Seven Lessons Learned From Bad Bosses

As a human resources professional, I've worked with all sorts of managers and have seen my fair share of bad bosses and tyrants. I have compiled a few of the lessons I've learned along the way on how not to manage employees and sincerely hope that these lessons will help you become the great leader that you know you can be:

Lesson 1: Don't Share Too Much Information (TMI) - Your direct report is an employee of the company and not your counselor, confidante or BFF (Best Friend Forever). Employees really don't want to or need to know the intimate details of your personal life, really. One manager actually told me during a one on one meeting with her that her mother never found out about all the black men she had slept with. Bonding session? I think not. You put your employees in an uncomfortable position when you divulge too much private information. Discussing what you did with the kids over the weekend is fine, discussing your love life, not so much.

Lesson 2: Give Constructive Instead of Crushing Criticism - Check out this scenario - An employee feels like he's doing a fantastic job, he constantly exceeds your expectations and you've given him good feedback on his performance during the year. It's the end of the year and time for the annual performance review; said employee is sitting across from your desk waiting eagerly for you to formalize in the review what you've been telling him throughout the review period. Suddenly, you inform him that although he's done great work, his humor is off-putting and he made a comment 6 months ago that you thought was kind of racist.

If you wanted to thank your employee for a job well done, correct any bad behavior and motivate him for another year, you have effectively done the opposite. As a manager, you're supposed to build relationships with your direct report. This includes giving immediate feedback and finding an effective and sensitive way to give constructive criticism. After his review, the employee had a long conversation with HR; he was clearly upset and disillusioned.

Lesson 3: Don't be Intimidated by Your Direct Reports' Intellect - As a manager, you're paid to ensure that you motivate and bring out the best in your employees. With companies reaching the productivity frontier and everyone scrambling for a competitive advantage, it's even more important to encourage employees to think creatively and to support innovation. As a leader, your employees want to impress you with their creativity and ideas. So don't follow the example of a Director at a large insurance company that would compete with her direct reports at meetings and say things such as, "I thought of that already" anytime one of her employees would make a suggestion. You're the manager and as such are expected to nurture and encourage employees, not get into a contest of how smart you are. We know you have to have some intellect otherwise you wouldn't be a manager. Making your employees look bad instead of making them shine in front of others just makes you look petty.

Lesson 4: Never Belittle Your Employees - One Vice President I knew seemed to derive pleasure from making her direct reports look and feel stupid and small. When she received a completed assignment from an employee she would hurriedly review it, looking for mistakes. If she found any, she would gleefully point it out to the employee; you could see her almost salivating with excitement. In addition, this manager would make belittling comments to her direct reports, such as "well now that you took the stairs, maybe you'll lose some weight". She couldn't help herself! Managers should be mindful of their employees' feelings (yes, employees do have feelings!). You don't have to make everyone else look bad or feel small in order to make yourself look good.

Lesson 5: Stay Objective - There was one manager I worked with that would either really like or really despise her direct reports. Once, she hired a new employee on her team who, it appeared could do no wrong. All the other team members called her the manager's pet. Until one day, the employee and manager disagreed on an issue. The manager took the disagreement as a personal affront, told the employee that she was very disappointed in her behavior (the employee hadn't wanted to attend a company holiday party) and began to overly criticize the employee's work from that day on.

As a manager, understand that your employees can have and express a different viewpoint from yours; in fact this should be encouraged. Don't take it personally when your employee doesn't always agree with you and more importantly don't punish the employee for it.

Lesson 6: Don't be a Wimp! - We understand that decision-making and authority is sometimes centralized in organizations, it becomes frustrating to employees however when their manager can't make a single decision without having to consult someone higher up. There was a Director that I worked with that couldn't make a decision without vetting it with the Vice President of the division. Her direct reports would wait endlessly for a response to a simple, routine question. To make matters worse, the Vice President would berate the Director at team meetings and the Director would take the abuse like a wounded dog. She never stood up for herself! The rest of the team would cringe at the sight of the Director being talked to like a naughty little girl and quickly lost respect for her. At the very least, the Director should have pulled the Vice President aside and informed her that she would appreciate it if the VP didn't tell her off in front of her staff.

Work out with your manager what types of decisions you can make autonomously so that you appear to have some authority and don't become a bottleneck. Also, it's never okay to take abuse from your superiors.

Lesson 7: Don't be Afraid to Admit You Made a Mistake. - Everyone makes mistakes, even you! The biggest mistake you can make as a manager is to never admit when you've made one.
There was a Vice President at an international Fortune 100 company that would do anything to cover up the fact that he had made a mistake, including blaming his team, pointing the finger at his peers and throwing temper tantrums. The funny thing was that his team soon caught on and he became a laughing stock. When you admit your gaffes, you're telling your team that you're human and that you are holding yourself to the same high standards that you hold them to. You're also telling them that it's okay to fail, sometimes. Some of the world's best innovations were created through trial and error. There's absolutely nothing wrong in apologizing and saying "my bad". Then you can go about the business of fixing the problem instead of trying to look good.

I hope you've picked up a lesson or two from the above. Remember, as a boss, it's your job to ensure that your employees are coming to work for more than just a pay check, that's when you cross the realm from boss to leader.

Busola Olatilu is a Human Resources and Management Consultant with over 10 years of experience in HR. She has a Master's Degree in HR Management and an MBA.

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