Horrible bosses and what to do about them

Posted in : HR Updates on 4 April 2017
Craig Thompson
Vibrant Talent Development
Issues covered:


Horrible Bosses and What to Do about Them

 It's a really interesting topic, and it's a conversation that nobody ever likes to have and we kind of avoid it. What we'll be talking about includes: 

  1. Why are there so many bad bosses in the first place?
  2. Why do they get away with it for so long?
  3. What's the impact of this type of management, and what can we do as a business to encourage a better style of leadership?

So, to begin, why are there so many bad bosses in the first place? I think that this is both intentional and unintentional on the part of, well, both ourselves and the people who are appointed to management positions.

Some bosses just have a bad attitude

First of all, intentionally, I think that sometimes there are just people with a bad attitude and sometimes they can fly below the radar and they spend a long time working in a company and it's almost just "their time" when an opportunity for a promotion comes up and they get promoted just because of the length of time that they've been in the company. So sometimes they have this attitude "I deserve this" and they almost think that the hard work's done. They are now the boss. They don't have to answer to anybody and they can do whatever they want.

Some bosses lack passion and enthusiasm about managing staff

Sometimes, as well as that, people get offered the opportunity to be promoted into a management position and maybe they take that position and they're not really passionate or enthusiastic about being a manager, and to be honest, they can't really be bothered being a manager and being responsible for everybody else and having those headaches. But they take it because it's extra money, or they're now going to be their own boss, or maybe their spouse or partner would absolutely kill them if they turned it down. So suddenly they find themselves in this management position and they don't really have any inspiration to be a great manager.

Another thing that can happen as well is maybe they've just had a bad boss themselves. So they've been conditioned through the experiences that they had and they just do the same thing unintentionally.

A lack of training and support creates a bad manager

So, a few other reasons why sometimes we end up with a bad boss: we can have people who are really eager and enthusiastic to be a great manager, but maybe they've never been a manager before, and they get this job, and there's no training and there's no support, and they don't have a relationship with a manager of their own to find out how they're getting on and to help them problem solve. There's no coaching for them. Sometimes they don't even have a job description.

I remember myself being offered a training manager position one time. The first thing that I did was ask for a job description, and this was a massive international company, and they didn't have a job description. And this was a new role, a new position that they were creating. They didn't have a job description and I thought, "How did you get someone to commission this position if you can't even tell them what this person is going to do?"

So I asked if they had objectives for the role... Three-month objectives? Six-month objectives? So that I could understand what the measure of success would be for me. They said they don't have objectives for the position, and I was expected to decide whether I wanted that job or not without actually knowing anything about it. So, needless to say, I turned it down.

Managers require a defined purpose and objectives

But often people, you know, might take that position and suddenly they're a manager, and they don't have a job description, and they don't have objectives. They don't actually know what they're supposed to be doing, and they're just winging it and get by, and then they lose motivation. You know, at the start they're daunted, but maybe they just get fed up and they lose that motivation and they start to perform badly at their jobs.

So there is a huge range of reasons why people might become bad bosses, both through their own fault and also through the fault of the person who's appointed them to the position in the first place.

Why do bad bosses get away with it for so long?

I think that sometimes we appoint people because they've been really good at a job that they did previously and we assume that they'll be fantastic in this new role because they succeeded in the previous position. But maybe that other role, you know, it could be an IT position or an operative role, whatever it was, a really hands-on position, it's a completely different job. And they may have had a great skill set and enthusiasm for that role, but in this role, the competencies required to succeed in this position are different. So they get away with it. There is, a lot of the time, nobody observing and nobody monitoring their performance.

I often feel that when there's a problem in a company when somebody makes a mistake, the spotlight shines on the individual. So it shines on the team member, as opposed to the team leader. It's not often until there is a trend of problems identified, or a few people within the team making the same mistakes, that the spotlight starts to shine on the team leader. So they do get away with it, and they get away with it for a long time, poor performance as a team leader. But eventually, when a trend appears then the spotlight will shine on them. But in the short term, certainly, I think these people, they move into these management positions and they either don't apply themselves or they're drowning in the role. And whether that's within their control or not, in the short-term they do get away with it.

What’s the impact of a poor performing team leader?

When these people take a position as a manager, previously the measure of success was their own performance and now the measure of their success is everybody else's performance. The problem is that their performance directly impacts everybody else's performance. So if you've got a really poor team leader, then everybody in that team can experience problems. And when quite a few people then are underperforming then the entire business can underperform. So the impact, first of all, is on staff performance.

But what comes from people underperforming? They start to get stressed, their morale is affected, their own job satisfaction is affected, and off the back of that, they maybe start to call in sick so staff attendance is affected. When they call in sick for a while, they start to get in trouble, and staff retention can, therefore, be affected. Maybe they start to look for jobs in other places, or maybe they lose their job because of performance and attendance. And it actually impacts on the customers as well because customer satisfaction is impacted when performance obviously dips. And as a result of that, we lose customers, or customer retention is impacted.

Poor managers affect the overall business performance

Business performance, on the whole, is then impacted and recruiting volumes and recruiting costs are then impacted as we keep having to replace team members who are frustrated with having a really bad manager. And for the actual managers themselves, not performing in their own role causes them so many headaches. They don't perform, and their own job satisfaction goes down. The relationships with their colleagues and their team members become worse and then they start to call in sick. So the same thing happens to them that happens to everybody else. They create their own problems by not actually applying themselves and, in the end, they start to look for jobs elsewhere or they get fired because none of their team is performing and they're not good at the job.

What can we do as a business to encourage a better style of leadership?

First of all, we need to clearly define the role and the person spec. We need to know the type of profile and the type of person that's going to succeed in this position. I always say hire for attitude and passion. And in this case, we need people who are passionate about working with other people, by developing supporting and by encouraging other people to perform. We need people with ideas in that area as opposed to just the ability to do the job that the team members will be doing. And we need to choose wisely. So when we're appointing people, yeah, it's great to have those subject matter experts, but if we can find someone who has the knowledge about the business and also has people skills, that's going to be better for us.

The key to success is to train newly appointed managers

Once we've appointed them, we need to induct them and we need to train them. So they need to understand what their role now is, what the measures of success are, what their objectives are, and how they can succeed in the role. Leadership training for me should always be arranged for people in their first management position because if we mould them the right way at the start, then as they grow within the company, no matter what role they go on to, they're going to do things right the whole way through. And oftentimes, we invest in leadership training, but we do it for the directors and the senior management. They can have great vision and great strategies and great ideas but, actually, it's the junior managers who carry their message. So provide some leadership training for these guys.

Coaching and on-going support is a must for all managers

We also need to coach them and support them. We need to have one-to-one relationships with them just like we expect them to have with their team members. And, you know, if we provide a great level of support, and if we coach them well, then it shows them what they need to do with their team members too. The final thing is we need to monitor them as well. Not micro-manage, but we need to keep an eye on how they're performing and also keep an open-door policy for their team members to feel like they can provide some feedback in their team leader as well. Because that's going to tell us whether there's more that we need to do to better support them, or whether we need to provide them more training, or whether we just need to listen to them, and problem-solve with them.

This article is correct at 04/04/2017

The information in this article is provided as part of Legal-Island's Employment Law Hub. We regret we are not able to respond to requests for specific legal or HR queries and recommend that professional advice is obtained before relying on information supplied anywhere within this article.

Craig Thompson
Vibrant Talent Development

The main content of this article was provided by Craig Thompson. Contact telephone number is +44 (0)7982 7282 10 or email craig@vibranttalent.co.uk

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