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  • Darci Daniels

Why We Need More Great Bosses

Or, those who can't do, criticize.

Enter pithy quote HERE...

I read a comment on a Linked In article recently that was very telling. It was an article about the 5 Best Boss Behaviors. I’m not a boss or manager currently, but I coach them, so I often read articles like this. I loved firstly, that it had a positive spin. It wasn’t the 5 worst boss behaviors. Second, I liked that the author admitted these were behaviors she’s witnessed that she’d like to grow into, and she’s had good bosses who’ve demonstrated them, but she’s not currently a manager herself. It was short, easy to read, and relatable. All great stuff, right?

So I was a little surprised when one of the comments was criticizing the article because #1 – she had used a borrowed quote about leadership as a graphic at the top (which she attributed) and #2 – was irritated that there’s an influx of “too many” leadership/boss/managerial articles on Linked In, and was questioning why that’s necessary.

This is the classic example of several cliché’s… you can’t please all the people all the time, if you don’t understand it is probably about you, and those who can’t do, criticize (the new mantra of the internet era).

But what struck me the most about this gentleman’s comment wasn’t the criticizing itself, it was the bewilderment he had over why there are so many leadership/boss/managerial articles on Linked In (and pithy quotes to go with them). Well Bob, this is a business networking social media site. It’s ALL about business and inspiration. These articles make sense for the platform. People like pithy quotes because they’re relatable. But beyond that, it’s almost like he was surprised that bosses needed this advice, or that sharing it was necessary.

Someone responded and pointed out that people don’t leave bad jobs, they leave bad bosses. This has become cliché as well, but only because it’s 100% accurate. I think companies underestimate how much responsibility is on their management, and don’t consider hard enough if a candidate is really up for the job. (That being said, you also have to give people a shot and have confidence in your own ability to lead them.) I hear from far too many people how there are managers in positions that absolutely should not be there, they don’t have the people skills or passion for helping others, and in a lot of cases, they’re actively damaging the business and the employees they’re managing. They may have seniority and company knowledge, but most of us know that alone does not a good manager or leader make. Yet people who shouldn’t be promoted into management positions often are with too much frequency… so what makes Bob think these seemingly simple 5 behaviors DON’T need to be shared?

I know I have been the unfortunate victim of a bad boss. Not once, not twice, but 3 times. I have also had managers that were so wonderful, I would leave and work for them at another company. The main differences were insecurity and negativity, and how that played out with their team members. The bad bosses were incredibly insecure, and instead of helping their team, instead of being a real leader, they used fear tactics to control and undermine their people. One of them went so far as to sabotage friendships within the team and gaslight the employees to constantly keep them off-balance (talk about negativity). Unsurprisingly, they had other (major) issues. Fortunately, I didn’t work for them long. The other 2 were simply insecure and threatened by the capability of others, and they didn’t want to be outshined. They wanted to make sure they always looked good first, so they would take people down a notch when the opportunity was there. This is the exact opposite of what a good manager does.

A couple of stories I’d like to share, in the name of “knowing better is to be better”. First, I had a manager once who made fun of me for using a word once he did not know. I think it was extraneous. He laughed at me in front of others and said, “that’s not a word, you just made that up!” Suffice it to say he was set straight by one of the other people in the group pretty quickly, but to this day I’m not sure if he was serious and didn’t know the word, or was hoping others didn’t and was trying to make me look bad. He was threatened that I had more years of college than he did, so I’m thinking he really didn’t know it was a word. Unfortunately, I was still young enough in my work experience that it was a bit of a humiliating experience for me (even though I was right), and I never felt comfortable around him again.

The second story is not mine, but I witnessed it, and it still remains one of the best/worst boss stories I’ve ever heard. When I worked in retail and most everyone was an hourly employee, a new employee got a review after 6 months, and then annually thereafter. It was common for that first review to result in a minimum 10¢ per hour raise if the person had done a good job the first 6 months, but if they needed to work on several things, there was no raise offered and just the guidance of what they needed to do better. The new employees didn’t know this until after the fact, and since no one really expected to get a raise after 6 months, it was usually a nice surprise. (It was also over 20 years ago when the minimum wage was about $6.00/hour in my state, so .10 wasn’t total peanuts.)

