Saturday, July 30, 2011

Horrible Bosses

Despite what I originally thought, some of my previous managers are not in the new movie Horrible Bosses!  Really?  I can attest to the fact that they are more than qualified to star in the movie (or at least co-star).  But the release of this movie made me start to think about exactly what it is that makes a boss qualify for a “horrible” tag.  So I’ve come up with my Top Ten ways to tell if you have a horrible boss.

1.      Micro-Managing – A manager’s main job in my opinion is to oversee a team that works as a unit, each piece working together to achieve a common goal.  A manager looks at the big picture and helps to drive the projects, tasks, and brainstorming required to achieve those goals.  My experience, however, has been that the managers want to show you how they would do something.  Speaking specifically for 4 of my last 5 managers, they want to know exactly what we are working on every second of every day, rather than trusting the work ethic that others and I have already proved to be effective.  A micro-manager will only drive their employees away from the team, and closer to the stage of disengagement.  Rather, they should allow their employees to make certain decisions on their own that help drive the success of the team.  If those decisions are not successful, then you step in and provide guidance as needed before things get out of hand.

2.      Lack of Comprehension – Luckily not every boss I’ve had has been completely incompetent, but there have been a couple. (Sounds mean, but there couldn’t have been much going on upstairs if you know what I mean.)  Again, the manager’s role is to oversee the team and work towards a common goal.  They are responsible for knowing how team members interact, and what information they should pass along to what employees.  A horrible boss is one that hears critical information, and then does nothing with it.  They do not comprehend the magnitude of the information, or the importance it may hold for any number of their employees. Ideas may be laid out for them that they should pass along to employees, but the information gets lost.  A manager who cannot comprehend the info given to them, or comprehend how it relates to their employees is missing a critical characteristic.
3.      No Set Goals – I think of the quote “If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll probably end up somewhere else.” A manager must set out specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timely goals, also known as the SMART system.  The purpose of projects should be clear from the onset, and a manager’s expectation of your contribution to the team must be documented and tracked over the course of each year.  Failure to do so will throw a boss into the “horrible” category.  I have a co-worker who, after being given no clear goal on a project to complete, gave a blank piece of paper to our manager stating, “there, here’s the thing you wanted.”  Our manager said “this is a blank piece of paper” to which my co-worker said that since he wasn’t given the requirements of what needed to be done, and no SMART goal, then he had completed his assignment.  (No, he wasn’t fired, but it didn’t sit well with our manager).  But it does show that without these goals, progress will not be made and frustrations will abound.
4.      Hanging On – Delegate, teach, and let go! If you manage a team, you cannot continue to get into the weeds of every little thing that comes along. Delegate responsibility of certain functions to your team, teach them (or provide a source of training) on how they can accomplish their job, and let it go. Robin Bird I’ve never seen a mother robin clinging to her baby bird as she flew around chirping “You just won’t do it right, so I’ll fly for you.”  No!  There comes a point when the little bird must go out on its own.  That bird may fall flat to the ground, but not letting it out of the grip of your nest is even worse.

5.      Too Little or Too Much Praise – I don’t know anyone who doesn’t appreciate a little praise for their work from time to time.  It’s an essential part of managing a team.  Provide regular feedback on the successes of your team, praising them for jobs well done.  But don’t, please don’t praise for everything under the sun!  A horrible boss does not understand this balance and falls on either side of the spectrum, either praising you every 2 seconds, or giving you a pat on the back once a year.  Employees need to feel appreciated to stay engaged at work, but too much praise will desensitize your employees to the real accomplishments that deserve it.
6.      Too Little or Too Much Criticism – In addition to balancing praise, one must also be mindful of balancing criticisms.  While I wish I could say everything I’ve done at my job is perfect, that would be an obvious lie (just ask my co-workers).  As a manager, it would be absolutely horrible if you provide too little constructive criticism when mistakes have been made, or too much criticism for some minor errors. I’ve had co-workers who were criticized daily for one thing or another, while others were rarely, if ever, provided with feedback.  Balance it out and your team will be better off as a result.
7.      Prying into Your Personal Life – I’ve only had 2 managers who I felt did this, but it sure was irritating.  I appreciate the folks who want to get to know me beyond the realm of the office, but there is a line.  My wife and I are new parents, and I can’t even begin to tell you the horribly inappropriate questions asked of me by my boss during the pregnancy and the last 5 months.  Rather than a simple “how is she doing?” I was asked personal questions about my wife’s body, reaction to the changes, and other topics that I feel crossed the line of appropriate.  When you are a manager, please have a sense of your relationship with your employees.  I do not consider my manager a friend, and as such I don’t feel that prying into such private matters should be done.  And if I want to take a personal day, DON’T ASK ME WHAT FOR!!
8.      Pass-The-Buck – A horrible boss does not take responsibility for their actions or the actions of their team. Can you imagine a manager of a restaurant, upon hearing of your complaint about a server, coming to your table and saying “well, it wasn’t my fault.”  No, of course not.  The manager would apologize and take ownership of the mistake of their team.  A couple managers I’ve had were more than happy to step up and take credit for successful teamwork.  But the second we were behind on project or not achieving a set goal, we were singled out for our shortcomings.  A manager must accept the good and bad for their team, always working towards success and giving credit where credit is due.  They should correct other’s mistakes one-on-one, and never pass the buck of blame.
9.      Stagnant – I think a common characteristic of a horrible boss is one that is stagnant, sticking with the way things have been done before and not open to change.  A manager must be able to adapt to the ever changing business and be willing to admit when processes must be changed.  A manager should not only be willing to make the change, but actively seek out innovations and process improvements within their team, and possibly external to their team.  It may sound pretty obvious, but a stagnant boss will take his or her team nowhere.
10.  Biased treatment of co-workers – When a manager treats employees on their team with different standards, conflict is inevitable.  For example, when a manager tells one employee of rules they must follow, but no one else, a bias exists.  And I’m not talking about business related rules, but rather incredibly silly “rules” that are attempted to be enforced.  A co-worker of mine was once told not to eat at her desk.  But her manager ate at her desk every day.  The same co-worker was given about 10 deliverables a week, while the rest of her team was given 2-3.  A manager must not single an employee out with ridiculous expectations or rules that only apply to them.  The employee was not treated fairly, and that furthered the chasm between the manager and the employees.

I'd love to hear about some of your experiences with horrible bosses, so email or comment with your thoughts.

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