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The boss no one wants to work for

As leaders, we often reflect on what is it that we can do to be a better boss or mentor.

And if you listen to the experts, to a large extent, that means (among other attributes) being empathetic, communicating well, remaining accountable and using emotional intelligence.

But if EQ is key to being a ‘good boss’, does that mean we should have the self-awareness to consider the question through the lens of those in our charge? Rather than just doing a bit of  subjective self-reflection? And to flip the discussion, perhaps the better perspective is not what can I do to be a better boss, but rather what is it that makes someone, the boss that no one wants to work for?

If the tightness of the labour market in a post-COVID world has taught us anything, it’s that to attract the right talent, we need to offer the right environment, good opportunities, and an appealing culture. And if you’ve developed an unfortunate reputation for being that boss that no one wants to work for, good luck in recruiting!

To test the idea, I recently asked a group of colleagues, friends and staff for their views as to the attributes of the worst boss they had the misfortune to work with. To assist, I gave them a non-exhaustive list of some less desirable characteristics that included micromanages, poor communicator, incompetent and lacks empathy.

And the outcome was a little surprising. I expected that favouritism, being lazy or setting unrealistic expectations would top the list. According to those I surveyed, the top five attributes of the boss that no one wants to work for are (in order):

  1. Blames others or throws them under the bus
  2. Unresponsive or hard to get a hold of
  3. Disrespectful or inappropriate
  4. Confrontational or aggressive
  5. Micromanages (equal fourth).

I was also a little surprised by some of the war stories that accompanied the survey responses – from a boss throwing a half-full archive box at a 19-year-old secretary in a screaming fit of rage, to the disappearing partner who always took lunch and never returned (unless in a drunken search for lost keys). I’m sure there are plenty of contenders for a podium finish in the ‘bad boss behaviour’ awards.

As leaders, managers and bosses, we undoubtedly need to have a solid self-awareness of the impact we have on those in our charge.

We are in the position to drive positive culture and ensure job satisfaction for our teams, but we also have the ability to destroy morale and lose top talent in the process.  

If one good thing comes from a labour market in which there is genuine competition to recruit the best staff, it may be that organisations are forced to critically analyse their culture and whether their leaders and managers are in fact a barrier to recruitment. But if you’re a boss with an EQ deficit, you probably wouldn’t even click past the heading of a blog like this!

Travis Schultz is the Managing Partner, Travis Schultz & Partners.

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