We had a new employee come in and absolutely kill it in the goals department. She went above and beyond and cross-sold more than the senior people in her job, by double. She was a bit rough around the edges and could also be difficult to work with due to her brashness, but she was young and willing to learn. And she was GOOD. Somehow she found out about the possible raise, and she was gunning for it. She was actually hoping for slightly more, and because of her numbers, it was a realistic goal. I’d never seen anyone sell so naturally like that before, and I was impressed. Yes, she needed some guidance, but had it been me, I’d have given her 15¢ per hour raise and then mentored her more closely on her communication skills. As it was, the assistant manager was proposing just that to the boss. But the manager wasn’t having it.

You see, she was put-off by this girl’s energy and personality. It didn’t matter to the boss that the clients loved her, all she focused on was the girl’s negatives. And, ultimately, I think she was terrified this girl would hit certain sales goals and get company recognition, say the wrong thing to the wrong person, and it would reflect badly on the boss. I think she was also terrified this girl would grow quickly and leave, because the boss hated turnover and honestly, this girl was improving her numbers and she didn’t want to lose her. So she did the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever seen: she instructed the assistant manager to give her no raise, despite clearly performing well, and then when the assistant manager pushed back (and the on-the-rise employee got wind of what was happening) she relented and gave her a .05/hr raise. Five measly cents, which she had to get a special exception for because we didn’t even give out raises that small. Yes, this boss was so petty, she went through extra paperwork to give an employee less than they deserved in an already thankless, minimum wage job (that had great move-up potential). Then she smirked about it in front of the whole staff, and handed the girl a nickel and said, here’s what you get. Needless to say, the employee was not only humiliated but incensed, and started looking for a new job that day. I think most of us did – we were not willing to work for a boss like that.

Stories like this are not uncommon. And yes, they are negative and not feel good stories. But I think there’s something to be learned about good managers from any story, positive and negative. If you’re an employee, remember it’s highly likely a boss like this will change, unless the company is putting time and effort into helping the manager. (You may not know it if they are, so if you’ve already talked to your manager to no avail, go a step up to their manager and let them know what you’ve experienced.) If you’re getting no positive responses from management, remember – insecurity runs deep and toxicity can be malignant -- once they have targeted you, they’re unlikely to stop. Save your mental health and move away from them as soon as you can, either in another position or outside the company. (The Devil Wears Prada was a very popular book and movie for a reason!)

For executive managers, look at prospective managers you’re hiring as leaders, not just as bosses. Just about anyone can be a boss, but do you want your managers to lead their teams, cultivate loyalty and success, and believe in your people? Or do you just want them to be adult babysitters? Are they really capable of managing through easier and difficult times with grace and compassion?

For managers, being self-aware and honest with yourself is incredibly important so that when you feel threatened by an employee, you ask yourself why. Are you afraid they’ll get promoted over you? Do you truly think they don’t do a good job and need extra guidance? Are you leading from fear, or from generosity? If your main goal is to keep your job, you’re not a very good manager. If your main goal is to invest in and develop your team, knowing that the results will follow, then you may just be a leader.

We need these articles. We need stories – good and bad – and guidance on how to be better. If we say it enough, maybe people will listen. Or at the very least, good employees won’t tolerate bad bosses anymore, and will speak up when necessary.

If you’ve got a manager that’s having a tough time, or you are a manager that’s struggling or overly stressed, let’s talk. It’s a lot less expensive to bring in a coach that can work wonders with willing managers, than it is to fire, rehire, and train someone new. It also creates goodwill if you’re willing to work with your team and get them help instead of write them off. The perspective shifts I’ve seen happen with coaching can truly be night and day. Oftentimes it takes someone from the outside, without the power to fire or reprimand them, for people to really open up and attempt potentially difficult personal changes. I’d love to help get you or your people back on track!


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