Bosses, also called coaches, are a fact of life without you are self employed. In that case, your clients and your potential clients are your bosses. But in business, non-profits and organizations, bosses are a reality whether you are a clerk in a mom and pop operation or the number two executive over a multi-billion dollar global corporation. In my twenty-five plus years working for five corporations of varying sizes, I had nearly as many bosses as I had years of employment. Some were great. Many were average. And some were just awful. It is this last category that is the topic of this article. The five worst boss characteristics follow. In each example I have also described the desired trait.
"No show Mo" (names changed to protect the innocent) had a long career in sales and on corporates sales staff. He liked to spend time outside of the office. What did he do when outside of the office? Personal investments, family matters and anything but his job. Mo decided I would be his official second in command. He knew he could count on me. I was young, loyal and naïve. I would receive no additional pay or perks for doing double duty. Mo gave me a "delegation of authority" so I could do his job and mine. I reviewed all his mail and signed all the sales contracts. I handled customer complaints. He got the credit and the rises when everything went well. When something went wrong, I got the blame. The desired trait here is accounting. If you are the boss, you take the good and the bad. Do not pass off your job to an underling.
"Will" was a brilliant man. He had an advanced degree, great ideas and worked very, very hard. The perfect boss right? Wrong! Will also had no personal life. As one of his direct reports, I became his surrogate for a personal life. After a long day of work, he would call me into his office to talk. And to talk. And to talk some more. About his past, his life, his weight, his ex-wives, about his career and about just about anything except work. I had a wife and young kids at home. Did he care? No! I was a built-in audience for the duration of the time that I worked for him. The desired trait here is business is business. If you want someone to talk to about your life, do not drag your subordinate into this role. Look elsewhere for a sympathetic listener. Not only is this bad form for a boss, it creates a level familiarity not positive for the workplace. Keep it business.
"Luther" was a grizzled old line manager. He was probably not old as he appeared at the time. He had worked his way way up from non-management to supervisor to manager. And he disclosed in his authority. Every technician, clerk and supervisor was scared to death of him. Exception me. I was at the time the new kid just out of college. He liked to intimidate everyone with his yelling and belittling. He gave no mercy to any of his subordinates. He would get on his speakerphone and yell at a supervisor mercilessly. He would do this while I sat in his office – and he would smile while he was doing it. He thought it was quite funny. The desired trait is respect. Treat all your people with respect. Those you supervise, your peers and those above you in the chain of command. Showing respect for others will cause others to respect you.
"Ian" was from another country but had been working in the US for several years. He had worked for several large companies and always been successful jumping to a new job. He liked to build strong relationships with his bosses and their bosses. This was priority number one in his mind and actions. While I could list innumerable qualities of Ian that one should not emulate as a boss, I will just focus on the most outrageous. Ian never returned an e-mail, he never left a voice mail message and he never wrote anything down. He attributed it to technology. In fact, Ian wanted no trail of anything he ever did, said or wanted done. No "finger prints" of any kind. As such he could blame his subordinates for anything and everything. And conversely he could also take credit for anything. It worked well for him for a while. The only problem was that his subordinates, did not trust him and despised him for his behavior.
The desired trait is integrity. If you are unwilling to write anything down or leave a message, then you must be hiding something. And even if you are not, your people will think you are hiding something. While you do not need mountains of paper, thousand of e-mails or hundreds of voice mails, responding in kind is reassuring to members of a team. Document objectives and appraisals on paper and sign them. E-mails with questions should have responded to in a like manner. Calls should be returned with calls. If no one answers, leave a voice mail message to respond to the question or issue and close the matter. It is a matter of trust. The boss must demonstrate integrity in all matters and this will help to create an atmosphere of trust.
Finally, there was "Winston". A veteran of both large corporations and his own start-up. He was brought in to shake things up. He was not someone from the existing corporate culture, but rather from someone else's corporate culture. Winston never heard an idea that he did not like, as long as it was his own. He had little tolerance for anyone else on the team's ideas or suggestions. No, they were there to execute his constant stream of brilliant ideas ranging from new technologies, to products to marketing plans. And Winston had no problem with the team working seven days a week, twenty-four hours a day. Why not, he was more than happy to do this. He expected everyone to put their entitlement life on hold to make him successful. The entire organization was at his beck and call. Nothing was too much to ask in his eyes. Exception when it came to his life. His wife, his children, his interests, his habits, his health were all the center of the organization's universe. All activities and plans had to work around his schedule and his life because they were IMPORTANT because he was IMPORTANT.
The height of this attitude was demonstrated when he chose to fire another individual and myself to save some money in the budget for the Fiscal Quarter. But he happened to be on vacation when it needed to be done. Did he come into the office while on vacation to fire us? Did he pick up his cell phone while on vacation to fire us? No! He delegated it to his second in command so he could pleasantly go on with his vacation with his wife and children without any of the nastiness that goes along with firing of two senior managers. The trait desired here is to treat your people – at all levels, roles and titles – as you would want to be treated. Always. That does not mean people do not work hard or that people do not get fired. They do and will. But how you handle these things and how you demonstrate leadership by example as a boss makes all the difference.
There are good bosses or coaches. And there are terrible bosses or coaches. The five bosses that I have described demonstrated some of the five worst experiences in a leader. By understanding what each of these bosses did wrong and what practices they should have been demonstrating through their actions, day-in and day-out, every boss and boss-to-be in business, non-profit or other organization can meet and exceed Their objectives while inspiring those who work with them at all levels.