I recently read brief articles by Maeghen Oiumet and Peter Economy that got me thinking about what good bosses do differently than bad ones – which led me to think about how bad ones typically make similar mistakes.
No matter how well intended a boss is or how much experience they have, he or she will make mistakes. In fairness to the human nature of leadership, workers should never score a boss against an impossible standard like Olympic gymnastics.
Bosses make two types of mistakes, recognized and unrecognized. Some errors they make just once, recognizing it, owning it, learning from it, and not repeating it.
The second kind of mistake – when he or she does not see or refuses to admit a mistake, even if others plainly do – is far more dangerous to organizational health. These bullheaded tendencies tend to form a pattern, a style trait of chronic oversight that causes problems for employees, the company, customers, and (of course) the bottom line.
Based on statistical metrics created by blending worker opinion surveys with demotivation impact studies, it has been calculated that bad bosses cost the U.S. economy $360 billion a year in lost worker productivity.
To frame the pervasiveness of this negative boss perception, the same study also revealed that roughly two-thirds of workers (65 percent) would prefer a new boss to a pay raise.
In days of tight money this seems a very surprising stat; but maybe it shouldn’t be, the reason being our culture’s widespread social unhappiness. Millions upon millions of unhappy, unmotivated, and rudderless folks surround us, their lives lacking in passion, joy, happiness, and fulfillment.
When people are not happy with themselves or the life around them, targeting the boss for culpability and griping about someone else’s inadequacies seems very much a Golden Ticket for blame-based logic.
Earlier I mentioned bad bosses make similar mistakes. Here are a dozen:
1. Fail to (or erratically) communicate. Since well-informed workers are free to do their jobs quickly and correctly, information is power. The more complete, open, honest, and accurate the information employees receive in a timely manner, the better they will serve internal and external customers. Bad managers are lousy communicators.
2. Opt for a quick fix instead of a lasting solution. Quick fixes rarely last so bosses whom root cause a problem and implement lasting change are admired more than someone whose style is to Band Aid problems and leave solutions for later.
3. Dump but do not delegate. No manager can do everything but too many try. They have a hand in everything, which is a disruptive way to handicap worker efficiency and waste employee potential. Constant dumping or hovering demoralizes morale.
4. Set goals in a vacuum without employee input. Good bosses listen to their workers to stay in touch with the pulse of the business. Because of this they rely on employee insight to develop attainable goals that help achieve a shared vision.
5. Resist rather than lead change. Reactive bosses tend to be less effective than proactive ones. Since a good boss is fully engaged with his or her people, he or she has the insight and confidence to adapt sooner rather than later. Less skilled, less confident bosses tend not to innovate. They fear more than embrace change and are reluctant to initiate change unless instructed or forced to.
6. Under-recognize employee achievements. Recognition takes two forms, formal and informal, and many recognition methods are free. Praise matters to people and good work should always be recognized, in public and private. Unlikeable bosses don’t praise. They just grunt. Or give backhanded compliments (veiled insults) such as, “You did better than I expected.”
7. Suck the life air right out of the environment. The work environment should be a positive place, not one employees dread entering. Bosses who are too grumpy or intense can drain the life from the workforce. You can feel it in the air. Good bosses are different. They foster a positive work environment by orchestration, not accident.
8. Unable to collaborate as a team player. Whether it’s ego, money, self-image, or simply a churlish personality, some managers are isolationists with a title. It is hard for any man or woman to inspire people if he or she lacks genuine concern for others.
9. Does not walk the talk. People judge themselves by their intentions. Others judge them by their actions. A nasty gap between the two is quite common on the planet of unlikeable bosses. Some are hypocrites, while others have situational ethics, selective memory, or remain stubbornly blind to the fact that lifestyle choices have a direct impact on morale if someone who cannot manage themselves is put in charge of leading others. Behavioral disjoints are an unlikeable and sometimes despised trait.
