Being able to read the signs of a bad boss is extremely important for employees.
A bad boss will not only damage your career but also your personal development and your life satisfaction.
Ultimately, though, I am grateful for bad bosses. Bad bosses provided me with the anger and fuel that pushed me into entrepreneurship.
- How This Article is Different
- 1. Takes criticism personally
- 2. Believes that providing a salary is all that matters
- 3. Believes a salary is the main motivator
- 4. You have a “TGIF” mindset
- 5. Doesn’t know you at all
- 6. Can’t pronounce your name
- 7. You don’t respect him
- 8. Finger pointing
- 9. No gratitude, no rewards
- 10. They have favorites
- 11. Disrespects you
- 12. Treats employees as expendable pawns
- 13. Engages in Power Games
- Bonus: No Good Bosses
How This Article is Different
This article does not copy-paste a few annoying traits like most posts on the web do.
This article leverages solid psychology to provide you with a list that underlines the key personality traits of bad bosses -and, in general, bad people-.
When you see these red flags present in your boss, you should seriously consider moving on because your bad boss is probably making you a worse person.
Before diving in, I urge you to consider reading right after this article “how to be a great leader“, which is a psychology-backed article on how to become a great leader and manager.
1. Takes criticism personally
The ideal boss has a moral framework within which he fully focuses on achievement.
And to achieve at the highest level, as Ray Dalio says, you need to constantly search for the truth against the backdrop of reality. And that means that you need to put your ego aside.
For the ideal boss, it doesn’t matter whether he’s right or wrong. It only matters what’s the right answer and what will move him, you, and the whole company forward.
It’s a sign of a bad boss instead of focusing on being right, having the last word, and taking feedback personally.
All of these, by the way, are the signs of a fixed mindset.
If this is you, don’t worry: it’s common. And it’s fixable.
Read more here:
One day I sent an email to my boss with a better description for our Linkedin company page, which was full of grammar mistakes, and for our website’s SEO (I was already running this website and could spot some obvious improvement opportunities).
Instead of being excited at the chance of moving forward, he got defensive and aggressive. And that’s when I had no doubt anymore: I was dealing with an idiot.
2. Believes that providing a salary is all that matters
Look at this scene from “Adman”:
If you know what’s wrong with Don Draper’s approach, then you have a good intuitive grasp of what’s wrong with bad managers
John Maxwell says in the 21 Irrefutable of Leadership that leaders add value.
But by “value” he refers to both quantitative aspects, such as a salary, and qualitative ones, such as an emotionally safe environment, a supportive group, and a leadership figure that you can learn from.
If all your boss can provide is a salary, then you have another sign of a bad boss and you probably shouldn’t be working for him.
As Seth Godin says in Linchpin, if your exchange is only monetary, then you’re basically a prostitute. And there’s nothing inherently wrong with being a prostitute, but unless you’re making millions chances are you’re also selling yourself very cheap.
Don’t do that.
3. Believes a salary is the main motivator
Some bad bosses believe that giving you a salary is all they need to provide to keep you chained -and motivated-.
That is a huge failure of understanding basic human psychology and what really drives us. And as Daniel Pink explains in Drive, that’s often not money.
With a boss like that, you are not learning what makes people tick.
And you are not maximizing your potential.
And just for you to know, this is the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, as adopted by Haslam, 2006.
4. You have a “TGIF” mindset
This is an indirect sign of a bad boss.
If you’re looking too much forward to the weekend and if Mondays and your last day of a holiday feel like a small drama, that’s a big sign you have a bad boss and/or a bad job.
5. Doesn’t know you at all
What are they responsible for, then?
Great leaders are responsible for the people who in turn are responsible for the results.
That means taking care of the employees, knowing them as people and not numbers, and appreciating them for their unique contributions.
Failing to know anything about you is a clear sign that your boss only sees you as an entry in the cost center and not as a human being.
6. Can’t pronounce your name
This is a corollary of the above and another glaring sign of a bad manager.
Dale Carnegie famously said that the sweetest word in any language, for anyone, is the sound of their name. And not caring about how to correctly pronounce your name is a big sign they don’t really care much about you.
Some weeks ago a friend of mine asked me what could be a good Westernized name for her Chinese name. She needed it because her European boss could not pronounce her name and needed a Westernized version.
I told her she shouldn’t change her name for anybody.
