to hire good managers. They focus on those who appear to have what it takes, but they neglect to objectively assess whether the management candidate has the knowledge, skills, and right attitude to manage effectively. What are the poor criteria for manager selection? Relying too much on seniority or performance as a line worker. Assessment should focus on managerial potential. Discussing state-of-the-art hiring practices is beyond the scope of this blog post (for more information, see the reference below).
  2. Poor Training. New managers need to understand best practices in managing others, and more seasoned managers can also benefit from ongoing training and development. Make goals and expectations for proper management practices clear to all managers.
  3. Adherence to Outdated Management Practices. Very often bad bosses don’t understand which managerial behaviors work and which don’t. While a detailed discussion of poor, outdated managerial practices is beyond the scope of this brief post, here are a few:
    Micromanaging isn’t an effective strategy. The very best managers know how to empower subordinates to help them take on responsibility, show some initiative, and learn and grow on the job.
    Mushroom Management. Keeping employees in the dark is bad management practice. Effective communication is the key. Giving clear directions and listening to subordinates are crucial to success. Keep communication lines open.
    Punitive Management. This is bad for so many reasons. Punishment de-motivates people and focuses them on avoiding mistakes rather than getting positive things done. Moreover, punishing employees stresses them out, and leads to absenteeism and turnover.
    Self-Centeredness. Bad managers focus only on their own goals, rewards, and career advancement. The best bosses take an interest in their employees’ career growth and development and take pride in team members’ accomplishments
  4. Laser Focus on Profits. Good managers need to focus beyond just achieving performance outcomes and need to focus on team members’ well-being and development. Good managers value team members and develop them. Moreover, good managers must also be concerned with issues of ethics and social responsibility. The “triple bottom line of profit, people, and planet” should be their mantra.
  5. The Managers Aren’t Managed. I asked one stellar employee who was working under a truly bad boss, “Doesn’t your boss’s boss take some action?” And he replied that upper management was detached and uncaring. Managers need to be managed (and led) by their superiors to ensure that they are engaging in best management practices. They need to be encouraged and rewarded for good management and corrected when they are engaging in bad management practices.

What does good management leadership look like?

  • Good managers achieve results and don’t drive their employees-team members crazy in the process.
  • They empower and work with followers to get things done.
  • Through the empowerment process, they develop followers’ management- leadership capacity.
  • Truly good bosses leave the followers, the team, and the organization better off than when they began managing them.


Howard, A. (2007). Best practices in leader selection. In J.A. Conger & R.E. Riggio (Eds.), The practice of leadership (pp. 11-40). Jossey-Bass.

More from Ronald E. Riggio Ph.D.
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