The worst behaviours of bad bosses revealed

fear and blame kill performance

You’d think with over 50 years of brilliant management education and more and more resources for leadership and management training that we would have eradicated the bass boss problem. Yet in 2019 we still see the studies and reports that 85% of the workforce is still disengaged.

What needs to change? It’s not an easy question to answer, but a good start is to hire managers and leaders with the right skills to manage people rather than the technical ability in a given function. People management means understanding people and first and foremost understanding yourself. Unless your bosses have started on the self-awareness journey you will struggle to help them to step up and be great people managers.

Here are my top reasons why bosses are accidentally bad. I say accidentally because I really believe that no-one sets out to be a bad boss.

1. They are unskilled.

2. They focus on themselves more than the team

3. They are guarded

4. They talk too much

5. They love to be the expert

6. They take the credit for the teams’ successes

7. They rule by procedure

8. They empire build

9. They aren’t trust worthy

They are unskilled

Everyone has experienced being a first-time manager. When you are new in role then of course you are unskilled and need time to develop the key skills, but unless the manager has the right support, coaching and development they will continue to be unskilled. Perhaps it is the boss who was promoted too early or hired to fill a gap urgently and they weren’t ready to step up and lead. In those cases, the hiring managers have failed them unless they are willing to help them get the skills.

I also see  lots of bad bosses who have no idea what good looks like. There is not framework or competency dictionary to demonstrate what a successful manager looks like. How do they know they aren’t performing when they haven’t got anything to measure their performance against? So, they either follow practices from managers that came before them, mirror their own managers or simply wing it and hope for the best. More often than not those managers become so focused on delivering that they spend most of their time doing tasks, attending meetings and getting in the detail. People Management – the core of the role – becomes secondary.

They focus on themselves more than the team

Bad Managers generally focus on self-preservation. They look at what they need to do to achieve their own goals and prioritise their own work rather than focusing on the wants and needs of their people. If their people succeed, then surely, they succeed.

Self-preservation comes from a place of fear. It’s easier to keep your head down and keep going rather than stopping, looking up and seeing the bigger picture. I can’t tell you how many bad bosses I have met who refuse to ask for feedback or decline the 360-feedback process. Their egos are so fragile that they would rather bury their heads in the sand rather than listen to what their team needs to be successful. People need to feel safe, cared for and inspired to do their best work. A manager who is focused on their own reputation and career is one of the ugliest and baddest bosses of them all.

Knowing that they are not bad people but instead recognising that they are in survival mode helps their own leaders to know how to help them. Coach, mentor ad invest.

They are guarded

Bosses who aren’t transparent, secretive or withhold information create insecurity, distance and lack of trust. I have even heard bosses say, “That information is below your pay grade” or “It’s on a need to know basis and you don’t need to know”. The sad thing is that they heard that language from their own bosses and thought that this was a great way to lead. 

Secrets create mistrust, which creates fear, which creates stress. Sometimes there is information that is sensitive but there is a way of handling those kinds of requests. Perhaps instead say, “I am unable to share all of the details right now, tell me, what specifically do you need to know right now that will help you”.

In the realms of knowledge is power, what a load of rubbish. If you are withholding information to give yourself more importance or protect your own existence then you are harming the business, the team and your career. Open bosses share knowledge to help others grow, develop and do better work and come up with their own solutions. Bad bosses surpass talent.

They talk too much

Have you ever been to a meeting where the boss just talks at you for an hour? It’s a complete waste of time, totally demotivating and pretty hard to concentrate isn’t it?

Bad bosses who do all of the talking and then only pretend to listen are weak bosses. Active listening and two-way communication is essential when managing people. Bad bosses don’t want to hear other people’s ideas, opinions or feedback.


For some it’s because they are so busy problem solving that they literally have no time to be proactive. For many, they think that's their job and they role model the behaviours of their own bosses of the past. For others it maybe that their ego is so fragile that they think that allowing others to speak up somehow takes away their power. They are exhausting and eventually the people they lead give up, shut up and stop innovating or even caring.

They love to be the expert

Part of the reason they talk too much is because they love being the expert and are addicted to being right. It feels good to be right doesn’t it?

Why wouldn’t you allow others to feel that good. Even if you know the answer already, what purpose does it serve to stop others from finding the answers for themselves?

We all learn through experience and figuring stuff out for ourselves. Bosses who love to be the hero or the expert supress others growth by maintaining their position on the self-imposed pedestal. And another quality I see in bad bosses is swooping.

They delegate a project and when the going gets tough they swoop in, fix the problem then hand it back. In their head they have saved the day. In everyone else’s head they have stepped on their work and made them feel incompetent.

They take the credit

Taking the credit for others peoples work doesn't make you a great boss, is makes you and arse.

Hogging credit for the work your people does is totally unacceptable and makes others not want to put in the extra commitment or effort to deliver. 

Recognition and feeling acknowledged is a basic motivator. Take that away and you are creating problems for yourself. If you are a boss who fails to recognise other achievements, then take a good hard look at yourself and the impact you are having on your people.

It is teamwork that get results.

No one likes a glory hunter, and nobody likes someone who doesn’t believe in teamwork. The selfish boss is regarded as one of the worst bosses of all.

They rule by procedure

Computer says no… I would if I could but it’s out of my hands… I would need to get approval for that… Blah Blah Blah.

Bad managers who don’t have confidence in their own abilities manage by bureaucracy and hide behind procedure.

One head of department spent a huge part of their day managing the no food at the desk policy and accosting people who were  2 minutes late from break. Haven't they got more important things to be focusing on? 

And have you ever come across a boss who holds the keys to the stationary cupboard. I mean if you need a pen you have to ask your boss for permission. Seriously? Is this really the job of a boss? A boss who is so focused on policy, procedure and enforcing rules really isn’t management material and is screaming “I don’t trust you” through their behaviours.

They empire build

I have seen so many Managers who value their success by how many people report into them. It doesn’t matter that those people are demotivated, underperforming or underutilised, as long as this manager has a bigger team than their peers, they feel more important.

Empire builders seek power, resources and responsibility to make them feel more successful. They aren't necessarily interested in using that power to serve.

They don’t develop talent, don’t share resources for the good of the business and hold them close. I observe that they  talk about their team as though they are a possession.

Great bosses attract top talent because of their reputation. They give their people the opportunities to stretch, do challenging work and grow their talents. Empire builders do the opposite.

They are untrustworthy

Everything listed above leads to lack of trust. bad bosses aren't liked, loved or trusted.

Bosses without integrity are never respected and we all want to work for someone who we respect and who inspires us. Feeling safe and secure at work enables us to do our best work and best thinking. Where there is no trust then results simply don’t follow

Most bad bosses got there by accident. They have been let down by either being promoted too early or by not being supported or developed. They generally feel out of their depth and are doing what they think is right to simply survive. They need help, support and training. They need their bosses to be better bosses and to act as a role model.

If you recognise any of these behaviours in your company, it’s time to get some help. Get in touch with us and let us help you