“Great people are hard to find.” It’s a statement you hear a lot with hiring managers and talent acquisition friends. We had a listener question that flipped the dynamic by talking about how hard it was to find a great boss while asking the question, “Is it possible for a good person to turn into a bad boss?”
The answer is that even great leaders can find themselves becoming a bad boss if they aren’t mindful of it. While I think there are a number of reasons why people end up at this point, from being promoted too soon, to not being equipped to handle the soft skills of leadership, or personal disengagement, very few people start out with the intention of being a bad boss to others.
So how do people get to this point?
It’s often a subtle and long journey, and the person can miss that they’ve strayed off of the right path. Here are some things to look for to help determine if you becoming a bad leader.
Signs that you may be a bad leader
Are people bailing on you? The Great Resignation aside, have you been seeing an uptick in people leaving the organization lately? It’s said that people quit bosses, not companies and that is largely correct. While the counterargument is that it is all about money does hold some weight, especially for entry-level jobs, it becomes less of a factor for higher levels in the organization.
If you have people leaving, especially abruptly, it likely means that they have hit their breaking point and have given up on their role. This is a strong indicator that your leadership is at play in their decision to seek employment elsewhere.
How comfortable are people around you? We’ve all been there. It’s the feeling of having to walk on eggshells because you don’t know what will set the other person off. That feeling and dynamic can cause you to have anxiety or feel fearful to be truthful with the other person.
How are people acting when they are around you? Are they timid to share any constructive criticism or questions about directions or a project? If so you may have a toxic environment at play where the team feels like it has to hide in the shadows in order to survive the day. If you are unsure about the hesitation of your team to share honestly, throw out a really bad idea and see what their reaction is. If there is no hesitation or pushback, you may have a team that fears giving their honest opinion.
Who carries the trophy? When it comes to the success of your team, who is the one that is recognized for their accomplishments? Do you find yourself holding the proverbial trophy after the team wins and taking credit for all of the success? It’s an easy trap to fall into. We discussed the ego trap in the 7 deadly sins of leadership with Jennifer Thornton (EP 257)
Employees can quickly see when you make the direction about yourself and can feel unappreciated as a result. it doesn’t always have to be at the big milestones wins either; are you the speaker for the group when it comes time to present to the senior leaders or clients? Are you the face of the job when all the others are the ones that did the hard work?
Recognize how much of the spotlight you take in both the big and small parts of your and your team’s work.
Tips to get back on track
Maybe you see yourself in a bit of the examples above. Know that hope is not lost. Just as you had a journey or experiences that led you to where you are today, you can also take a journey back to great leadership that includes and engages others in a meaningful way.
Take the “No More” approach. We’ve talked before about the no-more approach before. It’s the idea that as you reflect back on past bad experiences that you’ve had with other bosses or companies that you commit to people under your leadership will never have that bad experience again. It’s a great way to make the best of bad leadership situations.
Are there things that you are doing or ways that you are currently leading that need a “No More” correction? If so, commit to it and begin righting the experience of others immediately. These are often behavioral on your part so they take little discussion or debate with others to implement.
Commit to an encouraging word a day. For most people, it takes being intentional in order to lift people up and encourage them. Try starting small by recognizing and encouraging one person a day. If you need some ideas on ways you can encourage others you can check out:
Acknowledge what others know. Your people know when you are a bad boss. instead of hiding behind new initiatives and commitments, own up to your growth opportunities and explain to them your commitment to do better. This will show them that you have an authentic desire to change, and it will keep you accountable to take the steps necessary to head in the right direction.
It’s never too late to turn around your leadership reputation no matter how far you’ve strayed. With time, commitment, and a humble attitude you can bounce back to your former glory.
Managing to the exception is something you encounter on a daily basis. You see warnings and disclaimers all the time in the food industry and on the product that you buy. Who would have thought that Legos are a choking hazard and a rare steak is not fully cooked? Have you ever worked in an environment where they had some weird rule or restriction because someone at some point did something they shouldn’t have?
How does exception management happen and how can we fight it?
How it manifests
You’ll often see managing to the exception come about in one of three ways:
A) A project, product, or service is slow to implement because it’s not perfect. There is a demand to keep refining the process to meet the need of every possible scenario.
B) Anytime a leader lets something of small importance drive a decision of large importance.
C) Policies and procedures are written in anticipation or as a response to a one-off encounter or event.
What it does to your team
Managing to the exception can have several negative effects on your team.
It may make them feel like you don’t trust them.
It inevitably leads to less productivity.
It lowers the value of other policies and procedures that are truly important.
It may cause people to doubt your decision-making ability.
It can make the employee feel like they are a liability and not an asset.
Call it out
It’s important to call out exceptions when you see them so that they don’t then become engrained in a project or a policy. It’s okay to say, “I think this is the exception to the rule,” during a meeting. You’ve likely seen one of these side notes or comments ending up taking over a meeting. Have the courage to speak up and nip it in the bud so that you can continue on with things that are more important. If there is still debate on the validity of the issue, bring it offline and talk with the person about their concerns.
Ask yourself if the issue or concern is a deal-breaker or not. If it is, address it on a large scale. If not, take care of the exception and move forward.
