Traits of difficult bosses


I usually challenge leaders to be someone’s “best boss”, but I thought it could be valuable to also look at the contrary.

Emmanuel Jinda

It is important to acknowledge that what may be construed as attributes of being difficult by one individual may not be perceived the same by the next person. Regardless, the article will concentrate only on some of those generic attributes of bad bosses. Its focus will be on what they do so that if as a leader one or more of these generic attributes describe your behaviour, it may be worthwhile to introspect and start doing things differently.

People who are viewed as bad bosses possess certain characteristics or behaviours which they tend to employ in their day-to-day management of staff. If as a boss you fail to provide clear direction to staff, you belong to the category. Staff members puddle through their work without clearly set goals and being the boss you do not give feedback be it recognition or correction.

Bad bosses are also known for bullying. They are nasty and overly critical, always badgering employees and there is nothing ever an employee does that will satisfy them. This is very frustrating if as an employee you have a boss who is always critical when you do something. Sometimes they just change the wording in an employee’s document just to word it differently in their way but not changing the meaning. Employees find this extremely demotivating and frustrating.

As bosses we should learn to move out of our little boxes and try and adopt an all-encompassing approach that allows us to take other people’s point of view. Management gurus have written on the need for today’s leaders to put their company’s whole brain to work. Innovation is key to all businesses today. If you stifle innovation, you are placing the organisation on the path to failure. Innovation takes place only when different ideas, perceptions and ways of doing collide. Never dislike conflict and divergent views, these are incubators for innovation.

Such an approach often makes organisations fall victim to the clone syndrome where all tend to think alike. But successful managers of diverse groups spend time getting members to align their different perceptions and ways of judgement to the common vision of the organisation, thus coming up with possible solutions and innovation.

Difficult bosses are lovers of brownnosers and tattle talers. They tend to discriminate against certain employees. Such leaders will always try to cover up or make excuses for the poor work of their incompetent favourites. This jeopardises a whole lot of other issues such as performance management, succession planning, mentoring and staff development.

Inability to communicate is one of their attributes. They may tell a subordinate something completely in tandem with their expectations and goals. Such characters easily change their minds, frequently leaving employees off balance. One such boss would tell you clearly what they want and even put it in writing. The moment the brownnosers come with their tattle tales, they completely change what they would have communicated. Bad bosses will even go to the extent of contradicting themselves in their defence. Communication to them is a one-way process and, of course, they do not listen. Best practice has shown that open book management highly motivates employees who feel they belong. Information should never be perceived and used as power but as a decision useful tool. Employees have trouble knowing where the boss stands, what his values are and why they do not concede defeat. Such bosses use disciplinary measures inappropriately when simple positive communication would correct the problem. These traits mentioned here also point to narcissism and unapologetic behaviours.

They ignore employees until there is a problem, then they speak. When something goes wrong such bosses are quick to blame and throw employees under the bus loudly and in public. Imagine a boss who calls every line manager to the boardroom to discuss their issue with a subordinate. They continually search for faults. Interestingly, in all this blaming bad bosses will lack decisiveness to address the problem.

Actions of bad bosses are said to cause dissensions among staff and despite this, they will never see themselves as bad bosses. They always think they are doing a fine job. There are tremendous benefits in getting to know your team. Management by wandering around, interacting outside the workplace and allowing the free flow of ideas build strong teams. Bad bosses will hide behind “I am busy for all that!” Once bad bosses know their team members’ strengths and weaknesses, they will concentrate on the weaknesses so they can take credit for success that is not solely theirs. Such managers manage up a lot. They try to look good to their boss at the detriment of their own team.

The list is endless, but to be the ‘best boss’ embrace the organisation’s and subordinate interests at heart and not just your own. It will be good if you keep an open eye and decipher those qualities described that resemble yours and change.

Jinda is the managing consultant of PROSERVE Consulting Group, a leading supplier of professional human resources and management services locally, regionally and internationally. He can be contacted at Tel: 263 773004143 or 263 242 772778 or visit our website at