Bosses Behaving Badly

Are you a good boss? Or are you a bad boss? If a twister dropped a house on you in the middle of Munchkinland, would the Munchkins weep—or rejoice?

Mindy Fried, a Boston-based sociologist who has spent much of her career studying workplaces, says many factors contribute to bosses behaving badly. In a recent blog post she identifies several, including the following:

1. The myth of the ideal worker.
The ideal worker is one who works throughout their career in a continuous and uninterrupted manner, taking no time for non-work (like personal or family) activities.

In other words, Mindy says, “work comes first. When managers perceive that’s not the case for one or more employees, it’s viewed as an affront to the company, a deviation from employee loyalty.”

Bosses or employees who buy into this notion are likely to be critical of others who challenge this perceived norm, she says.

2. A culture of competition.
Creating competition among workers is often seen as necessary to fostering productivity in a company, Mindy says. Therefore, long hours, compressed deadlines and a drive to produce more becomes the norm. In these company cultures, Mindy says, middle managers are often in a lonely spot; they face pressure from high-ups to produce, and they have little time for those who report to them—even if they empathize with those employees. “This makes these managers depressed and grumpy,” Mindy says.

Related: Managers who are promoted for a job well done in such a culture may not really be ‘people’ persons. “Their ‘management style’ may look good to upper-level managers… But they may be making the people who work for them miserable,” Mindy says.

3. A lagging economy.
This one is obvious, but bosses struggling to show results tend to both push and control their employees. “Managers are being more closely monitored on financial performance, and they may be even less likely to take the time to attend to employees’ feelings or needs under these conditions,” Mindy says.

4. Graduate of the School of Hard Knocks.
Scrappy bosses who are alums of the School of Hard Knocks sometimes have less empathy for subordinates, Mindy says. “Some managers worked hard to get where they are, and along the way, they experienced a lot of pain themselves,” she adds. Unprepared to provide a supportive, nurturing work environment, their response is “deal with it; I did!” Mindy explains.

5. Lack of management training.
Without sufficient support and management training, some bosses are inherently uncomfortable in positions of power. They aren’t sure how to motivate the people who work for them, and they are clueless about how to challenge the system without jeopardizing their own rep, Mindy says.

So what makes a good boss? Well, lots of things (there’s a pretty comprehensive list here), and Mindy highlights a bunch. Here are eight of my favorites:

You remember that real power comes not from those above you but from those below you.

You are a good communicator, responding to concerns and questions.

You are self-aware and attempt to understand how your behavior affects others.

You forgive when people screw up.

You aren’t intimidated to surround yourself with people who are as smart (or smarter than!) you are.

You offer room to bloom.

You remember how you felt about bosses before you were one.

You know how to apologize and how to laugh, even at yourself.

This article was extracted from

Ann Handley is the Chief Content Officer of MarketingProfs and the co-author of the brand new book Content Rules (Wiley, 2011). Follow her on Twitter:@marketingprofs.

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What else would you add? What ways are you a good boss? Share your ideas below on the comments.

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