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Why You’re a Bad Boss

By Daniel Bobinski

Ever hear the statement that people don’t quit their job, they quit their boss? Yet we also hear that the most common reason people quit a job is because they don’t feel useful or challenged. Could both be true?

I’ll answer that question with a question. “Who is responsible for helping employees feeling useful and challenged?”

If your answer is, “the boss,” we’re on the same page.

And so, I find myself agreeing with the adage that most people don’t quit their job, they quit their boss.

However, instead of simply outlining the characteristics of a good boss, let’s take a different tack and consider why you might be bad as a boss. After all, if you’re a boss and you’ve read this far, I’ll assume you want to know what you’re doing that’s bad. And that’s good. In all recorded history, we know of only two people who walked on water, and one of them was bad at it. Rare is the boss who isn’t bad at something.

As you read, I’d like to suggest all bosses contemplate two things.

  • How you’re bad as a boss
  • Why you might be bad in those areas

But you can’t stop there. If that’s all you do, you might remain bad. To get better, you’ll need to become a student and learn to do a few things differently. So, with the hope that you want to get better, let’s jump in.

You’re a bad boss when your employees don’t know what’s expected of them.

Have you ever met anyone who successfully passed a telepathy class? Me either. If you, the boss, don’t clearly communicate to each employee what you want from them, they won’t know.

Communication is a two-way process. If you say something and another person hears it, that doesn’t mean they understand it. If your employees can’t explain back what you expect of them, then you haven’t communicated.

This isn’t a one-and-done, either. It can’t be like the wife who, after 20 years of marriage, asks her husband why he never says, “I love you,” and the husband says, “I told you once on our wedding day; if I change my mind, I’ll let you know.”

How to be better? For good performance management to occur, bosses need to connect with each direct report about once a quarter to discuss the high-priority job responsibilities and what results are expected. As I said, those conversations should flow both ways, and that means bosses need to listen at least as much as they talk. And that leads me to my next point:

You’re a bad boss when you don’t listen to your employees.

Seriously. If you don’t listen to your employees, they won’t feel heard, and people who don’t feel heard don’t feel valued. You should also know that people who don’t feel valued rarely engage, and employees who aren’t engaged aren’t all that profitable to your team.

How to be better? TRULY listen to your direct reports. This doesn’t mean just letting them talk and saying, “Yeah, I hear you.” A good boss comprehends the thoughts and feelings behind each employee’s words. And the following is important: While you don’t have to agree with what people tell you, immediately indicating you disagree can be a bad thing. What’s important is that you indicate that you understand what’s being told you. That’s what makes employees feel heard. If they don’t feel heard, they don’t think you care and, in short order, they stop caring.

Here’s another way to look at this. There’s a difference between “effective” and “efficient.” Effective means doing the right thing, efficient means doing something quickly. As management guru Stephen Covey used to say, you can’t be efficient with people. True listening is an effective skill, but trying to be efficient about it often backfires.

You’re a bad boss if you don’t compliment or encourage your employees.

A maxim often attributed to Mark Twain is, “I can live for two months on one good compliment.” If you never compliment people on the work they do, they’ll think you don’t care. See my previous comments for the ripple effects of that.

The words, “good job” are like currency. Saying those words is like handing someone a dollar. But even better are specific compliments, such as, “I really like the way you thought through that production problem and found a workable solution. That’s going to make everyone’s job easier.”

The latter is more like handing someone a $100 note.

How to be better? Make it a daily habit to identify at least one action from people on your team that deserves a compliment, then give it. Knowing your people is valuable here, because some people enjoy public compliments, while others prefer to receive compliments privately. Either way, all people enjoy receiving compliments.

You’re a bad boss when you say what you think people want to hear, then do something different.

If you lack the courage to talk truth with people, you probably shouldn’t be a boss. Once people find out you’ve lied to them, their trust in you goes out the window. And with it, their commitment to the team.

Psychologists tell us most people lie for one of two reasons. First, because they’re afraid something bad will happen if they tell the truth. Second, because they hope to gain something from the lie. Either way, if you’re lying to employees, know that at some point your lies will get exposed. When that happens, trust evaporates and people won’t cooperate with you.

How to be better? First, determine why you lie. Then, I strongly recommend getting a coach or a counselor to discuss the issue. No one can change this behavior but you, but having an accountability partner in some capacity will help you break the habit.

Humans are flawed creatures, so nobody is the perfect boss. But by identifying our weak spots and working to correct them, we increase the likelihood that good employees will hang around and stay engaged.

Daniel Bobinski, M.Ed. is a best-selling author and a popular speaker at conferences and retreats. For more than 30 years he’s been working with teams and individuals (1:1 coaching) to help them achieve excellence. He was also teaching Emotional Intelligence since before it was a thing. Reach Daniel on his office phone, 208-375-7606, or through his website, www.MyWorkplaceExcellence.com.

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