C-Suite Advisory

10 Warning Signs You’re Managing A Bad Boss

Leaders are judged not just by the effectiveness of their leadership, but by the leadership that’s displayed by their direct reports. Effective leaders – who are leading other leaders – know they need to keep their eyes wide open and ears tuned in to the right frequency so they know what’s really going on.

It’s easy to see what you want to see, or what your direct report wants you to see. The leaders reporting to you will want to impress you, do well and show you they are delivering. This means they may be shielding you from their mistakes, inflating the good parts and downplaying the bad, or glossing over areas in which they don’t excel.

As well, it’s also all too easy to hold fixed views on colleagues, especially if you have worked together for years or are on friendly terms. A strong bond may mean you are reluctant to see (or act) when you sense their leadership isn’t hitting the mark. It’s essential to be open to the warning signs that something isn’t working.  Here’s ten signs to watch out for.

  1. Inconsistent behaviour
    Notice how the leader (your direct report) behaves in front of you, when other people are around, and in meetings with their peers or team. Consider if their behaviour is consistent, or if it changes based on who is in room.
  2. It’s always about them
    The leader never acknowledges the efforts of their team, always talks about themselves and what they need, and makes sure they always look good. It’s about them winning and coming out on top.
  3. It’s never their fault
    The leader is reluctant to admit mistakes and seeks to blame others to ensure there is little or no scrutiny on how they need to change or improve. Similarly, their team appears to struggle to regroup and learn when things go wrong.
  4. They won’t compromise
    They are unwilling or find it very hard to change their mind, and seek always to get what they want, whether it’s resources, rewards or approval of ideas. They rarely, if ever, compromise.
  5. They don’t back themselves
    The leader is overly compliant and unwilling to back what they stand for, so they don’t back their team and what they need.
  6. The leader’s team is MIA
    You rarely engage with their team, and when you do the employees seem ill-informed and reluctant to talk to you. They seem to lack cohesion and focus, so you get a sense there is no ‘team’. Your direct report never delegates meetings (involving you or more senior stakeholders) to their team members.
  7. Concern for their team is missing
    When you ask about their team the leader always merely insists everything is going well. They never ask for advice or help, and any issues you raise about their team are brushed aside.
  8. They play favourites
    The leader always promotes one person in the team over the rest, and delegates the good work or rewards only to that one person.
  9. They don’t back their team
    Team members are rarely promoted, suggesting the leader may not be good at coaching and developing. Neither is the team diverse and inclusive, indicating the leader may only be hiring people who fit a certain mould.
  10. The team seems stuck
    The work 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.

Warning signs are just that, and ideally they should be validated through formal sources. As a senior leader, what you say and do sets your leadership reputation, and ultimately shapes the workplace culture.  It’s your responsibility to tune into the right frequency and when you need to, be ready to change the channel you are listening to.


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Michelle Gibbings
Michelle Gibbings is a workplace expert, working with global leaders to build workplaces where leaders and employees thrive and great things happen. Michelle is the Author of 'Step Up: How to Build Your Influence at Work', 'Career Leap: How to Reinvent and Liberate your Career' and the new book 'Bad Boss: What to do if you work for one, manage one or are one'. Michelle Gibbings is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. Follow her on Twitter or connect on LinkedIn.