Workers Leave Bad Bosses!

As an executive coach, I am frequently reminded that people leave bad bosses (not bad companies). I am frequently privy to the real story behind why talented people exit. In my experience, it’s not typically about the commute, the pay, the company or the work. More often, its because the employee just couldn’t stand to continue working under their current boss.

What makes for a bad boss? Beauty is in the eye of the beholder but my top ten list would include any of the following:

  1. Fails to give credit where it is due or plays favorites
  2. Fails to either promote/support direct reports with higher ups (doesn’t have the team’s backs)
  3. Fails to offer structure, direction and “order” for the team (clarifying expectations or what success looks like with work tasks)
  4. Decision making averse or wishy washy (often combined with #3 above)
  5. Fails to demonstrate a caring heart, sensitivity, compassion and attitude (no positive feedback, encouragement etc)
  6. Reacts negatively to critical feedback or bad news (i.e. retaliates, gets defensive, blaming or withdrawn)
  7. Rules with an iron fist (i.e. punitive, demeaning, condescending, passive aggressive or back biting)
  8. Micromanages (i.e. looking over shoulders, “control freak”, nit picks, can’t delegate)
  9. Isn’t open to influence
  10. Doesn’t support/coach or help direct reports advance, improve or develop

Here are this week’s coaching tips towards improving if you are a boss:

  • Demonstrate warmth with a smile or kind word. Greet your people like you are glad to see them in the morning! Offer them something to drink when they come to your office. Simply put-the golden rule.
  • Don’t be stingy with credit! Be generous with praise, recognition, Atta boys and thank you’s. The research is clear on this- humans are motivated by recognition and appreciation. Pay attention to what your people are doing well and let them know that a) you notice and b) appreciate. Good behavior unnoticed may not be continued.
  • Deliver constructive feedback regularly –not just once a year during a performance review! Accurately describe and communicate what behaviors you want continued and those you want changed or extinguished. It’s your job to make expectations clear for your employees.
  • Choose your words carefully. Loaded words that sting with sarcasm (always a double message) should be avoided. One word or action from a boss has the potential to make or break an employee’s day—this is particularly so with young or new employees. They are often starving for positive recognition and many are anxious to know how you are judging their work.
  • Noticing your team has a bad attitude? Look first to see that their attitude isn’t merely a reflection of yours. Boss moodiness is catchy and perpetual boss negativity can be deadly to morale. How you respond to a problem is a choice. Challenge yourself to deliver messages in a way that inspires vs. deflates. The most admired bosses inspire unity and loyalty with hope, optimism and workable solutions. Leaders have tremendous influence on the emotional fields of workplaces and their people. Positive emotions and words from a boss are fuel to increase morale and performance. Generosity of spirit, support and acknowledgement is also catchy. When people see the boss modeling it, they follow suit. Which would you rather have perpetuated in your workplace?
  • Be mindful about how you respond to someone bringing you bad news or critical/challenging feedback. People aren’t likely to be truth tellers a second time if they got shot down the first time. Make it safe for your people to communicate their concerns to you.
  • Earn respect and trust with these fundamentals: be transparent (explain decision making), acknowledge your own limitations (its ok to say “I don’t know the answer”), be authentic, don’t play favorites, get input from your people and maybe most importantly model the behavior you want from your people.

In my experience, most of those perceived as being a “bad” boss aren’t intentional about treating people poorly. More often it’s a lack of awareness coupled with a need for management/leadership skill development (often in the emotional intelligence arena). The good news is these are learnable skills (I teach/coach them daily).

Companies pay a high price when they lose talent under those who lack leadership skill. Bringing in a professional coach to help an otherwise valued manager learn better boss behaviors can be a solid business investment.