Last week I shared with you top 10 signs of bad leadership. Based on statistics I quoted, it seems that almost every workplace is challenged by bad bosses who hurt their teams and employee satisfaction. And after watching so many companies having to deal with leadership crisis in the near past, from Uber and Volkswagen to United Airlines and Yahoo. Question is, how to deal with bad boss in the workplace?
If you expect me to write about the widely shared leadership propaganda, how bad bosses will ruin your company and you need to get rid of them, you will be better off reading some other article on this topic. (You can actually find tons of them on Google.) This article is a breeze of a fresh air in society that tries to make everyone the same. But let’s start from ground zero.
Can bad bosses benefit your company?
Yes, they can. Not every bad boss will, but when you have someone who makes things happen, gets stuff done, tackles challenges and moves company in the desired direction, removing that person can greatly hurt your bottom line. In this case you want to keep the person, but you might need to use one of the strategies listed below to lower the negative impact on their team or others who have to work with them.
I know, I know, in times when everyone talks about culture, focusing on profits can be considered dangerous field. But somebody finally has to say the truth. Primary business focus MUST be profits. If you don’t make a profit, you’re out of business, no matter how empowered the employees are. There are actually lots of examples of bad bosses who created great companies. Just think about Steve Jobs (Apple), Bill Gates (Microsoft), or more recently Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook). Being tough to work with doesn’t mean you won’t regret getting rid of them, just think about Apple story firing Steve Jobs just to bring him back couple years later.
Here are just couple examples of how bad boss can benefit your company:
- Profits – As mentioned above, if your “bad boss” is highly competitive and motivated by achievement, he will make sure that his targets are met no matter what.
- Team productivity – High achievers might push people into action, creating space for sometimes inhuman achievements. This can be extremely helpful, especially in crunch times or emergencies.
- Resilience – At the end of the day, those who work with or under bad boss will either build resilience or leave.
- Experience – Some of your people who work with the bad boss can actually learn a great deal about what not to do when they get promoted into a position.
- Leadership – I’ll get back to this topic in a minute, but bad boss can actually help raise some true leadership inside the company – people who care and choose to step into the gap.
If the person is not only a bad leader, but also a low performer, keeping them in their role will NOT benefit, but hurt your company. At the end of the day, business is about bottom line and profits. How much is bad boss costing your organization? Do the benefits of having him/her outweigh the risk and negatives? How much longer can you keep avoiding that decision? What would be possible if you had a better leader in that specific position?
Before I move on, let me say that leaders don’t have to be bad to build great companies. There are countless examples of great leaders who built successful companies, like Sir Richard Branson (Virgin), Jeff Bezos (Amazon), Jack Ma (Alibaba) and many others.
But bad boss is bad for company culture…
I hear you. We’ve all been brainwashed by this rhetorics for years. If we put profits aside for a moment, let’s consider that culture can be balanced out.
Culture is developed and nurtured by leaders, not bosses. Bad bosses have a position, but they’re not necessarily leaders on their teams or inside the organizations. There are other people inside the company who might have enough influence to balance bad boss’s weaknesses. This is where knowing your people matters. If you have a boss who is not a people person, hiring assistant who is, will create the necessary balance. Boss who gets easily distracted can have someone else on the team who will continue with project once he checked off. And if the boss constantly changes his mind, having someone else in charge of team communication & meetings can be extremely helpful.
Therefore the key in this case is not necessarily removing the person, but finding others with strengths in the areas of your “bad boss’s” weaknesses. At the end of the day, none of us is perfect. So stop expecting it from leaders in your organization!
Top strategies to deal with bad bosses
- Accept and celebrate diversity. Leadership comes in all shapes and sizes. Not all leaders are organized, innovative or detail oriented. Instead of trying to fit a square peg into a round hole, allow your people to be who they are.
- Build your organization and teams on people’s strengths. Yes, you can invest time, money and resources into helping people with their weaknesses, but the best you will get will be mediocrity. Instead, choose to invest in people’s strengths. When people spend most of their work time in the areas of their strengths, they enjoy their work more, they are more engaged and they create better results faster. This is truth about “bad bosses” too. You can ask them to write long reports, but if that’s not their knack, you’ll be disappointed and they will be frustrated. Know your people and maximize their contribution by tapping into their strengths, not weaknesses.
- Course correct as needed. Nobody is perfect. Letting your people know that you care enough to help them improve can actually go a long way. Take time to provide direction, feedback and support. Remember that the earlier you do so, the better. Be intentional about supporting your top leaders and helping them improve.
- Create space for improvement. Leaders aren’t born. Nor do they fall out of the sky into cushy chairs in your offices. They are the result of series of events, circumstances, decisions and other factors.
- Assign a mentor or a coach to a bad boss. Having someone else who can’t threaten his/her position, but can help them strategically can actually help leader to improve results. As I wrote in one of my previous articles, it can be lonely at the top and not having a strategic partner to bounce ideas off or course-correct can be deadly.
- Praise improvements and great behavior. Pay attention to improvements and things done well. You will always get more of what you celebrate.
After all is said and done, there are only 3 actions you can take to deal with a bad boss in your organization:
- Keep the bad boss and work around him/her
- Replace bad boss with someone else
- Develop and train bad boss into a good boss
One thing you should NOT do is to hide your head in the sand and pretend that all is fine.
Have you dealt with bad boss before? What worked? What didn’t? Let me know on social media!
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