Few of us make it through our careers without enduring at least one terrible boss. Some incompetent managers invoke staff pity more than pain, while others drain the morale from a conference room -- something akin to draining the available oxygen -- the moment they walk in.
Second City Works recently surveyed a group of North American full-time employees to pinpoint the habits that in their minds separate loathsome supervisors from great leaders. Every terrible manager they described was deficient in different ways, but the one asset almost none of them had was their employees’ respect.
Among these workers commenting on those loathsome bosses, nearly six in 10 surveyed actually described them with the word "idiot." Their word, not ours.
Coping with bad bosses, in fact, is hardly rare. It's become a rite of passage for most employees. And that's too bad, because high performers, organizations and even other leaders deserve better. To groom strong leaders, we need to identify and either retrain or eliminate the flawed ones. In that spirit, here are six of the most common bad boss archetypes from our survey, and tips for reforming them.
1. The Claim Jumper
These bosses don’t mentor, train or lead their employees; they compete with them. The Claim Jumper takes credit for the project you spent all Thursday night working on (when you could have been binge watching Master of None), and asks for status updates on it every 10 minutes.
2. The Ghost
For a ghost boss, the office is just a pit stop in between personal errands and lunch meetings (which, conveniently, aren’t marked on his or her Outlook calendar). These bosses never stick around long enough to have impromptu desk-side chats, let alone provide regular performance feedback to their direct reports. A Ghost rarely responds to staff emails, no matter how badly those staffers need a sign-off for that campaign brief.
3. The 'No, But'
A competent leader nurtures his or her employees’ creativity and invests in their success. In contrast, “no, but” bosses consistently shoot down ideas that aren’t their own, resist change (even if it means becoming more efficient) and hold staff to impossible, vague standards. Employees of no, but bosses likely have notebooks or email drafts full of interesting proposals and client ideas they were too discouraged to even bring up.
4. The 'Cool' Boss
Especially as businesses embrace flatter hierarchies, some bosses strive too hard to be a friend more than a leader. Having strong rapport with staff is admirable, but devoting Google Hangout conversations to the details of your latest breakup is more information than a colleague needs to know. “Cool” bosses focus so intently on the desire to be a peer that they lose sight of their responsibilities as a manager
5. The Unfiltered Uncle
The source of all HR managers’ stress headaches, unfiltered uncle bosses have no grasp on the line that separates acceptable behavior from the suggestive variety. These managers are as likely to terrorize a colleague for making an honest mistake as they are to drop politically incorrect jokes into pre-meeting small talk. Unfiltered uncles adhere to an “act first, apologize later” philosophy, but those apologies rarely come. Donald Trump, call your office.
6. The Scholar
Scholar bosses love to drop Maslow’s hierarchy of needs into every status call. These are the supervisors who regularly read about management tricks and sign up for one-day leadership boot camps, but fail to apply that wealth of knowledge for their employees’ benefit. If an office situation or staff member behavior doesn’t align with one of their coveted social theories, they don’t know how to react.
As these archetypes show, it’s not bad breath or awkward jokes that define bad bosses. It’s big-picture issues like communication skills, collaboration and the ability to demonstrate empathy. Contrary to what HR managers might believe, executive retreats and PowerPoint decks aren’t enough to solve these problems.
Businesses need to evolve culturally, promoting an ethos that rewards "yes, and"-style collaboration over negative competition. This starts by embracing humor: Bosses who can find what's funny in a sticky client situation, or even their own shortcomings, lead employees who work hard without fear of failure.
In that respect, managers must learn to improvise. The modern workplace -- where bosses field last-minute requests, complaints and questions via email, Slack and VoIP phones -- demands leaders who can always adapt -- nay, improvise -- to the challenges around them.
We're often conditioned to view work as one of life's necessary evils. Great bosses strive to make work better for all of us.