Personal Growth

Are you inadvertently being a bad boss?

Every workplace has its own culture: insider acronyms, private slack channels, expectations (both explicit and implicit) around things like dress code and working hours. But it’s who you work with, and maybe more important, who you work for, that really shape workplace culture and ultimately can make or break how happy you are in your job.

If you work long enough, you are likely to have at least one bad boss–and no amount of workplace perks, money, or even meaningful work can make up for the impact bad boss has on your happiness and productivity.

But few people set out to be a bad boss. In fact, most bad bosses have no clue how unhappy their employees are. So what makes someone turn into a bad boss? How can you recognize where you are going wrong if no one gives you honest feedback?

Diana Kander is an author, keynote speaker, and host of The Growth League podcast. She also co-authored a Fast Company article titled “We interviewed 50 ‘bad bosses’ to learn it only takes a few toxic behaviors for everything to go.” She joined me on the latest episode of The New Way We Work to discuss how well intentioned managers can inadvertently turn into bad bosses.

She says that a lot of what’s behind bad boss behavior is stress. “When they are under a stressful environment, they have a completely different set of behaviors that they might not be aware of,” she says. How that stress manifests is different in every manger, but Kander pointed out that the most common complaints from employees were micromanagement and reacting in anger and judgment.

Often, Kander says, “bad boss” behavior is result of the pressure that managers have put on themselves to deliver, and “they don’t consciously realize how it is coming through to the people that they work with. And so they’re just so fearful of things going wrong that they micromanage and inadvertently destroy all of the curiosity and innovation in their workforce.”

Other traits of the bad bosses she talked to were the things they didn’t do: not reinforcing positive performance, withholding negative feedback, and not dealing with underperforming coworkers. Kander points out that good bosses don’t shy away from addressing problems, and that the best way to do so is on a regular basis, rather than waiting until the problem is too big. She suggests having a 15 minute weekly “team process improvement meeting,” where anyone can talk about processes in the last week that made them confused, angry, or happy. “The goal is to make feedback feel more like a routine dental checkup than a root canal.”

Speaking of feedback, Kander says it’s the only way that managers (and everyone) can improve. But getting honest feedback from direct reports can be tricky. In fact, none of the employees that submitted their “bad bosses” for Kander’s article had told their mangers what they thought of them–which is why Kander recommends regular anonymous 360 reviews where managers ask for feedback on how they can better manager and highlight their blind spots. It’s something that every manger can benefit from, she says, because no one is going to tell you that you are a bad boss; they are just going to leave. “You’ll never uncover a blind spot on your own. It takes feedback from others to help shine a light on this huge opportunity for growth and improvement.”

For what questions to ask on a 360 review, what to do with feedback once you get it, and how to incorporate management feedback into the on-boarding process, listen to the full episode.

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