How can you avoid being a ‘bad boss’?

Bad managers are everywhere. In a Gallup study, it was found that there were more bad managers than good, and that half of all employees have left a job to escape a bad manager.

How can you avoid being a ‘bad boss’?

Bad managers are everywhere. In a Gallup study, it was found that there were more bad managers than good, and that half of all employees have left a job to escape a bad manager. 

However, no one wants to be a bad boss, even the really bad managers. Since I left school at 14 I have had an endless amount of managers, and have experienced all the different ways a manager can make you want to murder them. As someone who has also managed hundreds of different people, I have worked out that there is one single trait guaranteed to lead to being seen as a ‘bad boss’. You can come back from all the other things, but one crucial point impacts whether you’re seen as a good or bad boss:

Caring about whether you’re seen as a good or bad boss.

Michael Scott or David Brent (The Office) both needed people to think about them as good bosses. They craved being admired, respected and powerful. All of their actions were to try and achieve this image, even using their staff to achieve it. They made their work about themselves and their own image, rather than the other way around. This is why these characters resonated so well with audiences ‘ it’s the exact trait which underpins all our experiences with bad managers.

It’s obvious when a boss is trying to make themselves seem inspirational and clever, and it actually ends up having the opposite effect. When we are worrying about what our team think of us, we lose all our credibility. If a manager is trying to use their position to validate themselves, they are condemning themselves to beings seen as a bad boss, no matter how well they do their jobs. All leaders should really be worried about is making choices that they believe will have the right outcomes.

It might seem counter-intuitive, but staff care more about your motivations than they do about mistakes or competence. When someone is perceived as a bad boss, it’s usually down to what people perceive to be the motivation for their actions. Even if you are making good decisions, acting out of self-interest will cause your staff to lose all respect for you. However if they can see that you are just trying to help the team achieve their goals as best you can, then they will see you as a good manager. 

A quote I really like is from Jean de La Fontaine, a French poet – ‘A person often meets his destiny on the road he takes to avoid it.’ Continuing in the spirit of not caring what you think of me, I will admit I heard this from Master Oogway (the tortoise in Kung-Fu Panda) and that I don’t actually read French poetry. But I still think it’s very applicable for anyone worried about being a bad manager. When we try our hardest to avoid something, it’s often is the thing that will become our reality. When we want to seem like a fun manager and ‘one of the team’ we will come across as an outsider. When we want to seem strong, we will come off as weak. And when we try to win people’s respect, we will often lose it.

My last manager was one of the best I’d ever had. Originally I had thought he would seem like the last person I’d connect with – a traditional business guy who went to Harvard and wore suits every day (I’m a high school dropout who doesn’t even own a shirt). I was sure that I wouldn’t connect with him, but I ended up genuinely admiring his management style and seeking his approval. I looked up to him in a way I hadn’t with other managers, for the simple reason that he didn’t care at all whether I looked after him or not. All he cared about was that I did a good job and got good results.

He would criticise me when he thought I needed it, and only praise me when it was deserved. All his actions were completely authentic and in no way influenced by what my perception of him might be. He was careful never to bring his ego to our workplace and only make choices that would be best for the company. 

It’s interesting because I can’t actually remember a single thing that was particularly impressive ‘ there weren’t any memorably challenging situations he handled or mind-blowing leadership examples. He only tried to get the best outcomes, acting as authentically as possible. And this was enough to place him at the very top of my huge pile of former managers.

Being a leader means leading the way and doing what you think is right, regardless of everything else. If you can do this, even if you make mistakes – I promise you will never be seen as a bad boss. 

Matt Casey is a management expert, the co-founder of and author of The Management Delusion: What If We’re Doing it All Wrong 

Matt Casey
Matt Casey

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