6 Traits of a Bad Boss & How to Improve Business Leadership

An organization’s success depends on ethical leadership. A bad boss can decrease workplace productivity and even erode a healthy organizational culture. 

The signs of the bad boss are not always obvious, so it is essential to know how bosses can fail at leadership. In this article, we identify the characteristics of a bad boss to help you be a better boss or spot a bad boss on your team.


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Differences between an underperforming employee and a bad boss

If you have an underperforming employee, you may want to evaluate the performance of your leaders or bosses. Management directly influences the performance of employees. Employees who view their superiors in a positive light tend to be more emotionally, cognitively and socially engaged in their work. Sometimes poor management can result in underperforming employees.


For example, an employee could miss a deadline because there is a lack of clear communication about what needs to get finished and when. Or, a lack of ethical leadership could leave employees feeling discouraged that their superiors aren’t complying with company values. If the cause of the issue is due to a bad boss, you may see the following in the boss’s actions.


6 characteristics of a bad boss

Here are six characteristics that bad bosses most often exhibit: 


1. Hardly ever express appreciation, provide rewards or give positive feedback

Bosses need to praise and acknowledge employees for their hard work and successes. Creating a culture of appreciation helps employees to feel like their work is valuable, meaningful and adequate. Without positive feedback, employees will not feel confident that they are doing the right things.


What to do: Make sure that you or the bosses on your team give recognition for stellar performances. You’ll want to develop recognition programs to thank employees for their achievements. You can even offer special rewards such as gift cards or even vacation time. Encourage your bosses and employees to create a culture of appreciation by always thanking each other.

Related: Cultivating Positive Workplace Behavior


2. Lack of ethical behavior or honesty

Bosses might break their own rules or even lie for their own benefit. It is the leaders’ duty to display actions and behaviors that reflect the company’s core values and ideals. Employees are not going to act ethically if their superiors don’t.


What to do: Bosses should never be lenient with the rules. They must follow even the most stringent or seemingly unnecessary rules at all times. Their actions and behaviors are always reflecting the values and ideals of the company. As the boss, you must never lie to employees. Honesty is imperative at all times, even if that means admitting that you don’t know something. Lastly, make sure you and your bosses treat every employee with the respect they deserve. That means maintaining a friendly demeanor to stay professional. 


3. Lack of communication skills

Bosses must clearly communicate all workplace expectations. They outline the steps that employees must take to be successful in their jobs. A bad boss will likely set unclear expectations, leaving employees feeling uncertain about what they need to do. Additionally, bosses could have written communication that causes misunderstandings due to vagueness or lack of proper grammar.


What to do:  Every employee must have a clear understanding of their job expectations. Bosses must set measurable and attainable goals and frequently evaluate employees to make sure that they are meeting expectations. Lastly, bosses should adopt an approachable and transparent style of communication so that employees feel comfortable asking for help.


4. Take credit for the successes and hard work of their employees

Bad bosses will sometimes take their employees’ ideas to their superiors and act like they came up with them. Sometimes, the bosses can feel intimidated when their team members are coming up with ideas that are better than their own. This kind of behavior is unfair to employees and is likely to discourage them from coming up with new ideas in the future.


What to do: You and the bosses on your team should never be intimidated by the great ideas of team members. Give credit where credit is due. Leaders should not tolerate stealing ideas from others. It is a good thing when team members perform actions that exceed what their typical job requires. 


5. Lack self-confidence or lie to cover up their mistakes

A bad boss will likely think that they need to be perfect at all times. That means that when they make a mistake, they may be unwilling to take accountability for their actions. They could even deflect attention from themselves by blaming other employees for their own mistakes.


What to do: When you or another boss make a mistake, take accountability for it. Employees want to know that you are an imperfect human also. Everyone makes mistakes, and your employees will understand and respect you more for being vulnerable.


6. They don’t respect diversity and make others feel unwelcome

A bad boss may hire a team that lacks diversity. A bad boss may harbor prejudices or they may be unwilling to appreciate the unique ideas, backgrounds, experiences and needs of each of their employees.


What to do: A diverse workforce fosters creativity and better problem-solving. Always be willing to promote workplace diversity and inclusion. Respect each person for their unique identity and contributions. Be sensitive to the needs of each employee and always make sure that they feel welcome and respected.


FAQ’s about bad bosses

Here are frequently asked questions about bad bosses: 


How do I identify bad bosses?

You should look out for the characteristics of a bad boss that we listed above. Additionally, it can be helpful to allow your employees to give anonymous feedback about the performance of their superiors, as t his will give you a good idea of how employees perceive their bosses. Hearing their feedback can help you and the bosses on your team improve management competencies. It can also lead to a greater sense of self-reflection and self-awareness about how they appear to others.

Related: Employee Satisfaction Surveys: What They Are and Why They’re Important for Your Business


Should I fire a bad boss?

If you have a bad boss on your team, it is probably in your best interest to let them go. First, give them critical feedback and see if the situation improves. You’ll want to sit down with them in private and tell them how their behavior is affecting the team and how they can improve. Give them a chance to do better before you lay them off.


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