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Aaron Hurst
Aaron Hurst

5 Types of Bosses You Want to Avoid

... and how to identify them before you take a job.

Source: Pressmaster/Shutterstock

Relationships are the most important source of meaning at work, and our research shows that your relationship with your manager is the most important of all. When you have a great boss, you are excited to come to work. When the relationship is off, you tend to hit the snooze button on your alarm.

Unsurprisingly, the Number One reason people leave a job is their manager. No boss is perfect, but the better you are at spotting some of these common types of bad bosses during the interview process, the better the chances you will find a job and manager that are a good fit:

1. The Micromanager

Whether out of a fear of failure, an inability to trust other people, or a challenge communicating their needs, the micromanager gets involved in all the details of your work. Being micromanaged can prevent you from being creative or having the autonomy you need. While any of us can get particular about certain details, when micromanaging becomes someone’s default method of managing, it can harm the office dynamic.

If you sense a nitpicky manager during the interview, you have a couple of options: Hint that you work best when given creative space, or address the manager directly, with a question such as, “When do you find the need to be deeply involved with a project vs. letting someone on your team lead?”

Listen for cues in the answer as to the triggers and types of work they mention. For example, they might say that they do it when they are on a tight deadline. OK, then, explore how often work is done on a tight deadline in the department.

2. The Rudderless Captain

It is hard to succeed if your manager doesn’t give you the information or direction you need. Such a boss leaves you in the dark about the end goals or expectations of projects. This can be the result of poor planning and/or communication skills.

To get a better sense of a manager's leadership style, ask something like, “I would love to learn more about how your team really works. Can you share a recent project with me and how the team worked on it?”

Listen in the answer for clues to their role in the story, and ask follow-up questions about how they defined the goal of the project and developed roles and timelines. Does it sound like “magic,” or a methodical approach?

3. The Sleeping Cheerleader

We all need to be celebrated when we do good work and make an impact. And while we shouldn’t need constant affirmation, never being acknowledged makes most people resentful. Managers who fail to recognize their employees' accomplishments may be too distracted, or just may not understand the value of praising their reports. Worse, they might not appreciate the work of the team.

Ask a potential supervisor, “What qualities do you appreciate most in your team? Can you give me some examples of times people have stood out to you?”

Asking for specific examples is an easy way to discern a manager’s attitude. If they have trouble coming up with anything positive to say about their reports, odds are they don’t offer a lot of high-fives around the office.

4. The Ghost

There are some managers you may never see again after the interview. You might have weekly check-ins on the calendar but they always have something pop up that gets in the way. These managers are typically poor priority setters.

During an interview, ask, "How much time do you spend with the team vs. people outside the team? What percentage of your time is spent on client visits or calls?"

The answers will provide direct insights into how the manager prioritizes time and how much of it will be spent with you.

5. The Conflict-Averse

Some managers fear conflict and, as a result, never give feedback—or stand up for you in the organization. They are so worried about upsetting someone else that they can’t be courageous—and this can hinder your own development in the organization.

Ask a potential boss, “Tell me about the last time you had to provide someone with really difficult feedback.”

If you hear candid, honest, and constructive feedback in the answer, that's most likely what you'll receive as their direct report.

Make Your Interview Count

Remember that an interview is a conversation. You are trying to convince a manager that you are a good fit for the position, but you also need to find out if the position is a good fit for you. Asking direct and specific questions to a potential manager will not only help you decide if you’ll be able to work for them, but it will also show them that you care about your work—an attractive quality for any role.

This article also appears on Imperative.

LinkedIn image: Nattakorn_Maneerat/Shutterstock

About the Author
Aaron Hurst

Aaron Hurst is the author of the Purpose Economy. He is the CEO of Imperative and founder of the Taproot Foundation.

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