We’ve all had one. Maybe they aren’t as common today, but if you ask any old-timer about their bosses from back-in-the-day they will tell you stories of crazy demands, yelling, threats, cursing, flying objects and various other psychotic behaviors. We don’t see these extremes much anymore, as most managers would rather not be hauled off to the pokey for assault. But the underlying attitudes that caused crazy-boss-syndrome still exist. As the old business saying goes, “People don’t quit a job, they quit a manager.” Here are a few crazy-boss types you’ve likely encountered if you’ve been in the workforce any number of years.
The Contender: These managers fear that someone else might be better at their job than they are. They are always competing for attention, and are unlikely to recognize anyone else’s achievements or give credit where it’s due. They are insecure in their own role or abilities and aren’t likely to spend their energy helping others learn and grow because they view all others – whether colleagues or direct reports – as the competition.
The Narcissist: These managers are “looking out for number one” and couldn’t care less about anyone else. They demand results, but neglect to appreciate the people who are so desperately trying to meet those goals; or worse, will try to achieve results through threats and intimidation. They fear failure, hate to look bad, and will throw you under the bus if put on the spot. Don’t expect any help or support from them, because they can’t see past their own reflection.
The Dominator: These are the bullies of the world who like to feel powerful and are always looking for a way to flex their muscles and lord over others. These managers love titles and enjoy being feared. They demand excellence and are quick to rebuke when standards are not met, but very slow to hand out any kind of praise.
If you’ve ever worked for a dominator, I’m sure you remember it well. I remember one such individual from what seems like a lifetime ago. We’ll call him Agent X. His favorite hobby was peacocking his way through the area where we all worked, and saying something – anything – to make us all wonder if we were on the verge of getting fired. His reasoning: “We gotta keep ’em on their toes,” and “We can’t let ’em get too comfortable!” Agent X also instructed all supervisors to never give anyone an “excellent” rating on their performance evaluations, even if they were in fact performing over and above. In his opinion an “excellent” rating would cause people to slack off because there was no room to improve. There are a plethora of examples of his lacking leadership skills, but I for now I’ll mention just one more. Every now and then he would suddenly make several people switch departments, throwing them into positions that they were neither proficient nor interested in. Poor man really had things backwards. He enjoyed feeling powerful, keeping people on edge, stirring things up.
What do these types all have in common? They lack any interest in developing others. Their focus is inward (self) and/or upward (advancement).
Manager ≠ Leader
You might wonder how these crazy bosses end up where they are in the first place. How can someone who so obviously lacks in people skills end up in management? Let me explain. You see, at some point in time, someone promoted Agent X because maybe he was good at his job, or had been there for a certain amount of time, without any regard as to whether he would be good at managing other people. The one thing that should have been at the top of the list when considering him, wasn’t. And so after a lifetime of promotions based on tenure, he ended up near the top, with the power and authority to effectively torture those below him in the chain of command.
It always amazes me that companies continue to throw people into management positions based solely on either tenure or their ability to perform certain tasks. They fail to realize that just because someone is good at their job doesn’t mean they are going to be good at managing others. “But they earned it!” you might be saying. Well sure. And they should get it. But not without equipping them with the tools necessary to be successful in their new role plus clear direction as to what will be expected of them. Effectively managing others requires more than just a title or pay raise. It requires leadership skills.
So what does a good leader look like? Here are a few notable characteristics:
- They celebrate the success and achievements of others
- They are quick to give credit where credit is due
- They recognize the efforts of others openly and publicly
- They attempt to develop before opting to discipline
- They discipline or correct privately and never belittle
- They communicate effectively and provide clear direction
- They encourage innovation and creative thinking
- They inspire others to continue to learn and grow
- They value the time, opinion, and differences of others
- They cultivate a collaborative team environment
- They will speak up in defense of others when needed
Some of these traits come naturally to people, and others may take a little (or a lot of) direction. The point is, no one should be expected to be good at managing others unless they have either been observed to naturally exhibit these leadership behaviors, or they have been trained in these leadership behaviors and understand what is expected of them. Set your people up for success. Invest in developing leaders, not just managers. Train and equip them to be effective. And show by example what kind of culture you are trying to create in your organization.
Let the era of crazy bosses be done.