Change your boss instead of changing your name. Or better yet, tell him he’s a smart guy and you’re sure he can learn it… If he only applies himself just a little bit.
7. You don’t respect him
To have a good relationship with anybody, you need to respect him.
- Do I respect him as a person?
- Would he be my friend?
- Do I respect him as a leader?
- Would I be happy to help him?
One “no” is not a good sign.
If you answer no twice, you can’t work for that guy.
8. Finger pointing
Mistakes happen. All the time.
They’re the only way we can improve and it’s also the only way we can move forward.
Bosses who cannot accept mistakes and mishaps as a normal part of life fail to understand the basic truth of life. And they show another terrible sign of bad managers: they focus on negatives and on blame instead that on solutions.
The great bosses, instead, take responsibility for all failures (read: Extreme Ownership).
9. No gratitude, no rewards
Great managers celebrate their team’s achievements and pass the glory to the people around them.
I used to work at a start-up as an early employee. At the time I left and after we’d raised double digits millions in both debt and equity, I was responsible for, numbers at hand, 80% of the revenue.
Not a single time I had ever heard a “well done” from my direct manager.
Not the kind of boss you appreciate, let me tell you.
10. They have favorites
We are humans, obviously, we will like someone more than others.
But the ideal manager treats everyone equally.
The worst kind of favoritism is not even based on results, bad on race, gender, or simple physical attraction.
As you can understand from this website, I do like women. But I think few things are as weak as a boss taking advantage of his position to sleep with his reports.
Or even worst, flirting or being all nice and tender to the female reports.
A terrible boss playing favorites was one of the main reasons I set out on my own:
If your boss has favorites, it’s another sign of a poor manager.
11. Disrespects you
There are many more ways to subtly (or openly) disrespect you.
- Makes you wait
- Types on laptop when talking to you
- Doesn’t find the time to speak
- Doesn’t introduce you to customers and superiors
These are often the signs of a boss who feels superior because of his title. And they’re also a sign of a bad person, looking at titles instead of human beings.
11.2 Yells at you
Yelling is a common example of open disrespect.
Yelling to adults is disrespectful and I can think of very few exceptions (life/death scenarios, military jobs, stealing.. ).
12. Treats employees as expendable pawns
Some bosses see employees as expandable pawns and cannon fodder to win their own war.
I was once at a job interview as a senior candidate and was invited to attend a few strategy meetings before even joining. The founder referred to employees in what he deemed easy positions as “monkeys”.
He used to say “we just put need monkeys for those jobs”.
I was really tempted to join from a Power Moves experience perspective, but finally, I decided against it. Our time is too valuable to be spent with terrible managers.
You might not get such a direct example of a “take no prisoner attitude”, but here are a few red flags:
- Profits above all
- All their pride is in bottom-line achievements
- All credit to themselves
- “Collateral damage attitude” towards the victims of their final results
- Choice of words (enemies, battlefield, trenches, etc.)
Now don’t get this wrong: without profits, there’s no company, and achieving your results is key. But if that’s all they brag and care about, it’s a big red flag.
These guys have no loyalty and morals: don’t even think about growing with them. Think instead that as soon as you don’t serve their final cause, you will become the enemy.
13. Engages in Power Games
A leader who is at the top should look for his team.
But a leader who is at the top and looks to defend his turf and increase his social status shows inner insecurity and a lack of basic leadership qualities.
Some signs of power games:
Here is an example from, case in point, “Horrible Bosses”
Bonus: No Good Bosses
At last, I’d like you to consider a completely different perspective.
There are no good bosses.
For the simple fact, someone is “your boss”, you need to get rid of him.
This is a great mindset if you’re interested in entrepreneurship and need that final kick to get started.
Alternatively, I like Brian Tracey‘s position when it comes to employment.
He proposes that no matter what’s your company, you always see yourself not as an employee, but as the president of your own corporation.
Most signs of a bad boss are also the same signs of a bad person.
That’s why I put a lot of weight on the question “do you respect him” and “would you be his friend”.
The problem with having a bad boss is that, well, life is short.
You will enjoy your work less -or even hate it- and your chances for growth and improvement are severely impaired.
If your boss is really terrible, I’d suggest you either think about changing job or using the situation to your benefit. Either use your bad boss to learn about power moves or to profit personally (read: dealing with a bad boss).
Alternatively, you can use it as your motivation to become your own man and start your own business.