Bosses Who Don’t Get It | Taking Issue

Bad bosses are water cooler fodder. One story begets another until those bosses become mythic, the Cyclopes of the work place. Oh, what we’d give for a chance to poke that lonely eye! 

To be boss and not to boss: That is the issue.  

Ah, there really is something in a name. When you’re a supervisor, you are the boss. That means you’re expected to make decisions and exercise authority which includes “giving orders” and controlling things. Webster says so.

 Bosses who don’t “get it” believe that employees can’t or won’t get the work done right unless the boss controls things by: 

  • Checking and double-checking the work
  • Questioning every decision and process step
  • Criticizing and/or blocking individual initiative
  • Withholding praise or acknowledgement of good work
  • Catching and broadcasting errors
  • Blaming unforeseen issues on others
  • Distrusting progress reports and questioning competency
  • Finding a way to always be right and making others wrong 

I’ve had a few bad bosses and they really irked me. But one turned me into a banshee. Here’s how he treated me: 

  • While I was proposing a program initiative, he’s lean back in his chair, hands behind his head, and smirk at me. Then he’d send me off with no direction. 
  • He would question every detail of my written proposals that he had barely scanned. Result: Deferred action. 
  • His answer was “no” to every documented request to reward the good performance of my employees. 
  • Most of his comments to me were made to my chest. He must have thought I was wearing amplifiers!  

I wasn’t his only irate direct report. There were men too. (They didn’t have amps of interest, however.) He’d direct them to change calculations to make data look better, block their initiatives, and steal the spotlight. In time his “bad boss” brand did him in. 

Smart bosses don’t boss. They build. 

Recently, I got a surprise Facebook message from a woman who’d worked for me 15 years ago, now retired. Her note said, “You were the BEST boss I ever had,” then proceeded to say why. 

As a boss I always thought about myself more as a teacher. That note made me think about praise I’d gotten from other employees along the way. This is what happened with a few: 

1.) A talented, high energy woman, newly added to my staff, took no prisoners when it came to getting work done. This had been her style for a decade and as a result she’d “put off” a lot of people. I laid this out to her and the effect it was having on her career. She spent most of that meeting sobbing. We ended with a “fix it” strategy and my commitment mentor her. It worked. 

2.) I hired a woman, fresh out of college, to take full responsibility for outfitting and driving a mobile marketing exhibit throughout a 10,000 square mile region. It was a 32 foot trailer connected to a one ton pick up. There were plenty of doubters but not me. I gave her resources, support, and confidence. She turned those naysayers into admirers. 

3.) A 19-year-old girl joined my work group as a temporary steno. She was bright and spunky with no direction for her life. She was very close to making career moves that would put her in a black hole. I talked to her at length about her interests and, in time, she enrolled in college. She’s now a CPA and senior manager in a Fortune 500.

 Good bosses make people better. That’s what makes businesses thrive. 

When we’re the boss, our employees are our customers. Our job is to serve them. That means providing clear direction, development for growth, and support so they can make decisions with confidence. 

Business fitness comes from attracting a following, people who hold you in esteem for what you can do and the standards you uphold. The good boss builds a contingent of followers that make the right things happen. Be good! 

Have you worked for a “bad boss” who has left a lasting impression? What was his/her “fatal flaw?” What did you do to cope?