The Big Picture
The sad truth is that the majority of employees spend at least 10 hours a month complaining — or listening to others complain — about their boss.
And according to data compiled by Inc. magazine, 75% of employees say their boss is the worst and most stressful part of their job, and 65% say they'd prefer a new supervisor to a raise.
It's not just employees who suffer. Bad bosses cost the U.S. economy an estimated $360 billion a year in lost productivity.
So what boss behaviors drive employees crazy? I asked Katherine Crowley and Kathi Elster, whose K Squared Enterprises has been coaching bosses since 1989. Crowley, a Harvard trained psychotherapist, and Elster, an executive coach, are authors of “Mean Girls at Work," “Working For You Isn't Working For Me" and “Working with You Is Killing Me." Here's their list of the top offenders:
“Micromanaging is just hated," says Elster. “There's no leeway and the work is always wrong unless it's exactly the way they want it."
Even if you note a micromanager's preferences and try to incorporate them in your next assignment, he or she is likely to change things up just to maintain control, she said.
Crowley agreed that a micromanager is a “classic" bad boss who needs to co-sign every decision — often creating a frustrating departmental bottleneck — because of a personal need to check and double check every piece of work produced.
The avoidant boss declines to deal, Crowley says.
“They don't make decisions, they don't protect people from bullies, they don't clarify expectations or hold people accountable," she said. Avoidant bosses are “generally nice to employees," she added, “but that becomes nearly meaningless because they don't advocate for you."
Bully bosses are just plain mean, Elster says, and lash out when angered or frustrated. They have little awareness of the impact of their behavior, she said, adding, “I've never really seen these people get better." That may be because “in many companies the bully is rewarded," Crowley said.
Bullies generally are very good at managing up.
“Management may notice a year later when there's turnover, but it takes a really long time," Elster said.
A withholding boss is the one who believes your paycheck is your thanks for a job well done.
“When people start grousing about their salary, it's because they're not getting anything else," Crowley says.
Bosses who rarely recognize employees' efforts are likely those who are very tough on themselves, Elster says, so it probably doesn't even occur to them that a kind word or sincere thank you goes a long way in motivating staffers.
Bosses often operate on flawed assumptions, Crowley says.
“They assume employees know what's expected, assume they know how to correct mistakes, assume they should fix it themselves, and don't want to deal with interpersonal conflict and assume people should just grow up."
And many new bosses are “insecure and fearful" because they recall bad managers they've previously worked for and want to avoid emulating them, Elster said. Others “don't always know how they're perceived and, in their minds, think they're doing it right."
In the bestselling “Good Boss, Bad Boss," Stanford Professor Robert Sutton notes that, “If you are a boss, your success depends on staying in tune with how others think, feel and react to you."
Pointing to research done at Cornell University, Sutton writes, “a hallmark of poor performers is a lack of self-awareness; they consistently overestimate their skills in just about any task that requires intellectual and social skills, such as debating, having a sense of humor or interviewing others."
In contrast, Sutton writes, the research shows that “self-awareness is a hallmark of the best performers — they are especially cognizant of their strengths and weaknesses and fret about overcoming pitfalls that can undermine their performance."
Elster and Crowley are “big believers in mentors and/or coaches" who will be completely candid about how you come across.
“You absolutely need a sounding board," Elster says. “Someone who'll read your emails and say, 'No, you didn't come off well.' "
And where to focus your fix-it efforts?
“Notice what kinds of problems arise consistently," Crowley says. “If projects are consistently late, you're not holding employees accountable. If one employee holds all the people in your department hostage, you're not confronting bad behavior."
“Your blind spot is in your results," she says. “If you have 100 percent turnover, you're a bully."
Aspiring managers would also do well to give some thought to what's motivating their planned trajectory. Being the boss is about much more than status and perks.
“You may get a promotion and a raise," Crowley says, “but the real work is with the people."