15 things that “bad bosses” say!

Our research is telling us that holding on to good people is going to be a key strategic deliverable to create profitable growth in 2014.

Our research is also telling us that good people will leave bad bosses, who say and do bad things, IN A HEARTBEAT.

If any of the following have become a regular part of your bosses’ dialogue, you’ve probably got a bad ‘un’ … and you’ll probably be looking to leave as soon as the opportunity arises! And, so will many of your work colleagues … especially the best and brightest ones!

1. “You’re lucky to even have a job!”

This is a favourite refrain of bad bosses who really mean, “You should be grateful that you’re employed during this bad job market and therefore shouldn’t complain about any conditions of your employment, no matter how bad.” These are generally managers who don’t know how to deal with problems or staff feedback constructively.

If your manager says this, take it as a sign that you’re dealing with someone inept.

2. “Just figure it out”

Sure, there are times when employees really should be able to find solutions themselves, but in general, bosses who say this are abdicating their responsibility to guide and coach. Even if the question is one that a reasonable employee should be able to solve on his or her own, a good manager would more clearly say, “This is something that I’d like you to handle yourself, using resources X, Y and Z.”

Saying “just figure it out” is both lazy and unprofessional.

3. “I received an anonymous report”

Good bosses will do everything they can to avoid citing anonymous reports when talking to employees. Sometimes managers do need to address problems that they were told about in confidence, but when that happens, a skillful boss won’t put the focus on the anonymous reporter, but rather on the problematic behaviour that needs to be addressed.

4. “I don’t have time to do your performance evaluation, but you’re doing ok”

Part of managing well is supplying thorough, nuanced feedback. It doesn’t have to be through a formal performance evaluation, but “you’re doing ok” doesn’t come close to being acceptable.

Employees deserve to know what they’re doing well, how they could be doing better, and where they should focus on developing.

5. “That’s the daftest idea I’ve ever heard!”

Let’s face it, not every idea is a brilliant one. But good bosses know that you won’t hear great ideas if their staff are afraid of being insulted and shot down when brainstorming. Great ideas usually come from environments where it’s safe to think out loud and toss ideas around – good or bad.

6. “That dress really flatters your figure”

Commenting on employees’ physical appearance – particularly their bodies – is a good way to make people uncomfortable (few people want to feel that their boss is assessing their attractiveness), as well as invite harassment complaints down the road.

7. “You don’t need to know what this is for – just do what I tell you to do”

Sure, it could be faster to simply bark out orders without providing any context or rationale. But that’s how you end up with a staff of employees who don’t think beyond what’s required and don’t feel any ownership for their work – and the good ones will move on to a company where they’re allowed to feel a personal stake in their work.

8. “What’s wrong with you?”

Feedback should never be personal. Good managers keep the focus on behaviour that needs to change – writing skills, attention to detail, judgment and so forth. They don’t make it personal and attack someone’s intelligence or worth.

9. “Your job is what I say it is”

This is of course true; your job is what your manager says it is. But bad bosses generally say this when an employee is resisting doing work outside his or her core role.

By contrast, a good manager will explain the circumstances when a role needs to broaden or change, rather than simply falling back on “I control what you do.”

10. “We’ll soon change that!”

This was heard at the start of a business critical planning meeting with key personnel invited:

The boss walks in – late, by the way – and asks everyone, “How are you?” Though nervous and apprehensive, they replied, “Great!”, “Terrific!”, “On top form”, etc. … to which the boss replies, “We’ll soon change that!”

The meeting was a DISASTER.

11. “Don’t ever talk to my boss”

A boss sometimes worries that if employees talk to his or her own boss, it will undermine the boss’s own authority. To prevent this, the boss instructs employees to channel all communications through the official management chain.

This is idiotic because information/gossip/opinion flies around the company at the speed of light, and it’s ridiculous for anyone to try to control it. Because of this, a bad boss who wishes to suppress discussion just comes off looking paranoid.

12. “I expect complete loyalty”

Many bosses believe that employees should be willing to remain in their jobs even when they can get a better job elsewhere. This is especially true when the employer has spent money to train the employee in a specialty.

The thing about loyalty, though, is that it’s supposed to go both ways. Maybe corporate loyalty made sense when companies guaranteed lifetime employment. But today, why should employees feel loyal when they know they’ve seen other people/friends made redundant and know they could be outsourced in a heartbeat?

13. “It’s my way or the highway”

Many bosses think that they should know more about their employees’ jobs than the employees know themselves. As a result, the boss lays out exactly how everything is to be done and insists that the employees tow that line.

However, bosses are supposed to be managing people, not the work that those people do. A boss should help the employee find his or her own way of doing things better.

14. “Because I said so!”

While this justification might make sense for a five-year-old who can’t understand adult reasoning, in the context of business, leaning on your authority as a manager is lazy, stupid and unprofessional.

Because they’re responsible adults rather than toddlers, employees are far more likely to support a decision with which they disagree if they understand the boss’s reasoning for making that particular decision.

15. “Track how you spend every hour”

Some bosses believe that if they can track how everyone in the organisation spends his or her time, they’ll get a better handle on what’s going on and therefore be able to make better decisions.

But obsessive time tracking actually makes it harder to have informal discussions – the primary source of innovation in most companies. At the same time, employees inevitably start “fudging” their hours to match management’s expectations.

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