We’ve all worked for one or more bad bosses. Some of us have had more than our fair share. Bad bosses are a particular problem for good, dedicated employees—those of us who want to make progress in our organizations. Why? Because bad bosses actually work against the best interests of the organization, its employees, and often, its customers and other stakeholders.
What does research on leadership tell us about the bad boss behaviors that are particularly likely to drive good employees crazy?
1. All About Me. This is the narcissistic leader who cares only about him/herself and only about achieving outcomes that benefit the leader. It’s really hard to work for a boss whose only aim is personal reward and advancement, with little concern given to you and your needs and goals.
2. Asleep at the Switch. This is the leader who simply neglects or refuses to act when action is needed. There is a leadership style known as laissez-faire leadership—which is actually the absence of leadership. A leader in name only, who doesn’t lead. A different form of bad leadership is called passive management-by-exception. This is the boss who waits until there is a problem before s/he does anything—and then it’s often punitive action (“Who did this?”).
3. Relies on the Wrong People. A leader who surrounds him/herself with sycophants and/or incompetents in the inner circle seems to multiply the “bad boss” effect. This means that appealing upward to this dysfunctional leadership team will get you nowhere, and they will drive you crazy.
4. Flies Off the Rails. There are two ways that bad leaders can fly off the rails: they can have difficulties in controlling their negative emotions and lash out at employees; or, they can pursue crazy ideas and strategies that cause the unit or organization to fly off the rails and over a cliff.
5. Ignores Feedback. Have you ever had a boss who acts badly or makes a mistake, but simply repeats the same mistake over and over again—despite getting valid feedback that correction is needed? A boss who doesn’t learn and ignores feedback will definitely drive good workers crazy, as they think, “why is s/he in charge?”
6. Inability to Think Long-Term. A leader who is overly-focused on short-term results but gives little concern to the long-term consequences can work against the best interests of the group or organization. One boss ran his team ragged trying to complete an unimportant but urgent task in order to please a client. As a result, everyone had to drop their long-term projects to help the boss, and everyone suffered.