Have a look back period
A yearly review of policies and procedures is a good practice to ensure that you are not bogging your teams down with unnecessary regulations and hurdles to efficiency. What needs to be updated? What needs to be erased? Look for things that are outdated and are holding your team back.
I typically recommend a set of policies and a set of guidelines for organizations. Policies are strict tactical pieces needed to do your business. How you handle your money, ethics, information security, and safety would all be examples of policies. Guidelines would be just that. “Here are our preferences and guardrails in this situation.” Dress code, customer issues, branding standards, and vendor management would be examples here.
Ideally, your policies should be small compared to your guidelines. Both offer a standard, with guidelines offering flexibility to suit the situation while policies are set in stone. Some companies have bloated policies because they have no guidelines.
Handle the one-off and exceptions when they occur, just don’t let it drive your business and how you approach your team.
Happy April Fools day! We are going to have fun with bad leadership quotes today. Don’t be fooled by these commonly shared quotes.
“My job is not to be easy on people. My job is to make them better.” – Steve Jobs
This could be said another way. “Have no empathy with others. Push people hard.” As much as Steve did to build, and later rebuild a great organization, this quote lacks one of the key philosophies in making a great leader.
We’ve talked about empathy at length over the years. Empathy doesn’t equate to weakness. Having great empathy means that you fully understand the position of the other person and you take that into account in your decision making. You greatly increase someone’s potential by understanding whether they are coming from and what motivates them in order to give them the practical steps to success.
“Managers do things right. Leaders do the right thing.” – Warren Bennis
The classic, ____X_____ is this and ______Y________ is the the opposite. It’s a favorite on Linkedin and quite easy to use the formula to crank out generic quotes.
Managers are about themselves. Leaders are about others. Managers think about today. Leaders think about tomorrow. Managers talk. Leaders take action. Managers know it all. Leaders are constant learners.
As good as they look on the surface, these quotes are often not totally true. A great leader does the right thing and does things right in the first place. It’s not always as easy this or that with leadership.
“Don’t tell people how to do things, tell them what to do and let them surprise you with their results.” – George S. Patton
I can tell you people live by this quote! It’s also the root issue that brings me the most consulting business.
This basically says, instruct someone on what to do without giving them direction or the tools to be successful and stand in wonder at the results that you were not expecting. The go-to version of this in my realm is this:
“You need to develop _(Insert underperforming person here.)__”
Six weeks later the boss is upset because nothing has changed and you are frustrated and bewildered because you didn’t know how to change the person’s behavior. Make sure you give your team clear expectations on what the goal is and the resources to get there. Once those are established give them the freedom to create and then be surprised by the results.
“A man’s gotta make at least one bet a day, else he could be walking around lucky and never know It.” -Jim Jones
So this one seems fairly inspirational until you realize that Jim Jones was the cult leader that force-fed poisoned Kool-Aid to his followers and led over 900 in an infamous mass suicide event in the late ’70s.
Do your best to fall into the trap of groupthink where no one is brave enough to voice their opinion or perspective.
Don’t be fooled by bad leadership quotes and don’t drink the Kool-Aid.
Have you ever had a boss that just wasn’t there? (Maybe that’s your wish!) Perhaps they are physically present but are not engaged in your relationship or the job that they are holding. A Gallup poll shows that nearly 20% of people in the workforce are actively disengaged. That number includes leaders and managers as well.
Bring it to their attention in a positive way
If you get along with your boss and feel like they should be more engaged in your weekly activities, let them know. Approach the situation in a way that is encouraging and uplifting to them. Something like, “Would it be ok for us to have a weekly check-in so that I can make sure I’m executing well on your priorities?” works much better than, “I don’t see you enough. Can we get some time together?”
Make your leader feel like you value their leadership and their time as opposed to guilting them to do it. The tactic doesn’t work in relationships at home much less at the workplace.
The leader is both absent and the wrong fit
Your leader may be absent and the wrong fit. You’re happy that they aren’t around because that means you have to deal with them less. In this circumstance, the leader is not often a micromanager. Use that to your advantage.
First, understand the priorities, rules of engagement and boundaries then set off and lead yourself or your team well. In this scenario, you are going to have to pick up the reins and run it like you are your boss. (Which really should be how you should lead yourself anyway.) Sometimes people will step back, allow things to stay mediocre or fail and just point the finger at the leader at the end of the day.
I know the value and power of modeling the behavior that you want to get from others. Don’t let your boss’s disengagement drive you in the same direction. Step up and lead yourself well. Lead yourself and your team how you would like for someone to lead you.
Fill your cup in different ways
An absent leader can lead to frustration because you aren’t supported. You and your team can lose confidence and feel less valued in what you do. Find guidance from other areas. This could be from other teams that are working on the same project, a mentor in the company, or a trusted advisor in HR. There are many people involved in your life and career journey. If you don’t get enough from your boss, supplement the rest in other avenues.
Having an absent leader can be a challenge, especially if your personality type is one that needs recognition and affirmation on your job. Do your best to connect with them. Continue to lead yourself with excellence and do your best. Just because your boss is absent doesn’t mean that you have to be as well.