The Telltale Signs of a Bad Boss Telltale Signs of a Bad Boss

What’s the deal with all the bad managers out there?

According to a Gallup study of 7,272 U.S. adults, one on two had left their jobs at some point in their career to get away from a bad manager. A YouGov and MHR survey of 2,006 workers found that 80 percent of U.S. workers have experienced poor management or a poor manager at least once in their career.

What’s the situation in your workplace?


Signs of a Bad Boss

Here are the telltale signs of a bad boss:

  1. micromanaging people
  2. lying, cheating, stealing, otherwise acting unethically
  3. being egotistical (self-centered or conceited, with an exaggerated sense of their importance or abilities)
  4. having unreasonable expectations or making unreasonable demands about work
  5. not respecting people’s personal boundaries or issues
  6. seeing relationships as transactional and people as disposable
  7. showing they don’t care about people
  8. being disrespectful to people
  9. withholding information
  10. controlling people
  11. using too much steel leadership (wielding hard-edged power) too often
  12. being weak and unwilling to step up and do the hard things that are necessary
  13. being indecisive
  14. not listening to their people and their ideas or concerns
  15. being unwilling to take responsibility
  16. blaming others
  17. not involving their team in important decisions
  18. playing favorites
  19. being obsessed with playing politics to scheme and get ahead
  20. withholding recognition or bonuses when they’re due
  21. taking credit due to others
  22. having double standards
  23. being aloof
  24. acting entitled (e.g., to their position and/or perquisites)
  25. being hypercritical of others
  26. undermining people
  27. being greedy
  28. being authoritarian (demanding unquestionable obedience)
  29. being volatile or erratic
  30. manipulating people
  31. managing by fear
  32. bullying people
  33. being abusive (verbal, psychological, physical, or sexual mistreatment of others)

Nobody’s perfect. But some people are too flawed to be entrusted with a management position. These behaviors damage the organization and can harm the people who work for the manager.

“Bosses shape how people spend their days and whether they experience joy or despair, perform well or badly, or are healthy or sick. Unfortunately, there are hordes of mediocre and downright rotten bosses out there, and big gaps between the best and the worst.” -Robert Sutton, Stanford University professor of management science

Leadership Derailers Assessment

Take this assessment to identify what’s inhibiting your leadership effectiveness. It will help you develop self-awareness and identify ways to improve your leadership.


Keep in mind that bad bosses aren’t necessarily bad people. Sometimes there are extenuating circumstances affecting their behavior and choices. For example, they may be experiencing personal or family issues. (I once worked with an executive who was exhibiting strange behavior at the office, and I later came to learn that he was in the middle of a family crisis.) There may be challenging organizational factors affecting their management decisions, some or all of which you may not be aware of. Perhaps they had bad managers and don’t know any better? Maybe they were thrown into a management position without proper training?

Such extenuating circumstances don’t excuse poor management, but they may provide important context. Sometimes we’re too quick to judge or blame others when we’d be better off focusing on our own development. And we may not realize that, in many contexts, leading well is far from easy.

Key questions to consider in assessing managers:

Are they good people at heart?
Could they benefit from retraining, coaching, and/or mentoring?
Or are they beyond redemption?

Meanwhile, life is short. We have to make good and sometimes hard decisions about where best to spend our precious time and our finite career capital.

Got a bad boss? Here’s the question:

What will you do about it?

Personal Values Exercise

Complete this exercise to identify your personal values. It will help you develop self-awareness, including clarity about what’s most important to you in life and work, and serve as a safe harbor for you to return to when things are tough.


Tools for You

Alignment Scorecard

When organizations aren’t aligned, it can reduce performance dramatically and cause frustration and dysfunction. With this Alignment Scorecard, you can assess your organization’s level of alignment and make plans for improving it.


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Postscript: Quotations on Bad Bosses

  • “People quit people, not companies.” -John Maxwell, leadership author
  • “Surveys show that one in two people at some point in their careers have left their job to get away from their managers.” -Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner, The Leadership Challenge
  • “The bad leaders are the ones that push hard so they can gain, who browbeat us so that they can receive the benefit of our hard work, not so we can enjoy the success.” -Simon Sinek, author
  • “Don’t be afraid to leave toxic partners, fake friends, and bad bosses. Never settle for less than you deserve.” -Kirsten Hill, Canadian Ambassador to the U.S.
  • “Having a bad boss isn’t your fault. Staying with one is.” -Nora Denzel, tech executive
  • “You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself, any direction you choose.” -Dr. Seuss

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Gregg Vanourek is a writer, teacher, and TEDx speaker on personal development and leadership. He is co-author of three books, including Triple Crown Leadership: Building Excellent, Ethical, and Enduring Organizations (a winner of the International Book Awards written with his father, Bob Vanourek). Check out their Leadership Derailers Assessment or get their monthly newsletter. If you found value in this, please forward it to a friend. Every little bit helps! Telltale Signs of a Bad Boss

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