Why Does It Seem There Are So Many Bad Bosses Out There?

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A good friend texted me the other day about his job, specifically about how much he hates it.

Why does he hate it? I’ll give you one guess … go ahead, guess. (Insert theme song to the game show Jeopardy here.)

Correct! His boss sucks.

The same week, I had a conversation with another friend who’d been fired after working for a bully boss, and then later, I had another conversation with a different friend who declared her (former) manager to be “the worst.”

Yes, good managers are in high demand

Now, I know these people and you don’t, so I’ll ask that you take my word for it that their perceptions of their bosses’ leadership skills is accurate. And say what you will, there has to be something to the fact that 70 percent of U.S. workers either can’t stand work or are completely disengaged.

Contrary to what some may believe — even some on the enlightened website that is TLNT — all this discontent can’t be boiled down to the unjustified grumbling of the talentless, bottom 50 percent of the workforce who should just shut up or go work somewhere else already.

Instead, it seems like effective leadership is at an all-time low, as though good managers have all but up and died off — like the dinosaurs, except it’s worse, because who the heck needs a dinosaur?

Good managers, however, are very much needed.

And so I’ve been thinking a lot about what makes management so hard that so many get it so wrong, and the conclusion I’ve reached is this: good management requires a denial of the self, and people either don’t know how or don’t want to do that.

Are you a “people person?”

If you’ve followed any debate amongst HR folks about the future of the profession, you’ll have read someone, somewhere pitching a fit at the idea that anyone would enter the fold because he or she is a “people person.”

The expression makes me cringe whenever I hear it too, but not because I think it’s stupid to focus on people and not profits.

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I cringe because, when it comes to good management, liking people is besides the damn point. A good manager needs to love people, not just like ‘em, to do a good job.

Loving people means putting aside your crap for their benefit.

Why most every boss is terrible

And by crap I mean your impatience, your annoyance, your anxiety, your ego, your pride, your vanity, your ambitions, your selfishness, your fear, your cowardice, your desire to look important, your insecurities, your distaste for conflict, your need to be right, you biases, your prejudices — all that crap.

And it’s hard for most and nearly impossible for some. But more troubling, we’re often taught that accommodation and compromise is for chumps and that strong, effective leaders are decisive, unwavering, and not terribly concerned with what others think.

And that’s my 2 cents for why, by and large, nearly everyone I know is managed by someone who’s kind of a terrible boss.

What do you think?

Crystal Spraggins, SPHR, is an HR consultant and freelance writer who lives in Philadelphia. She also writes at her blog, HR BlogVOCATE. For the past 15 years, Crystal has focused on building HR departments in small- to mid-sized companies under the philosophy that "HR is not for wimps." She is also the CEO and Founder of Work It Out! and partners with HRCVision, a full-service HR consultant practice specializing in leadership and diversity training. Contact her at crs036@aim.com.


14 Comments on “Why Does It Seem There Are So Many Bad Bosses Out There?

  1. Better bosses means better employees. Better employees means happier customers. Happier customers means greater profits. When will leaders get it?

    1. I don’t know. Like I said, good management requires sacrifice. Many would rather belief that’s untrue than consider changing.

      1. I agree.

        I don’t work for my boss. I work for my customer. As a manager, it’s not about me. I serve my employees, providing interference that allows them to get their jobs done. I ensure that they have the tools and the training to get their jobs done also. That way they can properly serve the customer.

        Profits are a side-effect of delighting customers. If the owner/boss wants profits, then quit micro-managing me, and get out of my way so that I can begin delighting the customer.

        1. “If the owner/boss wants profits, then quit micro-managing me, and get out of my way so that I can begin delighting the customer.”


  2. They’re too busy micromanaging every aspect of your day. “Excuse me, boss, can I go to lunch now? Excuse me boss, can I go home now? Excuse me boss, can I have 30 seconds of your impossibly important time?” Last I checked, I’m over the age of 18 and can still fog a mirror; can we stop treating the workplace like a Day Care facility?

    1. Lol. It’s funny, but then it really isn’t. Someone who’s never worked with an extreme micromanager might think you’re exaggerating, but I know you aren’t.

  3. Good thought-starter in this article. I think you’re fundamentally right that being a great manager requires setting aside your crap in service of those you manage. I think it also requires being courageous enough to admit when you’ve let your own crap get in the way (which for me is still more often than I’d like, and I’d bet I’m not alone).

    You say, “we’re often taught that accommodation and compromise is for chumps and that strong, effective leaders are decisive, unwavering, and not terribly concerned with what others think.” I’d strike “unwavering,” but I’m curious why you see setting aside one’s crap in service of others to require being accommodating, compromising, and ultimately a chump. I think this is a false dichotomy – in fact, I think really ruthlessly setting aside your own crap in service of others’ and your team’s success seems to me to require a great deal of decisiveness. Conviction, even. I’d love to read more of your thoughts on the subject.

    1. Hi Jonathan. I agree that it takes courage to admit when your junk has gotten in the way of you managing well. Moreover, the KIND of courage it takes is moral, and many of us are really lacking in that area, because it’s a constant battle to stay on the straight and narrow, and if you’re convinced you’re “all good” you won’t be bothered to challenge yourself.

      I also agree with you that being accommodating is NOT the same as being wimpy. However, I believe that some of us think it is.

      We’re taught that being the boss entitles us to be “bossy,” instead of being taught that having direct reports is an awesome responsibility for someone else’s welfare that we should take very, very seriously.

      Thanks for adding your thoughts to the mix!

  4. The good news is that leadership can be learned but tgats alao the nad news. As aspiring and developing leaders, we all had a choice. Either learn what TO do from your boss or learn what NOT to do…and often both. Weak leaders perpetuate old school, insecure methodologies and styles. If you forgotten that it’s all about the people then you have already lost.

  5. Because narccistic sociopaths are really good at manipulating and controlling those around them. They play the game. My BadBoss has the book 48 Laws of Power in his office. That says everything.

  6. I am actually doing a discussion board on HR, and this came up. This came up as a link, and I find it fascinating that so many of us have or have had horrible bosses! Are they bred somewhere to torture us? If so, why not create some thoughtful, patient managers and bosses? I’m including this link for my fellow students to weigh in as well, as this is a hot topic indeed! I have had loads of HR, managers and bosses from hell, and I don’t know why they are the way they are, other than a survival technique? Control issues perhaps?

  7. As the Gallup polling organization found, barely 1 in 10 employees are suited for management. So promotions are essentially a random guess. Because promotions are based upon almost any criteria imaginable, except the ability to manage.

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