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The 4 deadly traps that can trip up any boss

I firmly believe that the majority of bosses do not intentionally set out to be a bad boss. They don’t wake up in the morning, get dressed, eat their breakfast and say to themselves, “What can I do today to be a bad boss? What can I do to ruin the lives of my people?”

And yet time after time, person after person, that’s exactly what is happening, with well-intentioned bosses getting it wrong. Instead of being the great boss they want and need to be, they are doing the opposite of what they set out to do. They’re making bad decisions, taking bad actions, and causing bad impacts on retention (57% of people surveyed said they left their company because of their boss), trust (64% of people surveyed said that they’d trust a robot more than they’d trust their boss), and employee engagement (managers account for at least 70% of the variance in employee engagement scores) to name a few.

Why is this happening? Why do we have so many bad bosses, which according to our survey, 99.6% of people said they’ve had?  One of the main causes is what we call “traps,” things we blindly fall into that trip us up and lead us to these bad behaviours and actions. 

Here are four common traps explored in our book ‘Bad Bosses Ruin Lives: The Building Blocks for Being a Great Boss.’ Along with these, I've shared examples relating to the 10 types of bad bosses we define. 

Trap #1: Time

Let’s face it, being a boss is not easy. You're pulled in multiple directions and often have competing demands. For this reason, one of the most common traps bosses fall into that causes them to adopt bad boss traits is time, more specifically, the feeling that there isn’t enough time to act in any other way.

An example is the Micromanager boss, someone who is overly involved in their people’s work, constantly controlling and prescribing what and how work is done. They often fall into the time trap as they believe that they don’t have the time to teach or explain things to their people, so manage them at every turn and step or “just do it myself.” In reality, this actually ends up increasing their time demands as their people rely so heavily on them, not being able to do things on their own and being a bottleneck to their people and the business.

The Micromanager Boss

Actions to take:  To avoid this trap, bosses such as Micromanagers need to challenge themselves to weigh the pros and cons of their actions. Remind themselves that in the short term it may take a bit more time to release the controls, but in the not-so-distant future it will help them reap the benefits of more time.

Trap #2: Misguided beliefs

When surveying bosses on which of the 10 types of bad bosses they’ve been, the most common response was the Pretender, someone who puts on a mask so their people don’t know that there’s a problem or issue. Bosses often act in this way because they fall into the trap of misguided beliefs, believing that this is what their people want and need from them. And because of this, the Pretender boss withholds the truth, gives answers they feel are wanted, and fails to give their people the honesty they need and deserve.

An example of this is when feedback is withheld following a difficult situation or when a problem occurs, with the Pretender putting on a mask and acting like nothing is wrong. The problem with this is that it can have a significant impact on performance, perpetuating bad performance and setting the person up to fail time and time again. In Kim Scott’s book Radical Candor she calls this “ruinous empathy,” where you put caring too much above hurting the feelings of your people. And like anything ruinous, it can cause disasters in how your people act and what they can and cannot achieve.

The Pretender Boss

Actions to take: To avoid this trap, bosses need to challenge themselves to understand what their people need and don’t need, and base their actions and behaviours on these, and not assumptions.

Trap #3: Confusion

Another common trap is confusion, often caused when there is confusion between intent (what we intend and believe to be happening) and impact (what is really happening).

An example of this is the Coercer boss, someone who uses power in the wrong way in order to control and coerce processes and outcomes. They’re often confused, believing that this use of power is necessary and isn’t causing problems. But because the impact of such actions often leads to fear, their people tend to hide the impact and problems that this can and does create.We talk about this in our book when describing the difference between fear and respect, and how sometimes we mistake and confuse one for the other. And while fear can be one of the most disabling behaviours, stopping your people in their tracks, respect can deliver enormous benefits and returns to your people and your business.

The Coercer Boss

Actions to take: To avoid this trap, bosses need to closely look at their impact versus intent, understanding whether what they want and need to happen is actually taking place or is being masked in fear or any other negative emotions.

Trap #4: Skills

New bad bosses get created because, quite frankly, the role keeps changing, making it harder and harder to be a great boss. Just look around you. Your workforce is different and more diverse than ever with five generations working side by side, the workplace is different with new work arrangements and AI impacting how and where work gets done, and expectations from your business, customers, and people are different as well. Add it all up, and the skills required to be a great boss now are drastically different to those that were required in the past.

This leads me to the final trap, which involves assuming that you have the right skills to be a great boss. An example of this is with the Unappreciater boss, someone who doesn’t show their people recognition or gratitude, making them feel unvalued, invisible, and unappreciated for their actions and contributions. I’d like to say that over the years bosses have developed the skills to show appreciation, but it was actually the highest ranked bad boss in our survey, with 81% of people saying that they’ve had this kind of bad boss. This means that the majority of bosses have not yet learned the skills to give meaningful, genuine and timely appreciation to their people. Or as I say in another one of my books, they don’t know how to ‘See it. Say it. Appreciate it!,’ delivering the appreciation feeling.

The Unappreciater Boss

Actions to take: To avoid this trap, bosses need to be honest with themselves and equip themselves with new skills to tackle their bad boss traits instead of trying to be a great boss using bad boss skills and techniques.

I hope you’ve found these explanations of traps helpful, and can use them to ensure that you aren’t tripped up by them in your quest to be great!


If you’d like to read more on avoiding these traps as well as how to be a great boos, please read our book Bad Bosses Ruin Lives: The Building Blocks for Being a Great Boss.

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