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 Reacts negatively to critical feedback or bad news (i.e. retaliates, gets defensive, blaming or withdrawn)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.

Delegate to Lead Well

The more senior you are in the organizational hierarchy, the more you will need to rely on delegation to be successful.

Senior managers serve their organizations most effectively when focused on strategic planning and other high-level activity, including getting the most out of their people — in other words, leading. In most situations, they do not have the luxury of direct involvement with the actual “doing” typically completed by associates or direct reports with specific skills and responsibilities. Many managers struggle with how to delegate effectively. It’s not easy. The biggest offense: micromanaging or delegating without sufficient or specific consideration to establishing accountability. The greatest challenges for most leaders are determining under what circumstances you can (and should) delegate, to whom you can delegate and how to establish accountability.

Effective delegation can help your people develop and deliver to their highest potential. Most professionals credit their greatest growth to someone delegating to them along the way. Most workers are eager for more challenge, autonomy and responsibility (aren’t you?).

Yet many managers are uncomfortable delegating for fear of having tasks out of their direct control. Individuals who pride themselves on their high performance can particularly struggle with the paradox of “no one can do the task as well as I could” (i.e. as fast, thorough, insightful, creative) and recognizing that the key to leadership success is leveraging the skills and talents of others in the organization.

What kinds of tasks can you delegate? The answer is, of course, it depends. However, generally speaking, you can comfortably delegate most routine duties and questions, relatively minor decisions without great risk or consequences, and minor staffing issues (scheduling and coordinating). Another rule of thumb — you should be able to delegate anything you would expect your employees to do when you aren’t there. From there, it’s trickier and you will need to rely on good judgment.

One important step is identifying the right person to take on the delegated task. According to Ken Blanchard, author of “Leadership and the One Minute Manager,” responsibility and authority should be given to those who have demonstrated both commitment and competence in the skills and abilities required to complete the task. To determine commitment, consider their motivation, enthusiasm, trustworthiness and confidence. Evaluating relative competence involves taking into account their relative education, knowledge, skills, experience and track record. Understandably, new or inexperienced hires often need more training, direction and supervision. The “unproven” will generally need to prove their commitment and competence to you first, especially for projects with the potential of significant impact to the organization.

I encourage managers to think of delegation as a process. Don’t just automatically turn everything over to someone. Do it in stages; this will increase your comfort level and theirs. To be successful requires ongoing communication, feedback, confirmation and monitoring. Recognition, accountability, defining and supporting required authority and defining consequence (both for achievement and non-achievement of delegated tasks) are also important.

Truly effective leaders understand that delegating does not mean abdicating. You are still ultimately responsible so remain involved. Let the employee know you are available and willing to answer questions. Communicate expected outcomes — what you want done by when (what success looks like) — and provide the necessary resources and feedback for success. Don’t forget to tell them why you chose them for the task (what skills and talents you see in them that give you confidence they will be successful). I recommend that managers also ask one final question after delegating a task: What else do you need from me to be successful?

A common delegation pitfall — when leaders fail to assign or relay the necessary authority required to be successful. Employees want (and need) clarity about authority, responsibility and expectations. While important, personal authority in many cases is not enough to get multilevel or complex tasks accomplished. As a manager, delegates will look to you for protection and direction, as well as the authority they need to be successful.

Lastly (and perhaps most importantly), remember that accountability and delegation go hand in hand. If you aren’t willing to hold someone accountable, don’t delegate. It’s a mistake (and unreasonable) to delegate something important and then walk away and never look back. Ask the person you are delegating to how they will communicate back to you that the task is completed successfully, or if they are having trouble. Make them a partner in defining how you will know they have completed the task successfully. Engage in a collaborative discussion to define success parameters and expectations that both of you are comfortable with. This will greatly improve the chances for success and positive growth of the employee.

Invest in yourself by hiring me as your coach! I can help you learn, develop and grow your leadership and coaching abilities.  I coach leaders all over the world via Skype.  Call me:  360 682 5807 or email: