10 signs of a bad boss and how to deal with them

10 signs of a bad boss and how to deal with them

  • What makes up a good boss can often be harder to explain than how a bad boss acts
  • A boss should be flexible with employees, not only in scheduling but also in operations
  • Always try to reward employees somehow who put in extra effort
  • “A good boss will defend your actions,” said expert Deborah Graham

( — Bosses get a pretty bad rap. Where two or more employed people gather, you’re sure to hear a story that involves the word “boss” and one of the following descriptors: “stupid,” “dumb,” “incompetent” or “clueless.” Turn on the TV or go to the movies and bosses don’t fare much better. They’re either bumbling fools or conniving villains.

Bad bosses exist. We all know that. You can easily list all the qualities a bad boss possesses without having to think too much. But what makes a good boss? I’m not talking about the fanciful daydreams we have about a boss who wants to pay us seven figures for working one hour a day.

To find out, we asked employees about the best bosses they’ve had and what characteristics they hope to see in the people for whom they work.

Give and take

When freelance videographer Joe Vass describes the best boss he ever worked for, all of the qualities boil down to showing respect, a characteristic that many workers value regardless of what industry they’re in.

“The best boss I ever had made me feel like a valued and important member of the team — not through his words, but through his actions,” Vass said. “He encouraged hard work, ingenuity and creativeness and valued everyone for who they were, and so we were inspired to work hard for ourselves and for him. He was always available for consultation and skilled at good, constructive criticism [and] suggestions.”

As a result of this approachable and encouraging leadership, the team always recognized the boss as the leader and decision-maker. It was something the team thought he earned from them and didn’t demand.

Debra Yergen, a director of marketing for a cardiac hospital, said she recognizes the value of giving to her employees and receiving something in return.

“As a member of the hospital’s key management team, there are a lot of responsibilities I have that cannot be delegated,” Yergen said. “But whatever I do assign to my staff, I make sure they see me do, too. I also make sure that when my staff works a really long shift one day — and sometimes into the night — they get rewarded with coming in late another day.”

Were she to hand out orders that she herself couldn’t do and provide no reward for the times when late hours cut into personal time, she might not have such a positive relationship with her employees.


Wayne Botha of Botha Consulting has learned the valuable of flexibility during his career working with IT project managers.

“The days of IT professionals working nine to five are gone. Project managers work flexible schedules in different time zones from around the world,” Botha explains. “Good bosses focus on getting the job done, not on measuring the hours that a subordinate sits in the chair at the office.”

The notion of a standard workday is fading for all professions, and life sure hasn’t become more rigid. Personal obligations and family responsibilities make strict 9-to-5 work hours just as impossible. Flexibility matters to employees now more than ever.

Flexibility extends beyond handling schedules, though. It also applies to daily operations, reminds Daniel Mark Wheaton, the sales and operations manager for Canuka Web Solutions.

“A good boss is flexible about how things can be done. In being so, he or she opens the possibility of learning ways to do things better. [Of] equal importance is learning what not to do,” Wheaton said.

“Flexibility in hiring is important, too. Qualifications and assets in a job posting should be guidelines. A boss should recognize that sometimes relevant work experience is more important than education background.”

And so much more

What makes a good boss can’t be distilled into one or two adjectives. As employees are eager to explain, good bosses encompass a broad range of qualities that make going to work enjoyable. According to workers, here are other ways bosses can be allies and not enemies:

• “Be consistent and predictable. It is hard for subordinates to make the boss look good when the boss behaves erratically and every situation seems to result in a unique decision.” — Botha

• “They are able to get you to do something without using coercive tactics or bullying. They’re able to frame the discussion in the same way a good basketball coach tells you what the best play will be.” — Andrew Lee, co-founder and CEO of

• “Promote from within. Develop your subordinates and then promote them when the opportunity arises. Subordinates will quickly understand your intentions when you always hire people from outside your organization for top positions.” — Botha

• “A good boss will defend your actions (when they are defensible) and will help you when there is a problem.” — Deborah Graham

• “A good boss understands that every task given to you cannot be your No. 1, top priority and will work with you to readjust priority lists if necessary.” — Graham

• “A good boss knows the overall value each employee brings to the organization, and keeps that in mind. So, a single transgression by an otherwise excellent employee doesn’t demand the same response as the same transgression by an employee who consistently makes mistakes.” — Bruce Campbell, vice president of marketing at Clare Computer Solutions

• “A good boss keeps you informed about what is happening at the higher management levels and what projects might be coming down the road.” — Graham

10 signs of a bad boss and how to deal with them

We are learning more and more about leadership all the time. One of the biggest “Ahas!” new and experienced managers (and the people who work for them) have experienced over the past few years is the realization that being a strong manager doesn’t mean being forceful or domineering.

It’s just the opposite — strong managers are strong enough to lead through trust, whereas weak managers have to use the force of their job titles to make people listen to them.

When we talk about fear-based management, it’s the weak managers we are referring to! You can spot a weak manager at a hundred paces or more, because weak managers are the ones who raise their voices, make threats and generally keep their teammates off-balance and worried about pleasing the manager when our customers need them to be happily focused on their work.

Strong managers lead through trust. They trust their teammates and their employees trust them. They don’t have to be right. They don’t care whether they are right or not, as long as the right answer emerges from the conversation. They don’t have to be bossy. They trust their employees to know what to do and to ask for help if they need it.

Weak managers don’t trust themselves enough to lead that way!


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Here are five sure signs that your manager is a weak manager pretending to be strong. We can feel sorry for him or her but you don’t have time to waste in a workplace that dims your flame. If your manager is not a mentor and an advocate for you, you deserve to work for someone who is!

Can’t Ask for Help

When a weak manager isn’t sure what to do next, he or she won’t ask the team for help. Instead, the weak manager will make up a solution on the spot and say “Just do it — I’m the manager, and I told you what I want!” A weak manager cannot ask for input from people s/he supervises. If you try to reason with your weak manager, s/he’ll get angry.

Needs a Handy Scapegoat

When a weak manager notices that something has gone wrong, he or she has one goal in mind: to find somebody to blame! A strong manager will take responsibility for anything that doesn’t work out as planned, and say “Well, what can we learn from this?” A weak manager can’t take on that responsibility. He or she must pin the blame on somebody else — maybe you!

Can’t Say “I Don’t Know”

A strong manager can say “I don’t know what the answer is” many times a day if necessary, but a weak manager is afraid to say “I don’t know.” He or she will lie or start throwing figurative spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks.

Strong managers learn fast because they learn from successes and misfires, both. Weak managers are not as open to that kind of learning, because so much of their mental and emotional energy goes to deflecting blame when something goes awry.

Measures Everything

Strong managers focus on big goals. They follow the adage “The main thing is to keep the main thing, the main thing.” Weak managers get sidetracked with small, insignificant things. That’s why a weak manager will know that you worked until nine p.m. last night averting disaster, but still call you out for walking into work five minutes late the next morning.

Weak managers rely on measurement instead of judgment when they manage people. They have a yardstick for everything. They will say “I manage by the numbers” when in fact, they aren’t managing at all.

Can’t Say “I’m Sorry”

The last sign of a weak manager is that this kind of manager cannot bring him- or herself to say “I’m sorry” when a stronger leader would. They can’t be criticized and they can’t accept feedback, however compassionate. They can’t take it in, because their ego is too fragile to acknowledge any room for growth.

Life is long, but it’s still too short to waste time working for someone who can’t be human and down-to-earth at work. Work can be a fun and creative place, or a sweat shop where you count the minutes until quitting time.

One of the biggest determining factors in your satisfaction at work is the personality of the manager you work for. Don’t you deserve to be led by a person with the courage to lead with a human voice?