Four Common Qualities of Really Bad Bosses

If your boss shows these behaviors, it's probably time to vote with your feet.

Posted Jul 05, 2017

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I've had multiple conversations with friends about really bad management they've experienced. While such talks are always disturbing, the most unfortunate thing is how common they are — as we might expect in a management landscape where data consistently shows only around 30 percent of employees are strongly committed to their companies.

In these conversations, the problematic management behavior described often contained variations on a theme. I've distilled it to four regrettably common types of dysfunction among highly ineffective managers. (These were also behaviors I observed in my years in the corporate world.)

1. They rarely communicate. 

Open, transparent communication is the foundation on which the house of management is built, and when a house lacks a solid foundation, the whole structure sits on shaky ground. In my many years in management, I never met a good manager who wasn't also a good communicator. Managers who prefer to keep to themselves rather than interact regularly with their troops simply aren't well-suited for the role. At the rare times when communication from such reclusive managers does occur, it's usually negative in tone, pointing out a problem — what I call "Gotcha management."

2. They take no responsibility. 

Good managers take responsibility for their actions. As the old leadership adage goes, "Give credit, take responsibility." It goes with the territory. (It's interesting to note that a chronic unwillingness to take personal responsibility is a key attribute of our president.) The unsatisfactory managers I've recently discussed were all too willing to throw others under the bus to deflect negative attention from themselves.

3. They have the scruples of a timber rattler. 

This phrase may be a trifle harsh, but as the point above suggests, weak, unprincipled management is invariably less concerned with doing the right thing for an organization than with protecting their own career interests. Studies show that narcissists in particular may be overrepresented in management, and narcissists are characterized by arrogant behavior, grandiose opinions of themselves, and a marked lack of empathy for others. It's a highly unproductive constellation of attributes for management.

Wikimedia Commons
"Workers On Their Way Home" by Edvard Munch, c. 1913.
Source: Wikimedia Commons

4. They are far more concerned with their own career than yours. 

This was another common theme in my recent management dialogues — in short, selfish managerial behavior. "It's not about you" was the way I once described this phenomenon: The best managers focus on the needs of others, and in so doing, they get the best work out of others, which of course is what productive management is all about.

Taken alone, any one of these four traits can give an employee sleepless nights. Taken together — and, unfortunately, they often do occur together — they can create a perfect storm of managerial dysfunction.

My advice, if you're an employee confronted with a manager displaying this behavior? Sorry to say, but deeply ingrained patterns are unlikely to change. It's always advisable to maintain professional demeanor and performance, but at the same time I'd begin looking elsewhere. If you're an employee in this situation, your most meaningful vote will probably be with your feet.

This article first appeared at

Victor Lipman is an executive coach and author of The Type B Manager.