Home > Business and Leadership Skills > When good bosses turn bad: Seven deadly sins of bad managers

When good bosses turn bad: Seven deadly sins of bad managers

Dec 10, 2017 | Business and Leadership Skills

If you’ve ever done any management training, you’ll have been inundated with advice on how to lead effectively.

You know the kind of thing: empowering your employees, communicating effectively and celebrating creativity? All hallmarks of a good boss. But doing the right thing is often just as dependent on avoiding doing the wrong things. How to be a good boss is often best understood in the context of its polar opposite – how not to be a bad boss.

Let’s look at seven common mistakes that bad bosses make.

1. They micro-manage:

If you’ve ever had to work under a micro-manager, you’ll understand how exasperating, demoralising and demotivating it can be. There’s no quicker way to make a talented employee feel incompetent than by lurking in the background, second-guessing all their decisions and getting over-involved in their work. At best it’s an irritation. At worst, it’s a sign of mistrust. Either way it’s likely to quash both productivity and morale. What’s worrying is that many micro-managers don’t even realise they’re doing it. There’s a fine line between being supportive and being over-involved, and a boss on the wrong side of the divide can cause a rapid breakdown in working relationships.

There’s no quicker way to make a talented employee feel incompetent than by lurking in the background, second-guessing all their decisions and getting over-involved in their work.

2. They overwork their team:

Productivity is known to decline sharply when the working week exceeds 50 hours. And after 55 hours, it drops off so sharply that the employees doing the hours are literally producing no more output than they were before. Many bosses fail to consider the individual workload of team members, or fail to recognise when they are struggling. When employees start feeling they can’t maintain a sustainable work-life balance, and are forced to start sacrificing the other areas of their life that inspire and drive them, it won’t be long before they start looking for a way out.

3. They focus on short-term fixes:

For any problem that arises in the workplace, there’s usually a quick solution. And while overcoming day-to-day challenges is an important part of a management role, bosses can be so busy fire-fighting that they sometimes overlook more effective, long-lasting solutions that get to the heart of the problem. Yes, these more fundamental changes might take a little longer to carry out than the daily ‘quick fix’, but they also reduce frustration across teams, help redistribute resources to areas of the business that need it the most, and generally make things easier for everyone in the long term.

4. They don’t deliver feedback well:

Giving feedback is one of the most important – and trickiest – parts of a manager’s role. You need to give the correct feedback, at the correct time, in the correct way, and it needs to be clear, constructive and well-balanced between positive and negative. Delivered without proper care, or offered without any suggestion of ways to improve, feedback can have a damaging impact on employees.


5. They gossip about others:

A manager should be kind, trustworthy and concerned about the well-being of their employees. If a boss engages in workplace gossip, no matter how innocent, they’re doing irreversible damage to their reputation. It reveals a lack of authenticity and integrity; and over time is likely to lose them the respect of their team.

6. They don’t accept responsibility:

As a team’s leader, one of your most important roles is to take responsibility for its successes and its failures. If you duck accountability for mistakes, passing the blame to someone else – even if the fault is actually theirs – you not only look cowardly but you’re also avoiding being a true leader. It’s very easy to take credit, and much harder to apologise to a client or customer for a mistake. But this kind of one-sided approach fosters a blame culture and a toxic work environment. Taking responsibility when things go wrong not only dissolves tension, but also means you can move swiftly on to the task at hand – which is to rectify the problem.

7. They promote people unfairly:

Promotions should always be based on merit, not favouritism, and if a boss is promoting employees for reasons other than sheer talent, dedication and effort, they’re doing a disservice to both the company and other employees. Not only do other worthy candidates lose out on the chance to show and develop their skills, but the company also loses out on their talents. Even the most committed and steadfast employee will naturally lose interest if they think their efforts are going unnoticed.

Effects on your business

But how do these actions impact your business, and ultimately your bottom line?

