How to fail as a boss

2012

You may think you're the smartest person in the room, but it's almost guaranteed you're not. And holding the title of "boss" doesn't mean you have the right to act like a dictator. Besides, a bully mentality might impress a few people for a while, but when the dust settles, people see the truth.

I've heard a few too many horror stories lately about people in management positions displaying overbearing attitudes of superiority. Their employees (and former employees) describe them as snarky bullies, aloof, or condescending jerks. Regardless of the moniker, employee morale under such bosses is usually in the toilet and people are quitting (or being fired) in droves. Not exactly a model of workplace excellence.

There are several ways to view such bosses. First is that they're genuine jerks who've managed to manipulate the system and climb on the backs of people to get to the top. I wrote about this in the first chapter of my book, Creating Passion-Driven Teams, because if people insist on being this way, there's no way they're going to build a passion-driven team.

Another way to view such people is that they're trying to succeed, but they've never learned any other method of managing. In interviews with overbearing bosses, it's commonly discovered that their own bosses displayed similar styles, and upon receiving a promotion to management, these people simply adopted the style that was modeled for them early in their career.

Although some bosses consciously choose to be overbearing and don't care about being seen as a jerk, some are unaware of the wake they leave behind them. In either case, let's consider how you might be failing as a boss, and what you might do to reverse that trend.

Humiliation: You are failing as a boss when you humiliate employees in front of other employees. Whether it's done behind their back or with the target employee standing right there, publicly humiliating people earns zero respect. When someone told me how her boss belittled her as "worthless" in front of her co-workers, she said she lost all motivation to show up for work.

Humiliation can also happen in email. You may think that blasting someone in a "reply all" email will send a message that you won't tolerate bad ideas, but what you're really doing is showing people how they'll get treated if their ideas don't match yours. You can also humiliate people by forwarding to others email that is meant only for you.

If you're a humiliator, it will take a long time for you to rebuild trust. But you can make headway by adhering to the principle of praising in public and reprimanding in private.

Trap Setting: You are failing as a boss if you set people up for failure, and then punish them when they fail. This happens when you don't provide instruction or training for a specific task, and then dole out discipline when employees don't do what you expect.

One service repairman I know got fired—get this—because he answered the phone when it rang. The owner of the company would call every few hours, and if the same person answered the phone too often the boss figured the guy was trying to get out of doing repair work.

A little instruction to "let the phone ring if you're busy" would have communicated the owner's wishes, but no such statement or instruction was ever made. Instead, the repairman was fired for doing what he thought was an appropriate, customer-focused activity.

If you're a trap setter, get your head out of playing such games. Be straightforward with what you expect and equip people with the knowledge, skills, and attitudes needed to perform to your expectations.

Isolationist: You are failing as a boss if you ignore everyone except a small clique of cohorts and yes-men. Your employees working in the trenches have excellent insights into how things can be better, so you're asking for trouble if you think that only a handful of people deserve your attention.

One woman describes her boss's clique as a "the top three managers who regularly go out together after work, decorate each other's office on their birthdays, and take a lot of credit for work done by others." They spend a lot of time chatting among themselves, they never give compliments to other people, and they never seek input from anyone but themselves.

If you're an isolationist, realize that you were once a front-line employee who had a lot of ideas on how to make things better. You can turn things around by seeking other people's input and by treating all your employees like they're part of your winning team.

Bottom line: Life is not a continuation of how you acted in high school. You're in a real world of real people who want to contribute. Your job is to put off childish ways and start treating people with respect.

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About The Author

Dan Bobinski
Dan Bobinski

Dan Bobinski is a training specialist, author, and an accomplished keynote speaker. He's been providing management and leadership training to Fortune 500 companies as well as smaller, regional concerns for more than 20 years.