Lousy Bosses are Lousy Role Models

Chris Edmonds is the founder and CEO of the Purposeful Culture Group, which he launched after a 15-year career leading and managing teams.

What did your worst boss do to deserve that not-so-coveted title?

Chances are, those of us who have experienced a “worst boss” would testify to some of the same behaviors and characteristics.

One of my lousy bosses (yes, I’ve had more than one) would make grand promises to staff and customers but kept few commitments. I learned not to trust his word.

Another lousy boss of mine was very adept at pointing out my mistakes but was quiet when I moved things forward, exceeding expectations. I learned not to expect encouragement from him.

My worst boss asked me to lie.  My branch of the non-profit I worked for had raised $25,000 in our annual campaign in my first year as executive director — double what it had raised in the past. My boss asked me to announce $30,000 at the closing dinner, in front of 300 people. I refused and gave the accurate total. He was not happy. I did not care.  (And, I left that organization as quickly as I could.)

What makes our lousy bosses behave the way they do?  My research and experience points to three primary motivations of leadership behavior:

  • Their personality, disposition, or social style (these are different terms for the same driver),
  • Their organizational culture, and
  • Role models – good ones and not-so-good ones.

Another lousy boss of mine was very adept at pointing out my mistakes, but was quiet when I moved things forward, exceeding expectations. I learned not to expect encouragement from him.

CHRIS EDMONDS

Role models are hugely influential to humans. We watch how others behave and treat others, and whether the organization reinforces their behavior through recognition, bonuses, etc. If behaviors are validated, we embrace the behaviors ourselves. That is fine when the behaviors are rooted in service, character, and values. However, we can unintentionally take on lousy boss behaviors without even realizing it.

From other research I have done, I have discovered that even best boss behaviors are not embraced across the board. For example, in one assessment I did, I found that 52% or less of respondents felt their boss held everyone accountable, gave effective performance coaching, or provided regular praise for effort as well as accomplishment. Only 61% believed their direct boss was honest with them! (That number should be in the high 90’s!)

This feedback indicates that “best boss” practices are experienced, on average, less than half the time in workplaces around the globe. This indicates that over half of bosses are behaving in lousy ways and that there are more lousy bosses than good ones.

While that is discouraging, it does not have to be the final word. The trend toward “best bosses” can start with YOU. Practicing integrity, encouraging your team, being humble when making corrective steps can move you toward the “best boss” descriptor. And the world certainly needs more of those.

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