Why All the Bad Bosses–And What to Do About It?

https://triplecrownleadership.com/why-bad-bosses/Why All the Bad Bosses–And What to Do About It?

Article Summary: 

Why are there so many bad bosses? Why are so many organizations bad at choosing managers? How to distinguish between bad bosses who can be redeemed and those who can’t?


“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

Why are there so many bad bosses? And what can we do about it?


Organization Failures

Some organizations are failing in their selection of managers. Why? Here are some of the major reasons:

They tolerate obsolete leadership practices. Leadership has evolved over the years from command and control to being more participative, focusing more on a shared purpose, values, and vision, and unleashing others. Good leadership involves integrity, transparency, authenticity, humility, and intentional culture-building. Too many organizations still put up with micromanagement, politics, hoarding information, public humiliation, and more bad leadership practices.

They select managers poorly. Some organizations hire, promote, and appoint managers and leaders on insufficient criteria—focusing primarily on “head” qualities such as knowledge and experience while ignoring “heart” qualities such as character, passion, authenticity, resilience, and courage.

They take the best achievers (such as salespeople or engineers) and promote them to management, which involves a different skill set. Or they promote people for results achieved in spite of bad behavior contrary to the  shared values.

They offer poor support, development, training, and coaching for managers. Both new and seasoned managers need ongoing training and development. All too often those are cut in hard times.

They’re so obsessed with maximizing shareholder value and short-term profits that they neglect strategic investments and innovation, cut ethical corners, and/or fail to create value for all the people they impact—important stakeholders like workers, customers, partners, and communities. We believe that pursuing a quest to build an “excellent, ethical, and enduring organization” (what we call a “triple crown” organization) is a superior way to lead.

They place good people in the wrong position. For example, they might be good potential staff leaders who are overwhelmed in a challenging line assignment.

They have no career path for workers except moving into management. Some organizations fail to create meaningful, alternative career paths that result in increased compensation and job satisfaction for talented performers based on their skills and interests.

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.


Some Bad Bosses Can Be Rescued

Bad bosses aren’t necessarily bad people. There are many instances in which poor bosses can be rescued. For example:

  1. Some bosses have significant personal or family issues that negatively impact their behavior. A helpful organization will ascertain if someone is struggling with outside issues and help them get stabilized, if possible.
  2. Some have had bad role models at home, school, or in previous workplaces. They’ve never been exposed to good leaders, so they don’t get it. They may be people pleasers, micromanagers, or reluctant delegators. They haven’t yet learned how to lead effectively.
  3. Some are so overwhelmed or unhappy in their positions due to challenging organizational factors that they have little time to manage well.
  4. Some managers have poor communication or listening skills. They lack awareness of the impact of their words, body language, and actions.
  5. Some are indecisive. They have trouble defining problems and developing solutions to resolve them. They’re viewed as wishy-washy, hesitant, and uncertain.
  6. Some have personality or mindset flaws that degrade their effectiveness. They may be insecure, stubborn, anxious, irritable, or impulsive. Or they lack self-control.
  7. Some mistakenly think wielding power is the essence of leadership, perhaps because that’s all they’ve experienced.

Caring and effective senior executives can usually address these deficiencies.


Some Bad Bosses Should “Seek Success Elsewhere”

Unfortunately, there are also many instances in which bad bosses aren’t good people at heart. They likely can’t be retrained or fixed. They’re beyond redemption. Here are examples:

  1. Some have no moral compass. They cut corners or lie, cheat, or steal.
  2. Many have big egos. They’re full of themselves.
  3. Some just don’t care about other people. They’re distant and aloof.
  4. Some are authoritarian and disrespectful, berating people publicly, or they withhold information. They manage by fear and take credit due others. They control and punish people. They operate with too much steel leadership, too often. They see relationships as transactional and people as disposable.
  5. Some are constantly passing the buck, dodging responsibility, and blaming others. They avoid accountability.
  6. Some are greedy or feel entitled. They care too much about their position, office, parking space, compensation, and perquisites.
  7. Some are Machiavellian, obsessed with organizational politics. They spend excessive time ingratiating themselves with higher-level managers, often as “yes-boss” sycophants. Being politically aware and careful is wise, but spending disproportionate time on politicking undermines their leadership credibility.
  8. Some have severe behavioral or psychological problems. They may be abusive, bullying, or narcissistic, or they may be a pathological liar or master manipulator.

In many such cases, separation is the only viable alternative.

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.


What to Do About Bad Bosses Who Have Potential

Start by caring about them as people. That means showing empathy and understanding, caring, staying involved, and doing all we can to ensure their success.

If some bosses are struggling with outside issues or experiencing moderate behavioral issues, then intercede to get professional help for or give them time and support to stabilize. Care about their mental health and wellbeing.

Make ongoing training, coaching, and development a priority. No budget cuts here. People are the key to organizational success. Sending them off to an occasional outside course or retreat is woefully insufficient. Invest in their growth and development.

Some bad bosses need to revert back to a position consistent with their skill set where they can be successful.

Some struggling bosses may need a more direct intervention such as an improvement plan—with feedback, coaching, and mentoring to assist them. Redeeming potentially good people who have flaws is far easier than terminating them and starting over.

Finally, some bad bosses are unredeemable and a cancer to their organization. Even toxic high performers should be separated from the organization in a firm but respectful and fair process.


Reflection Questions

  1. Does your organization have managers who are struggling?
  2. Can you get them the help, training, and coaching they need to be successful?
  3. Are you ready to terminate the irredeemably toxic managers?


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.


Related Articles


Quotations on Bad Bosses

  • “People quit people, not companies.” -John Maxwell, leadership author
  • “According to many sources, a bad boss is also the number one reason why employees quit their job.” -Susan M. Heathfield, management consultant, trainer, and author
  • “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
  • “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
  • “A leader’s job is to develop committed followers. Bad leaders destroy their followers’ sense of commitment.” -Dean Smith, basketball coach
  • “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

Triple Crown Leadership Newsletter

Join our community. Sign up now and get our monthly inspirations (new articles, announcements, opportunities, resources, and more). Welcome!


Gregg Vanourek and Bob Vanourek are leadership practitioners, teachers, and award-winning authors (and son and father). They are co-authors of Triple Crown Leadership: Building Excellent, Ethical, and Enduring Organizations, a winner of the International Book Awards. 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!

https://triplecrownleadership.com/why-bad-bosses/Why All the Bad Bosses–And What to Do About It?

Leave a Comment