July 01, 2024 by Dede Henley

Learn From The Five Worst Traits Of A Toxic Boss

shutterstock_1940979301-sm.jpegPreviously published by Forbes

Having a toxic boss can make life at work miserable, and, unfortunately, it doesn’t just impact your work life. Research has found that, in addition to damaging your morale while you’re in the office, bad bosses also affect your physical health, raising your risk for heart disease. It can even negatively impact how your whole family relates to one another. 

Bad bosses may be bad news, but there’s a silver lining — there’s a lot you can learn from their “anti-role-model” behavior, as one woman on a panel of senior women leaders at Microsoft described them. You might even consider it a master class in what not to do. 

Here are five things you can learn from a toxic boss:

1. Putting people down makes people duck for cover. Toxic bosses often show contempt towards people. One of their telltale signs is using sarcasm to make fun of people or to belittle their efforts. They also seem to see their peers and direct reports as intrusions into important work they have to get done. Impatient and dismissive, they’ll demand, “What do you need now?” Compounding the problem, toxic bosses don’t give people enough information about a task or its relevance to other projects, assuming they don’t need to know or aren’t smart enough to understand the bigger picture. 

What can you learn from this bad behavior? Look for the good in people. See the value a person brings to their work, the skills they contribute and the unique perspective they offer. This is called appreciation. When you give people sufficient information about why a particular task or project matters and provide the context and detail to enable your team to do its best work, they’ll give you their all in return.

2. No one is impressed by a temper tantrum. Bosses who lose their cool create an environment of fear at work. I worked for a boss years ago who didn’t like me. We didn’t get along at all. Just seeing his car in the parking lot as I drove into work made my stomach turn. One day, he and I got into an argument over a client deliverable. I was sure I was right, and so was he. He called me into his office, and I took the seat across from him with his imposing desk between us. The conversation escalated and before I knew it, he was standing up, leaning towards me, red-faced and shouting. In a fit of anger, he pounded his fist on the desk just inches away from me. I was terrified and froze. I left his office and went to the washroom and cried. Several weeks later, I quit that job. 

Throwing a temper tantrum might work for four-year-olds who want to get their way. It doesn’t work for a manager.

What can you learn from this bad behavior? When the pressure’s on, it’s easy to lose your cool, but part of being a good manager is digging deep and finding self control. If you feel anger rising inside you, take a deep breath. Calm yourself down. Give yourself time to think before you make things worse. Daniel Goleman, the voice of emotional intelligence at work, calls this self-regulation. Then you can come back to the conversation with something much more productive than a temper tantrum. You’ll be a lot less likely to lose good people in the process.

3. Micromanaging wastes everyone’s time (and talent). Most of us have worked for that boss who always thinks their way is the best way to do things. Even though you were supposedly hired for your expertise and skills, they hover over you, monitor your every move and insist you do things their way. Because toxic bosses are so sure they know the one and only way to do it, they expect their direct reports to do what they do, and they get all up in their business about the details. 

What can you learn from this bad behavior? Remember that you hired talented people for a reason. Let them take initiative and find a way to complete a task or a project that works for them and delivers the result you have both agreed to. Your challenge upfront is to think through and clearly communicate your standards and expectations for completion. Clarity and communication are key to giving people room to breathe and work independently. 

4. Being a “ball-hog” demotivates smart people. Toxic bosses don’t acknowledge the hard work an employee has put in, which can make that employee feel as if all of their hard work was for nothing. This is especially true when the boss takes a team member’s idea and pitches it as his or her own. 

What can you learn from this bad behavior? Give credit where credit is due. Pass the ball to your team members every now and then. Notice the work that others have done, pay attention and offer your appreciation — and then talk about their contribution with others in the organization. Lift others up rather than yourself. It will all turn out for you, I promise. You will have a team of high performers who will make your life easier. 

5. Getting nutty about the little stuff makes people nutty. Bad bosses get hyper-focused on small things and overlook the bigger picture. Toxic bosses don’t care about the impact they have on others, because how others feel isn’t something that’s even on their radar. 

What can you learn from this bad behavior? Don’t be that boss. Look for the good, keep your cool, respect what your people bring to the table, give credit where it's due and concentrate on the things that really matter. Take the time to find out what’s going on in an employee’s world, ask questions and listen. Ask yourself if this small thing really matters that much. And don’t assume you understand why someone is doing something — ask. This keeps you connected to your employees in important ways and builds trust for the bigger stuff you need to work on together. 

You'll be amazed at what your team members can do when they're able to spend their time focused on delivering great results rather than on ducking your next outburst.


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