Nobody wants to be a bad boss – but when you’re running your own business, the pressure of your situation and the difficulty of communicating your vision to employees can make things difficult. So, you snap, or make mistakes, or start to obsess about performance; a hundred niggling things which can make your employees’ working lives difficult. Being a bad boss could mean anything from not taking care of your personal hygiene to not getting the right employers liability insurance.
Whether you’re worried that you’re a David Brent or a Darth Vader, the questions below should help you define your leadership style – and change it. There are even a few examples of terrible bosses from history to illustrate what not to do if you want your employees to work hard and respect you!
1. Are you aggressive?
You might see it as good, old-fashioned business talking, but the dog-eat-dog business model is shifting: clear, concise communication and conversations with employees are the most effective tools at your disposal. And being passive aggressive isn’t any healthier: you’re still not saying what you mean in a clear way. You might be making an impact on your staff, but you’re sacrificing clarity by hedging criticism with sarcasm and making any compliments you give backhanded.
2. Are you inconsistent?
This could mean that you’re changing your mind several times a day, or it could mean you’re failing to treat all your employees with a similar level of respect. They don’t know what to expect and are frustrated with having to redo work or second guess your expectations. It might be that you’re insecure with your decisions, so make sure you pool opinion and have done enough research to be confident with whatever choices you’re called upon to make. Then, have the confidence in your staff to get what you want done to the best of their ability.
One of the worst inconsistent bosses in history was J. Edgar Hoover, the former head of the FBI: to his staff, he was paranoid and capricious. Breakdowns in communication were a regular occurrence – and one of the most famous? When he wrote ‘Watch the borders’ in the margin of a memo sent to him by staff, they duly upped security on the USA’s Mexican border, until they realised he was just asking them to leave more space at the side of their paperwork so he could jot down notes in them.
3. Do you fail to lead by example?
Running late for meetings, getting behind with paperwork and moaning about your workload: all things which give staff ‘permission’ to do the same. You’re setting the standard and the pace at your workplace, so make sure you keep up beat and on top of things – and if you can’t, it’s your responsibility to think of a way to make things efficient and streamlined.
4. Do you recognise your own goals above those of your employees?
Francis Bryant and William May were business partners who owned a match factory in London just before the turn of the 19th century. They caused a scandal when, to boost profits, they used dangerous white phosphorous to create their match heads – meaning their long-suffering workers suffered from a painful and often fatal disease called ‘phossy jaw’, which caused their jawbones first to glow and then to dissolve.
Hopefully, nothing you ever do will prove fatal to your workers – but if you’re not recognising them as individuals rather than machines, you might be killing their work drive. Any good boss knows that challenging employees and giving them room to grow is crucial to a happy, productive workforce.
5. Are you an obsessive micro-manager?
John H. Patterson is one of the most influential figures in management history – but he’s best remembered as a man who was obsessed with detail. He banned bread and butter from his company’s premises, had his employees weighed every six months and was notorious for hiring and firing people for the smallest, often irrelevant, mistakes.
If you’re concentrating on small details, or overly-concerning yourself with the private lives of your employees, you might be missing some of the great work they’re doing – make sure there’s room for error in your company, and that you’re not letting your judgement be influenced by things which don’t really matter.