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Thursday, 12 May 2011

How to tell if you have a really, really bad boss

Chances are that like me, some of you have worked with a bad boss (BB), and it hasn’t taken you very long to recognise them for who they are. Depending on your experience, a BB could range from being a micro-managing freak who takes the credit for a team effort, to someone who is not there when his team needs him the most.

I had the distinct displeasure of working with such a BB in my last role at a prominent financial services firm in Australia. While he was not the primary reason for my leaving, he certainly made my (already long) hours at work interminable.

As most of you already know, what a BB says and what he does can be poles apart. I’ve picked out three examples from my career here.

BB Example 1: Delegate then don’t

The BB said
“I want you to own this project. You are responsible for its successful delivery.”

The BB did
• Provided step-by-step instructions on how the project should be delivered.
• Was critical of any approach that didn’t match his views. Did not accept alternatives.
• Jumped in under the guise of providing assistance when none was requested.
• Laid blame if the project failed, but took centre position if the project was successful (became the ‘face’ of the project).

What’s going on here?
This was micro-management at its most extreme. This manager was unwilling to delegate but made the situation worse by indicating that he could. Obviously his actions were contrary to his instructions given at the start, creating confusion and wasted effort. Staff morale was woeful because reward and recognition for the team was absent.

BB Example 2: None-on-ones

The BB said
“I want us to have monthly one-on-ones to ensure your development plan is on track.”

The BB did
These meetings were rescheduled regularly as the BB tended to have other urgent appointments. The so-called monthly sessions soon became ‘quick catch-ups’ every six months.

What’s going on here?
My BB viewed himself as a manager not a leader. He made it clear that he was primarily interested in whether daily tasks were delivered, and made time to check up on this. When in came to discussing how his staff were feeling and whether they were growing in their roles, the BB was unavailable. Although he spoke about the need to undertake monthly discussions, I wonder how much of this was because HR required him to do so. Actions here spoke louder than words.

BB Example 3: Free? Who? Me?

The BB said
“Feel free to talk to me if you need assistance.”

The BB did
Like everyone else, the BB was extremely time poor, but he made a point to let everyone know about it. He constantly complained about the number of meetings he had and why “people just can’t leave him alone”. Attempts by the BB’s staff to see him generated scathing remarks: “here we go again…another meeting”.

What’s going on here?
The BB may have genuine time management issues and of course it’s unrealistic to expect your manager to drop everything and be by your side every time you need help. Being new to his role, my BB was on a profile-building exercise with people he considered important stakeholders. He was almost always unavailable to discuss serious matters with me because he was unwilling to rescheduled appointments with these stakeholders. As a result the BB was not around to handle resignations in his own team.

Final note
The above are snapshots of my own personal experiences and they are not meant to cast all busy managers as bad ones. However, having gone from a manager who knew how to lead to a BB within the space of two jobs, I have been able to experience the huge morale drop that a BB can cause.

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