According to a Gallup research report, published in State of the American Manager: Analytics and Advice for Leaders in 2015, employees’ workplace engagement worldwide is shockingly low, at 13%; though somewhat higher for the US alone, at 30%. And where there is variance in engagement across different business units, 70% of that variance is directly influenced by the employees’ manager.

So, however big or small your team, don’t underestimate the effect of your actions. Your management style directly influences the performance of your business, for better or for worse.

Your management style directly influences the performance of your business, for better or for worse.

With that in mind, let’s look at some of the ways how this happens. 

Slashed productivity

Numerous studies have revealed that happiness influences workplace efficiency. Happier employees show improved performance and productivity, and an increased ability to handle managerial roles; also they’re less susceptible to counterproductive workplace behaviour and job burnout.

If you are the reason why a disgruntled employee is dragging their heels at work, not only are you robbing your company of these productivity benefits, but you’re also in danger of sparking a negative cycle, where increased unhappiness gives rise to poorer performance, resulting in increased negative feedback, increased unhappiness and subsequently even poorer performance. 

Attracting and retaining talent

A high staff turnaround doesn’t reflect well on your business, and with modern websites like Glassdoor letting people post public feedback on specific companies and even jobs, your employees’ satisfaction levels have never been more transparent.

Online or offline, news spreads. And bad management is a red flag to any potential hire. For many people, the team is as important as the role itself, and if the company is leaving a trail of unhappy employees in its wake, the best talent will look elsewhere.

Higher recruitment costs

Watching talented people walk away is costly and disruptive, and you’re lumbered with the responsibility of replacing those who have left. In terms of your bottom line, not only do you have to restart the expensive recruitment process, from interview to hire, but you’ll incur additional training and lost productivity while the new employee is finding their feet.


And if you haven’t fixed the problem that caused the old employee to leave, what’s to stop your new hire following them out of the door, whether in one month or one year? If the problem is your management style, you will likely come across the same problem sooner or later, and it’s a lot more cost-efficient to fix a damaged relationship rather than to replace it. 

How can a manager avoid these mistakes?

So we have identified the problems – what are the solutions?

Be proactive:

Just because you’re the boss doesn’t mean you’ve finished learning. We may like to think we’re natural leaders and don’t need any training, but that simply isn’t the case. Good leadership skills are actively acquired and practised, and becoming a successful boss means more than knowing how to do your job. It doesn’t matter whether you’ve been managing your employees for two years or 10: you need to take time to honestly re-evaluate yourself and your management performance. Learn how to give good feedback, keep a team motivated, and recognise your employees’ successes. And make a point of giving praise where it’s due. It doesn’t need to be much: a well-placed compliment, a pat on the back, or some small recognition in front of a client.

Make it personal:

When it comes to managing people there isn’t a one-size-fits-all model. Teams are composed of individuals. Each person has different needs and responds to different kinds of management style and feedback. So get to know your employees on an individual basis. Learn and evaluate their specific talents, shortcomings, goals and aspirations. By putting yourself in their shoes, you can think carefully about which projects they’re best suited to, keep them motivated, give them the right kind of feedback, and find areas where they can improve or extend their skill set.

Find the balance:

If you think you’re in danger of micro-managing an employee, make a conscious effort to step back and relinquish control. Not only will it give them the space to grow their confidence and skills, but the business will work more efficiently. By the same token, if you see an employee struggling under the weight of an unsustainable workload, encourage them to delegate, or take steps to reduce it yourself. 

If you think you’re in danger of micro-managing an employee, make a conscious effort to step back and relinquish control.

Does the perfect manager exist?

No. But the difference between a good boss and bad boss often comes down to awareness. A good boss acknowledges their flaws and takes steps to learn and improve. It doesn’t take much, but it’s an ongoing process of self-improvement. If you want to ensure that your workforce is healthy and productive, you need to set aside your ego, step up, and put in the time and effort to turn things around.


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