10 Signs You’re a Bad Boss

horribe boss characteristics

Horrible Bosses … in Real Life

If you’ve ever seen the movie Horrible Bosses, you probably reacted the way most of us did: some of the amazingly inappropriate behavior in the film registered a little close to home.  We’ve all had some sort of run in with a really bad boss in our career, and while the movie makes a humorous story out of it, you’ve probably had some not-so-humorous stories in real life.  While no one is perfect, it does make us think about the bad bosses and managers we encounter, or worse, that we might be becoming ourselves.  But let’s be honest: you don’t need to be doing drugs in the office, harassing your staff, or blackmailing your employees to be a bad boss.  There are plenty of other things you might be doing to earn such a reputation.

It is said that people don’t leave their jobs, but rather that they leave their bosses.  Here are 10 signature traits of being a bad boss, and ways to combat them.

1. The First Thing They Think of When Making Decisions is Themselves

If there’s something that comes with being a boss, it’s the need to make decisions.  Lots of them.  Whether it’s how to handle a customer issue, approving time off for one’s staff, or simply trying to identify who the best candidate for an assignment is, management is about decision-making.  Real horrible bosses first think about themselves – how the decision will impact them, how it will make them look, and how much they’ll have to do as a result – before thinking about the business and others.

HOW TO BE A BETTER BOSS: Think about the team, the employees and the company before looking in the mirror.  Decisions often have a way of following us.

RELATED: 5 Things You Can Do TODAY to Be a Better Boss

2.  They Don’t Spend Enough Time With Their Employees

Even if a boss subscribes to the ‘tough love’ philosophy of management, which justifies that they can be a little tougher on and more unreasonable with employees, there’s more to management than that.  Being a good boss is somewhat like being a good parent.  Just like with kids, employees need a manager’s support and help at critical points along the way and benefit greatly from spending time learning from their supervisor.  Many bosses may talk a tough game and say ‘well it’s up to him/her and they’ll need to sink or swim.’ But in reality, better results will be obtained when you step in from time to time to offer support and guidance.

HOW TO BE A BETTER BOSS: Schedule regular meetings with your employees, one on one.  Even if you don’t have time to be everywhere and keep tabs on all projects, regular one-on-ones will ensure you get time with your employees to understand challenges and issues before things get ugly.

3.  Why Plan When They Can Just Do?

It’s the kind of lesson that a grandparent often teaches a young child: haste makes waste.  Managers who are impatient and fail to think things through are often surprised when things don’t go well.  But the reason for their troubles is not surprising.  (If you’re responsible for managing metrics, you may want to read THIS.)  There is value in planning and thinking through various outcomes in order to make wise decisions.  Whether you’re managing a project, metrics, people or an entire business, effective planning is invaluable.

HOW TO BE A BETTER BOSS: Take time to think a few steps down the line.  Ask yourself about potential things that could impact the desired outcome and how you might prevent it from happening.

RELATED: Succession Planning, the Smart Way

4.  They Suffer from Analysis Paralysis

Like #3, things can equally go south if you take the opposite approach.  As we mentioned above, management requires you make a lot of decisions, on a regular basis.  Only on rare occasions, however, will you ever feel you have enough information.  But one sign that you might need to work on your management skills is when you find yourself unable to make a decision without a 5000 line spreadsheet telling you what to do.  Not to imply that data is a bad thing, but what will you do if the data comes back and it’s inconclusive?  Get more data?  News flash: spreadsheets don’t manage people.  People manage people.

HOW TO BE A BETTER BOSS:  It’s tough, but to be a better manager you’ll need to grow comfortable with making decisions without a spreadsheet telling you what to do.  If the consequences are not terrible, go with your gut and what makes sense.  Reserve 12MB size spreadsheets for the more critical decisions.

5.  They’re Quick to Judge, Late to Learn

Managers who shoot from the hip are bound for trouble.  When a manager or business leader is quick to draw conclusions, no matter how in important the topic may be, or how much knowledge is needed to really formulate an opinion, he or she is bound to be the last one standing.

HOW TO BE A BETTER BOSS:  Patience is a virtue.  Learn the lay of the land before you plough.  Especially if you’re taking a new management position, or beginning to work with a new team, take some time to soak it all in.  Learn about the issues, observe the dynamics.  Don’t come in and start making changes on Day 1 as if you’ve been there for 5 years.

