Are you a bad boss? Before you answer a confident “Of course not!” know you don’t have to be a blackmailer, sexual harasser or drug addict like the bosses in the movie “Horrible Bosses” to be a bad boss. Often the behavior that embitters employees and ultimately drives them away is less egregious … but just as damaging. Here are five bad boss syndromes you might be suffering from—and how to effect a cure.
Syndrome: The Bottleneck
Warning Signs: Everything, from the decision to expand your e-commerce site to a decision to order a box of paper clips, must be approved by you. As a result, only about one-tenth of what needs to get done in your company actually gets done. (The rest waits … and waits … and waits for your okay.) You work 20 hours a day and still can’t catch up. Employees are even more frustrated than you are, since they’re essentially paralyzed waiting for your answer.
Solution: Like a mother whose “baby” is heading off to kindergarten, you’ve got to let go. Start by identifying key bottlenecks and determining which decisions you absolutely need to handle and which can be made by others. For example, maybe you need to authorize all purchases over $500 but managers can authorize anything under that amount. Maybe you want to keep handling a few sensitive, key accounts yourself, but sales reps can take care of the others and keep you posted with weekly reports. Delegating will free your time, energize your team and get your business moving again.
Syndrome: The Marie Antoinette
Warning Signs: You lease a fancy new car every two years, wear designer clothes and take expensive vacations while your employees are still using Windows 98, aren’t sure what a “Christmas bonus” is, and haven’t had raises since the first Bush administration. If you talk loudly about last night’s five-course dinner while your employees heat up their 99 cent frozen lunches in the 20-year-old microwave, your business might be headed for the guillotine.
Solution: You might think you’re being subtle by leasing a BMW instead of a Ferrari, but employees notice—and they’re bitter. In between fantasizing about keying your car, they’re polishing their resumes. Keep them happy by sharing the wealth and investing as much in your business as you do in yourself. Start by making sure their salaries and benefits are competitive within your industry. Then upgrade your technology to keep pace with today’s norms. If your employees’ tools are behind the times, your business will suffer.
Syndrome: The Absentee Owner
Warning Signs: You’re not really a people person, or maybe you’re not really a businessperson. You just thought it would be fun to own a clothing store/bar/restaurant/insert business concept here. So you became an absentee owner and put a “manager” in charge. Only problem is, that person is a manager in name only—you didn’t give him or her any authority to discipline, hire or fire other employees. The staff knows it, so they don’t listen and run wild when you’re not there. They’re probably stealing from you, giving their friends free stuff and otherwise running your business into the ground (and you into debt).
Solution: Take a hard look at why you became a business owner and if you really want to continue being one. Advice from an unbiased third party such as a SCORE mentor or SBDC advisor can help (disclosure: SCORE and the SBDC-LA are clients of my company). If you want your business to grow, it’s important to be honest with your managers and give him or her your trust and the authority to make decisions on your behalf. Let the other employees know about the new regime—and show you mean it. Check in with your business on a regular basis, and be sure to review the financials and key operating statistics with your manager. But don’t usurp his or her authority or let employees go behind the manager’s back to you.
Syndrome: The Workaholic
Warning Signs: Do employees cringe visibly when you approach their workstations? Do a suspicious number of employees call in “sick” on Fridays so you won’t ask them to work over the weekend? Do you regularly find yourself sending emails at 3 a.m. on Sunday mornings? If so, you may be a workaholic.
Solution: Most small-business owners are workaholics—and that’s okay. What’s not okay is requiring all your employees to be workaholics as well. That leads to personal stress, soured relationships and rapid burnout. Keep your passion for your business burning, but rein in your behavior as it relates to the team. It’s okay to compose a work email at 3 a.m. on Sunday morning, but store it as a draft and send it on Monday morning. Have your managers track employees’ workloads and alert you when you’re overloading someone. You’ll be surprised how much more you get from your employees when you start demanding a little less.
Syndrome: The Cryptic
Warning Signs: Do your instructions to employees consist of a vague mumble and wave of the hand? Do your employee reviews occur on a regular basis of … never? Do you think feedback is something that happens when an electric guitar gets too close to a microphone? Then you might be suffering from Cryptic Syndrome.
Solution: Giving employees the freedom to handle tasks their own way is great, but it can go too far. Your team needs some type of direction to know what they’re supposed to accomplish. Clearly communicate the end goal, time frame and expectations. Otherwise, employees have to guess what you want and waste time redoing work that doesn’t meet your mysterious standards. Work on providing feedback, too. Start small by giving quick comments, emails or IMs that offer specific praise—not just “Good job” but “Appreciate how quickly you put together that status report.” Institute annual reviews, gathering input from employees’ direct supervisors and coworkers so the onus isn’t all on you. If you’re not a great verbal communicator, put information in writing instead; if you’re not great at communicating with the frontline employees, communicate to your managers and have them spread the word.
Read more articles about leadership.
Photos: Getty Images