HRD: Are you a 'bad boss'? Here's a simple way to tell - Michelle Gibbings

Thanks to Lois White and Human Resources Director, Michelle answers questions about how to tell if you are a bad boss. 

For HR, being compassionate is part and parcel of the job. But what if you’re ‘bad’ at being ‘good’?

It is almost impossible to objectively assess yourself. There are so many nuances in your personality that it is hard to see who you really and how you behave in different circumstances, especially under stress at work. First and foremost, self-preservation kicks in, which is our natural born instinct. Based on our family upbringing, our personal and peer environment, it will cause us to react certain ways. It is not always palatable or rational, but it will surface to the top.

In a work environment, as an HR leader managing a team of people, you have to curtail the worse aspects of your personality, and be aware of how your behaviour is affecting others. And it’s easier said than done. For HR, as the empathetic and compassionate arm of the business, being ‘pleasant’ is part and parcel of the job. But what if you’re simply bad at being good?

The indicators

“There is an array of indicators to tell if you are a bad boss,” Michelle Gibbings, workplace expert, said. “One of which is when the leader’s behaviour is inconsistent, they never take accountability for problems and don’t back their team.  Similarly, they never acknowledge their team’s effort. Instead, they always focus on their needs and self-promotion.

“They also lack concern for their team member’s well-being and interest in their career development. Lastly, the team works hard, yet the output isn’t delivered to a high quality and standard, so there’s lots of rework and long hours, which can be a sign of stress and poor leadership focus.”

The personality traits

Gibbings believes that individuals break down into categories depending on their personality, level of awareness and behavioural traits acquired over their lifetime.

“There is ‘The Mercenary’, who has little to no awareness of the impact and primarily care about self,” she said.  “This type of boss operates in a bubble. They seem themselves as all-powerful and the smartest person in the room.  Their mantra – ‘Don’t get in the way of my success’.

“Then there is ‘The Believer’, who has little to no awareness of impact, but high care factor for others. This type of boss isn’t a bad person; they are just an ineffective leader. With low self-awareness, they are oblivious to their negative impact. They think they are doing a great job because they genuinely care about their team. Their mantra – ‘Like me and be happy’.

“Finally, there is ‘The Illusionist’ who has high awareness of the impact and primarily care about self.  They know they have a negative impact, but either don’t care or can’t find a way to change. They are good at managing up and can be charming, but when things go wrong – you’ll find yourself under the bus. Their mantra – ‘Make me look good’.”

How do they arrive at this point?

Some of it comes down to companies hiring the wrong person to be in a management position,  some of it can be attributed to unnecessary levels of stress created by the organisation. Some people, upon reflection, may just realise that they are not cut out to be a manager and would rather have another position in the organisation with less responsibility.

“The day-to-day working environment often operates as a pressure chamber,” Gibbings adds. “Actions and reactions are constantly at play up and down the organisational hierarchy. When everything is going smoothly, the working environment hums along. But when the pressure gets too much, if a leader has low levels of self-awareness and poor coping mechanism, ineffective behaviour rises to the surface.”

What can an employer do?

An employer can provide an environment that encourages leadership and provides adequate training and support. It can offer practical training that will allow managers and leaders to deal with realistic work situations and then observe how they react, providing guidance on appropriate behaviours and actions.

“The starting point is to assess what is going on, the impact and the likely causes,” Gibbings added. “Next, consider and work through your options with your direct report to determine the best approach given the circumstances. Then, support them as they work to change their leadership style and operating rhythm.  Lastly, reflect on progress (or lack thereof) and determine any next steps, especially if things are not going according to plan and you aren’t seeing improvement.”

How can you change?

Finally, trying to assess how you behaved in a pressured work situation, will help you address any behavioural concerns. Even having a neutral party talk to you about what happened and why will help enormously.

“To be an effective leader, you must open your eyes to what is going on by turning your ‘unconscious’ self into a ‘conscious’ one,” Gibbings added.  “Take time to reflect critically and honestly on what is happening in your world and how internal or external circumstances affect you.  As well, be willing to listen to the feedback that’s hard to hear. With those data points, you can identify your leadership gaps, the meaning that drives your behaviour, and the mental models you are applying to your decisions.

“With that knowledge, you can build an approach to elevate your leadership. Changing takes time, focus, determination, and a genuine desire to improve.”

A bad boss can become a good boss but it does take time, effort and honest self-reflection.

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