10. Plays favorites and accepts mediocrity. Life is good for the boss’s pet — angry and frustrating for everyone else forced to watch and endure. Good bosses treat everyone equally without favoritism.
11. Fails to inspire. True leaders inspire results in others. If someone is incapable of truly inspiring a team or workforce, he or she will never be more than a mediocre manager. Inspired workers grow: in their jobs, their engagement to the cause, and in professional worth. Lack of growth is the number one reason good talent leaves. Talent, as I like to say, has options.
12. Lacks clear vision or straight-line direction — or (even worse) expects others to figure out and do whatever it takes to get him or her where they need to go. Whipping or browbeating results out of people can work in the short term but the line for exodus out the revolving door toward new opportunities will quickly grow long. While there are many reasons people choose to leave an organization, bosses who operate this way – by shoving all the heavy lifting onto others – typically has a high rate of turnover.
The impact of bad bosses on workers
All 12 of these bad boss mess-ups hurt morale; and because worker activities are driven by their degree of emotional buy-in, here are the dominoes that topple when bad boss behavior results in an unmotivated workforce:
- 5X as many (up to 30 percent) consciously slow down or make errors.
- 6X as many (more than 1 in 4) purposely hide from the boss.
- 3.4X as many (33 percent) admit not giving their best.
- 6X as many (29 percent) take fake sick days to avoid coming to work.
- 4X as many (25 percent) take longer, lingering work breaks.
- Half of workers (50 percent) who do not feel appreciated plan to look for a new job within a year.
- Three-fourths of workers (75 percent) think their boss is the worst, most stressful part of the job.
The financial cost of badness
Organizationally speaking, when we count the steps and add up the direct and indirect cost of hiring replacement workers due to attrition caused by bad bosses, the grand total is ghastly. For example: The cost of replacing a minimum wage worker is $3,500. Cost layers include sourcing, recruiting, interviewing, hiring, training, and absorbing lower productivity until the new worker finally attains an expected level of competence.
Even if rounded up to $8 an hour, that $3,500 minimum wage job replacement is a heck of a loss — it would otherwise fund 11 weeks of full-time work. Multiply that $3,500 number by the total headcount a bad manager causes to quit and the cost of bad leadership dramatically escalates.
I recently met with a small business owner whose entire professional support staff turned over in a year – 15 professional workers quit. Leaving got contagious and, one by one, each required replacement. He had done nothing to stop it, shrugging off their leaving as an occupational hazard of small business life.
I gave him to a formula to quantify the cost, strongly suggesting he fix the management problems causing such disruptive problems.
Good bosses have the opposite effect, inspiring their people to stay. Good bosses teach and teaching is responsible for two-thirds of worker improvement. Workers who grow in their jobs tend to stick around.
Those who grow stale leave. Good bosses know this and guard against boredom by cross training, implementing personal development plans, and holding their people accountable for continual professional growth. These bosses are excellent but constitute the statistical minority.
Too many workers suffer under bad bosses and deal with it, opting to remain miserable until finally snapping or losing the will to hang on.
Misery, unfortunately, comes at a high price, physically and emotionally. Stressed workers are 30 percent more likely to develop coronary problems than happy workers, plus they require two years or so to “get over” the emotional scars of an emotionally debilitating boss.
Because bad management has such an obviously negative trickle down effect on workforces, it is easy to build a case that the estimated demoralization cost to U.S. companies of $360 billion a year may, if anything, be understated.
It is said that we can pick our friends but not our relatives nor our boss, so I always coach that we should never stay in or leave a job because of a boss. Soon enough he or she will be revealed and replaced. Bosses come and go, just like workers.
The key to staying or going should always be the work, the fairness of remuneration for performing that work, and the sense of satisfaction you derive at the end of each day. If you’re happy, hang tough. Soon enough the boss shall move on, out, or up.
But if you are sad – if the work is no fun, you are not fairly paid, and you get little satisfaction from how your life is passing by – you need to find the courage to pursue happiness.
Happy works. Happy always works.
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