These five behaviours make you a bad boss

Written by Kevin Murray CMgr CCMI Wednesday 17 March 2021
This won’t be an easy read, but if you want to build trust with your team you need to put a stop to these bad management practices
Person staring at own reflection

Because of bad bosses, we find it really hard to get motivated. We turn up for work and do the bare minimum to stay in the job. We get little in the way of constructive feedback or recognition, so we don’t feel great about ourselves. We don’t feel like we are a member of a team, which in any case feels dysfunctional and competitive – distinctly NOT a team! We really don’t feel we know our manager or why they want us to do what they ask of us. They feel ineffectual when in front of us and, worst of all, seem to have no idea how their behaviours affect us.

This kind of manager makes us want to leave. It’s a great company, and we love what this company does, but anything would be better than this job – and so we polish up our CVs, read the job sites, speak to headhunters, and before long, we move somewhere else. (There is a horrible HR truth that haunts most companies and it is this: employees who rate their direct manager’s performance poorly, are FOUR TIMES as likely to be job hunting.)

Do you recognise this state of affairs? How do you rate your manager? If you are a manager, what chance might this be you? Sadly, the odds are quite high* that the answer is yes to both questions. By my reckoning, more than 50%, I’m afraid.

How to be the opposite of a good manager

There are people who are appropriately charismatic, but who lack the ability to problem-solve or develop a strategy, or don't know enough about the technical aspects of the job that their team is required to do. Lacking these skills may negatively impact on their effectiveness as a leader. However, with the right charismatic skills, such a leader would still be able to draw on the knowledge and expertise of others to cover those shortfalls. Those who lack many of the skills of charisma, may be making some dreadful mistakes, often unintentionally, but nevertheless with the same devastating consequences.

On the basis that knowing what NOT to do can be just as helpful as knowing what's right, I offer the following checklist to help you be more aware of the bad behaviours which will make you disliked, ineffective and possibly even likely soon to be fired. There are some leaders who simply don't care about others and it is this level of disregard that leads them to be really bad bosses. They create truly toxic places to work, and so long as they get done what they want done, nothing else matters.

On the other hand, there are also managers who are well intentioned, and far greater in number, who do care about people, but simply lack the skills to do a better job of encouraging discretionary effort. A lack of awareness about what really matters to people, leads them to be bad bosses to work for, even though they are likely to be far less toxic and also likely to want to improve.

Let’s look at trust-destroying things that you might be doing that will hinder your ability to create a high-performing team. As you read this list of bad behaviours, reflect for a moment on each point and consider whether you may be guilty of this sin, to some degree or other. Be tough on yourself, because your employees most certainly will be. Examine whether you may be unmindful of any of these sins and may therefore inadvertently be guilty of bad behaviour.

Five behaviours that destroy authenticity and trust

1. Lack of integrity

The very worst kind of boss to work for is one who lacks integrity or displays it inconsistently. Those with integrity stay true to their values and are prepared to make tough choices about what's right rather than what's convenient. When you get to a place where integrity plays no part in your management, no one can trust you. Without a moral compass and ethics, or even just a sense of what's fair, the team will quickly dissolve into bad behaviours and poor performance, based on a lack of trust of their leader. This trust deficit floods into their daily working life and infects their relationships with all of their teammates. Even when leaders do have integrity, their employees often see it differently. This is because their employees will observe inconsistent behaviours from their bosses, which while simply thoughtless, will lead them to make judgements about the character of their boss. Equally, such inconsistencies, or even the want of speaking up on issues, can make a boss seem insincere and dishonest. Leadership is an act of courage and being courageous often means standing up for the things you truly believe in, even in the most difficult of circumstances. Those without integrity will stand up for very little, and hypocrisy quickly follows.

2. Bad bosses discriminate amongst members of their team

They have favourites, whom they shield from the effects of doing shoddy work, or with whom they favour good assignments or great working hours and shifts. They will expect loyalty but won't be loyal themselves. They divide and conquer, and set up discord in the team, by favouring the opinion of some over others. Members of the team will quickly notice this and then distrust; disengagement and demotivation quickly follow.

3. Bosses who trust no-one are toxic

Distrustful managers will tend to micromanage others, check everything that people are doing, or disbelieve people unless they can conclusively prove their point of view. This lack of trust will lead to massive bottlenecks. Bottlenecks lead to a loss of productivity. A micromanager will seldom delegate. They ask to be copied in on every email, will want to go to every meeting and will make every decision and solve every problem. They will then make a really big deal out of working 80 hours a week. They care little that team members feel disenchanted and disempowered. In fact, this actually creates a vicious circle, because if they do sense that this disengagement, they will be even less likely to delegate.

4. Leaders who keep themselves to themselves can be very damaging to team morale

Those who never speak up for the values they believe in and make it very difficult for people to read them, set up a wariness among their employees, which also leads to a lack of trust. Any employee who finds their boss aloof and doesn't really know where their boss is coming from, will regard them as dangerous and unpredictable.

5. Managers who lack self-awareness or humility are damaging

When leaders think they are, for example, a great communicator, and members of the team think otherwise, credibility suffers. On the other hand, leaders who show vulnerability are often perceived to be more effective as leaders, because they show more of their human side. As tough as it is to admit mistakes, humility is one of the most powerful attributes of managers and is a great accelerator of building trust.

*According to CMI research, as many as four out of five managers in the UK are accidental managers – those promoted to their role without adequate training. In the UK alone, that’s an estimated 2.4 million bosses. Imagine how many employees that affects? According to one estimate, less than half of all employees are satisfied with their manager. The World Bank estimates there are 3.4 billion workers around the world. How many of them are feeling disengaged and demotivated? This brings with it a massive cost in lost productivity. Find out more about the productivity gap and what you can do about it in our exclusive research with the Institute of Directors.

This is the first in a special series of articles by author and leadership expert Kevin Murray CCMI, in which he’ll examine some of the behaviours that kill trust, destroy conversations, create chaos and lead to highly demotivated teams. This article is drawn from research he did for his new book Charismatic Leadership: The skills you can learn to motivate high performance in others (published by Kogan Page). CMI members can save 20% on this book with the code CMI20.

Next up in the series:

1. Ways to destroy your personal power

2. Managers without warmth make employees disengage 

3. Without cause of drive, managers destroy a sense of purpose

4. Poor persuaders kill conversations and innovation

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