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Guest Comment: How to tell if you have a really, really bad boss

Chances are that like me, some of you have worked with a bad boss (BB), and it hasn’t taken you very long to recognise them for who they are. Depending on your experience, a BB could range from being a micro-managing freak who takes the credit for a team effort, to someone who is not there when his team needs him the most.

I had the distinct displeasure of working with such a BB in my last role at a prominent financial services firm in Australia. While he was not the primary reason for my leaving, he certainly made my (already long) hours at work interminable.

As most of you already know, what a BB says and what he does can be poles apart. I’ve picked out three examples from my career here.

BB Example 1: Delegate then don’t

The BB said

“I want you to own this project. You are responsible for its successful delivery.”

The BB did

· Provided step-by-step instructions on how the project should be delivered.

· Was critical of any approach that didn’t match his views. Did not accept alternatives.

· Jumped in under the guise of providing assistance when none was requested.

· Laid blame if the project failed, but took centre position if the project was successful (became the ‘face’ of the project).

What’s going on here?

This was micro-management at its most extreme. This manager was unwilling to delegate but made the situation worse by indicating that he could. Obviously his actions were contrary to his instructions given at the start, creating confusion and wasted effort. Staff morale was woeful because reward and recognition for the team was absent.

BB Example 2: None-on-ones

The BB said

“I want us to have monthly one-on-ones to ensure your development plan is on track.”

The BB did

These meetings were rescheduled regularly as the BB tended to have other urgent appointments. The so-called monthly sessions soon became ‘quick catch-ups’ every six months.

What’s going on here?

My BB viewed himself as a manager not a leader. He made it clear that he was primarily interested in whether daily tasks were delivered, and made time to check up on this. When in came to discussing how his staff were feeling and whether they were growing in their roles, the BB was unavailable. Although he spoke about the need to undertake monthly discussions, I wonder how much of this was because HR required him to do so. Actions here spoke louder than words.

BB Example 3: Free? Who? Me?

The BB said

“Feel free to talk to me if you need assistance.”

The BB did

Like everyone else, the BB was extremely time poor, but he made a point to let everyone know about it. He constantly complained about the number of meetings he had and why “people just can’t leave him alone”. Attempts by the BB’s staff to see him generated scathing remarks: “here we go again…another meeting”.

What’s going on here?

The BB may have genuine time management issues and of course it’s unrealistic to expect your manager to drop everything and be by your side every time you need help. Being new to his role, my BB was on a profile-building exercise with people he considered important stakeholders. He was almost always unavailable to discuss serious matters with me because he was unwilling to rescheduled appointments with these stakeholders. As a result the BB was not around to handle resignations in his own team.

Final note

The above are snapshots of my own personal experiences and they are not meant to cast all busy managers as bad ones. However, having gone from a manager who knew how to lead to a BB within the space of two jobs, I have been able to experience the huge morale drop that a BB can cause.

Are you managed by a BB? Or are you one yourself? Let us know in the comments box below.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and not of eFinancialCareers. The author is a candidate in Australia.

Comments (8)

  1. My last BB resulted in my retrenchment from a prominent Global Investment Bank and I have been struggling to find an equally challenging opportunity ever since. All of the above applied. Make suggestions on what we should be recommending to clients? Only if it was her view (which I would argue on independent analysis was not always the right view).

    One on one meetings to discuss my career development but also to ensure that since she would not allow views other than her own to be communicated, what exactly did she want? Oh no, she was too busy. Well, one particular meeting, I indicated that I was tired of attempting to perform in my role when anything I did was just not acceptable to her. A couple of months later, I was made redundant. Moral of the story? Be prepared that if you take on the BB, you may well come off second best, and your career may take quite a setback! If I had my time again, I would have chosen to go along with it and look for another suitable role, thereby deciding to leave on my terms not hers……

  2. How about the boss who slept with someone who reported to him, and his wife came to the office to raise hell

  3. My company has just undergone a merger and as you can understand, we are in the midst of a restructure. My BB who has 3 – 4 hour breaks in 7.25 hours’ work day reports to his manager in Sydney (while we are based out of Melbourne). He doesn’t want to take on any projects unless a business unit approaches our team and when he does, he delegates it to the rest of us and takes full credit for the project. He rather our team be reactive than proactive – something I’ve never encountered in my former roles. As a result, our senior executives are not aware that he does minimal amount of work yet he is the “face” of our team when I literally do everything from administration to devising business strategies. I am not sure how I can approach this or how my company lets him get away with his shenanigans. Damn middle management!

  4. My present BB has all the above “Qualities” and much more.
    Some instances:
    Give one to work person and pull up the other
    Rebuke one and all in front of juniors and sub staff
    Change office rules on a daily basis.
    Recruit people at higher salaries and then if its a male employee force them to take a a substantial cut to save the job and if its a female employee, bend down to his demands.

    He has spoilt the personal lives of 2 female employeees and mine.
    Saw that i resigned within 1 month of joining and now trying to get a job.

  5. my last boss – BB. So called president of the division of an American company that I worked for. High points:
    annual review – I would set up template with my agreed objectives, and put in my commentary. He would put in another regions objectives over the top, complete the assessment (no discussion or feedback), then close it off.
    One on one – went from regular to avoidance (kept deferring), and when it happened I just got talked at.
    Company got into trouble in GFC, no dicussions for 3 months (avoided all contact), then I get a phone call without notice asking me to clear my desk and leave immediately because “its tough”.
    Now I see he has been promoted.
    Great leader – ha ha.

  6. all of these seem normal for the HK environment/culture. Not just my point of view .. but every one I meet here says the same :-(

  7. The worst are the middle aged overweight friendless lonely bankers who favour subordinates who will pretend to be their friends and drinking/wh***** buddies. You can spot them easily:
    1. they never have enough headcount – because everyone is out drinking
    2. every qualified / intrinsically motivated person resigns or tries to get out of their team as soon as possible
    3. they have the laziest secretaries – she knows all about his fake expense claims and that will keep her employed for a long time to come

  8. Your story was really ifnortmavie, thanks!

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