Everyone has a story to tell about a boss who was so terrible that they had to leave the company. By overwhelming amounts, people don't leave bad jobs, they leave bad bosses.
How Bad Bosses Show Up at Work
When we think about a "bad boss" we might first think about their shortcomings at doing their jobs, but when we dig a bit deeper we've found that bad bosses aren't necessarily bad at the work they do. What most of them have in common is that they lack essential communication and people skills. Poor communication skills are at the root of many of these destructive behaviours.
Bad Bosses Build Bad Relationships
Gossiping, picking favourites, blaming, shaming and bullying are all in a day's work for a bad boss. Over the years, we've worked with a lot of teams and found 8 different types of terrible bosses. Do any of them seem a bit too familiar?
1. The Office Gossip
Sounds like: "I heard that his wife makes loads of money. I've seen her pictures on Facebook – she's a total shopaholic. If he is having financial troubles, he needs to get her in line first."
When your boss gossips to you about other people in the office it can make you uncomfortable in two ways:
- You are now in possession of private information on your colleagues and you might not know what to do with this information, and
- You are now not sure if your boss talks like this to other people about you.
Why gossip is weird: when people are gossiping with you it might be because they're trying to build a closer relationship with you. They're sharing secrets with you to show that they trust you to keep them. But when those secrets are not really theirs to share, it completely undermines any trust building and seeds a lack of trust through the whole organization.
2. The Irritable & Unapproachable Boss
Sounds like: "My boss would only talk to me when she was mad at me. It got to the point where I would dread talking to her at all because I knew it was bad news if she looked my way."
Some managers haven't successfully bridged the gap from "doing the work" to "managing the people". Depending on the organization, their role of manager may be in addition to their previous responsibilities and they now have more on their plate than they can handle. Or, they just really hate talking to people and are afraid that they're going to do a bad job as a manager so they make themselves unavailable so they can't screw it up.
3. The Comparison Maker
Sounds like: "Please take Jeff off all of my projects. I find him difficult to work with and I'd rather work with Jenny. Jenny is so great, let's give her a raise."
This behaviour of pitting team members against each other tends to happen in offices where there is a hot/cold boss.
Does it ever seem like your work gets sent back to you completely redlined but your co-worker gets nothing but gold stars? This type of 'competitive comparison' is toxic to your work culture and really brings down the team to the point where the person who is getting the negative feedback will eventually leave. When they do, someone else has to become the FOIL character to the favourite and the cycle repeats itself.
4. The Perfectionist
Feels like: "My boss would correct obviously accidental spelling and grammar mistakes that people made in our internal & social office slack channel."
Having your boss publicly call you out because you wrote that you're "looking forward too the weekend" is one of those menial trivial things that can completely and totally deflate you. Instead of being helpful this type of feedback fuels a harmful inner narrative that can start to erode the culture of the company.
Your inner monolog: Of course you know the difference between two/too/to and this was a simple mistake with no consequences to it so why is your boss spending their time and energy focused on it? Don't they have anything else to do? You need to be extra diligent on those internal communications next time. You know what, better not bother with the office banter at all. Hang on, Joe used the wrong "they're" in this message, maybe I should call him out on this...
5. The Deflector & Blame Shifter (aka the Bully)
Feels like: "After working at a firm for five years I quit to join a start up. My boss was furious and told me that I betrayed him. He blamed me for years afterwards, about things that happened in the company long after I was gone."
A blame shifter is someone who flatly refuses to take responsibility for their actions and opts instead to point the finger at others for their own shortcomings. Deflection and self-pity are common tactics for blamers to shift the attention from themselves for their mistakes. For example, they may turn the tables on you to blame you for their mistakes and then paint themselves as the victim of your sabotage.
Keep an eye out for any time someone on your team is being 'thrown under the bus' or when someone claims to be the victim of the situation, this is a blame-shifting behaviour.
This lack of accountability also shows up as an inability to deal with difficult situations. Instead of addressing a visible and persistently difficult situation, a blame-shifting boss will avoid solving the problem until they find the appropriate place to shift the blame so they can cop out of accountability.
6. The "Motivate by Shame & Humiliation" Boss
Feels like: "My boss's boss yelled at our department head for half-an-hour in front of the entire company because she didn't meet her quarterly goals. He said if that didn't motivate her to do better next time, he didn't know what would."
Facing public shaming is something no one should ever have to experience in the office. Performance evaluations should be based on defined criteria that you agree to and should be discussed privately at your regular reviews.
If you work with a "shame and blame" boss it can be helpful to push for clearer accountability for all roles in the company. Reduce questions of who is responsible for what and set clear priorities as to what your goals and priorities are and quantify and track those goals. Then, if your boss tries to pull the "you suck at your job" act, you have quantifiable stats to discuss if their accusations are in fact true.
7. The Discriminatory Boss
Feels like: "I was pressured into coming back to work early from maternity leave and when I alluded to wanting a more flexible schedule my female boss basically said she’d have to see if I even had a job. I came back full time and asked for breast feeding accommodation, she offered me the bathroom. Both her and the HR manager asked me how productive I was going to be if I was pumping all the time and they didn’t want to set a precedence to other soon-to-be moms in the office."
The business case for diversity in the workplace is now overwhelming and companies who are diverse consistently outperform their monocultural counterparts. A lot of the discrimination people face in the workforce is tied to perceived productivity, i.e. who are companies going to get the most value out of? Assumptions about dedication, needed time off, and work ethic that are both unconscious biases and popular stereotypes are common here.
8. The Boss that Expects... more.
Feels like: "I worked as an intern for a popular former radio host and he kept aggressively hitting on me. I was, like, barely 20-something and he was pushing 40. I was not interested so he said my internship was up and then hired another young intern. Needless to say she left shortly after me, too."
How to Deal with Bad Bosses
Is your boss on this list? Read more about Dealing with Bad Bosses. If you need some help coaching up, contact us and we can work with you to develop the skills that you need to have a fulfilling career no matter how difficult your boss is making it for you.