6.  They Say It, Even When They Shouldn’t

There’s a secret rule that all good leaders know about, and the bad leaders don’t even consider.  Professionalism.  We all have our good days and our bad days, but one of the most stabilizing and motivational forces that good bosses have is their ability to keep their cool and keep things professional.  By contrast, bad bosses have no filter.  If they’re having a bad day, they will tell you.  If they don’t like someone on the team, they will say it out loud.  They will share information that they shouldn’t and they will toss out opinions of others – their boss, their peers, your peers or whomever, without considering the consequences.  One other thing: bad bosses also have a history of being unable control their temper.

RELATED: What To Say After Someone Was Fired

HOW TO BE A BETTER BOSS: We all have bad days and our opinions, but put a cork in it.  No need to make remarks about how you wish you could fire someone, or that you just have no interest in working with another person.  Keep it professional, keep sensitive topics and information to yourself, and don’t put your employees in an awkward situation.

7.  No One Knows You’re There

If there’s a common theme with bad managers, it’s that they’re often missing from the action.  Whether it’s a crisis or a routine situation, an ineffective manager will never be found.  If they have remote employees, they rarely – if ever – go and visit.  And even if they are in the same building, they will rarely come by to say hello.  Employees who work for this type of manager usually find that they have to fend for themselves.  Results and morale always suffer.

HOW TO BE A BETTER BOSS: It’s quite simple, really.  Be visible.  No need to get in your employees’ business everyday, but rather, take a few minutes to say hello or simply support an employee when help is needed.  Dial into a call, or attend a meeting, just to listen in.  Go visit your remote employees from time to time.  Even when briskly walking down a hallway, a simple ‘Good Morning’ goes a long way.  Like it or not, being a boss is about being a leader.  And good leaders are visible.

8.  They Talk Openly About Moving On

Whether they’ve taken a position to learn something for a little while before moving on, or are starting to think about applying for another job, bad bosses will talk about it openly.  Regardless of a manager’s personal goals, for teams to operate at a high level, it needs stability and focus.  If the employees are constantly wondering when the boss is going to quit, it creates anything but stability and focus.

HOW TO BE A BETTER BOSS:  Employees don’t need to (and shouldn’t) know their boss is looking for a new job, and one’s staff should not hear the boss talk about wanting their next position.  At least when you’re around your team and your employees, focus on them.  Talk about their careers.  No need to wear your own desires and ambitions on your sleeve.

9.  There is Only One Right Answer…And it Happens to be Yours

The worst bosses out there are the ones who listen to no one and are unable (or unwilling) to consider alternatives.  They manage with a “my way or the highway” style that leaves little opportunity for their colleagues and their employees to bring options to the table.  Unfortunately, though, the “my way or the highway” style is highly susceptible to making bad decisions or uninformed choices because there is no room for any other option.

HOW TO BE A BETTER BOSS: Take a step back and listen to others.  Solicit alternative and opinions on various matters in order to get some balance in your perspective.  Using this information, select the option that best suits the situation, and recognize that it may not be the one you initially thought was best.

10.  They Have No Boundaries

Calling employees at 10PM to discuss something?  Asking their staff to come to the office on a Saturday because “there was no other time during the week?”  These are signs of a bad boss because they show no regard or discipline to their employee’s personal boundaries.   Asking an employee to miss his or her child’s soccer game so they can do that report for you is bad behavior.  Sure, there are times when a quick call or late night email is needed and expected, but making a habit out of it is unacceptable.

HOW TO BE A BETTER BOSS: Regardless of how many hours you work, or the hours you like to work, remember that being a good leader means that you respect your employees, which also means you respect their time.  Don’t hesitate to ask employees about personal commitments to know when it is and is not to reach out to them in off-hours.  But only use this information for when you really need it.


Leadership and management styles are often talked about in today’s management think tanks.  How a boss behaves around his or her people can have a tremendous impact on their team’s morale, its turnover and the overall results they achieve.  Take a moment to step back and ask yourself if any of these resonate with you, and what changes you can make to improve your style.


Looking For More?

5 Things You Can Do TODAY to Be a Better Boss

The Manager Success Series, Tip #6

How to Combat Morale Issues



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