5 Kinds of Bad Bosses That Make Employees Quit

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Grodnitzky, Ph.D.
June 23, 2022

It’s been said for generations, “People don’t leave companies; people leave bosses.” In my view, that is a leadership excuse for a poor culture. Poor cultures allow poor bosses to remain in place without requiring them to change their behaviors – it’s part of how culture trumps personality. Strong cultures communicate a different message: “These are the good boss behaviors that are required to succeed in our culture. If you can’t display these behaviors – regardless of your personality – you won’t succeed as a boss in this culture.”

Given the ongoing challenges in recruiting, engaging and retaining employees, I want to identify five of the most common “bad boss” types I have seen workplace cultures allow and how we might change them.

Bad Boss #1: The Micromanager

Micromanaging bosses prefer control over allowing autonomy. They might behave this way due to a lack of trust, a fear of failure or a slew of other factors. Micromanaging bosses get into the weeds of the details of their supervisees. In doing so, micromanagers squelch creativity and autonomy. Their teams learn that compliance is better than innovation.

You might be a micromanager if: You justify taking control during tight deadlines. If that’s the case, how often do you and your team face a tight deadline?

If you’re a micromanaging boss, consider these questions:

  • In what circumstances is it important for you to get involved in the details of your employees’ work?  
  • When do you allow others on your team to lead?

You can also help a micromanaging colleague by asking them these questions, or even offer them to your own micromanaging boss.

Bad Boss #2: The Aimless Leader

It’s hard for any individual or team to succeed if goals aren’t clearly set or communicated, information isn’t shared and people are kept in the dark about expectations and deadlines.

You might be an aimless leader if: You don’t really have a sense of if deadlines are hit or missed.  

Questions for aimless leaders:

  • How does your team really work?
  • Consider a recent project your team worked on. What goals were met? What goals were missed?
  • How are goals, challenges and successes communicated within your team?
  • If you had to explain how work gets done to someone else, could they see or understand a methodology?

Bad Boss #3:  The Praise Withholder

‍In the organizations we work with on culture-building, we help ritualize recognition, praise and gratitude. These are three of the most powerful shapers of human behavior — but also three of the most underutilized. And what do they cost us to use? Nothing!

When someone else points out their team’s accomplishments, managers who are praise withholders often say, “That’s just what we pay them to do.” This statement suggests there is no reason to use recognition, praise and gratitude for anything short of extraordinary performance. If that is your view, consider that your employees could be doing their work for someone else.

You might be a praise withholder if: It’s difficult to — or impossible— for you to readily identify qualities of your team members that you appreciate and value. If that is the case, your team members probably don’t feel very appreciated.

Questions for praise withholders:

  • What qualities do you value most in your team and team members?
  • Can you give specific examples of when you’ve used recognition, praise and gratitude?

Bad Boss #4:  The Phantom Manager

‍Some managers are rarely seen or heard, even when leadership is necessary. They may even set up weekly one-to-ones but then cancel them because “something came up.” These managers often have issues managing their own time and prioritizing.

You might be a phantom manager if: You believe that your immediate needs supersede those of your team or the organization, or you believe it is OK to change your schedule “as needed…” by you.

Questions for phantom managers:

  • How much time are you spending with your team vs. doing other things?
  • What percentage of your time is spent connected to your team?

Bad Boss #5: The Conflict Avoider

‍Many managers don’t like conflict, but are willing to engage in potential conflict or disagreement because they know it’s sometimes needed to reach a resolution. Other managers simply avoid conflict or situations in which conflict may arise. These managers often have difficulty giving developmental feedback. In the long term, their lack of feedback limits organizational growth.

You might be a conflict avoider if: You have trouble confronting situations that might end up in conflict, such as developmental or difficult feedback.  

Questions for conflict avoiders:

  • When was the last time you gave someone developmental feedback or a really difficult message? How did it go? What was the outcome?
  • If you need to give difficult feedback, how can you reframe the conversation as a gift you are giving because you care about the team member and their development?

Remember, culture develops not only the behaviors that are required, but also those that are allowed. If you allow any of these bad boss behaviors in yourself or in your culture, you will have difficulty recruiting, engaging and retaining new talent.

‍Does your culture allow any of these bad boss behaviors? 

I’d love to hear your questions and comments. If you would like to discuss this topic further, just drop me a note

Until then, let’s keep cultivating our culture, together!

PS.  Thank you to all of you who read this blog regularly!  I appreciate your ongoing support!

On a personal note, I will be spending the months of July and August, 2022, in Spain.  I’m taking off the month of July.  I will be hiking El Camino de Santiago – the “El Primitivo” path – the “Original Way” hiked by King Alfonso II in 834.  It is a 200 mile hike between Oviedo and Santiago de Compostela.  I couldn’t be more excited about the experience that lies ahead!  

In August, I’ll be in Spain, working virtually, writing, and blogging.  I look forward to reconnecting with all of you then.

Stay healthy and be well!


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