The Key Difference Between a Good Boss and a Bad Boss

Here's what separates a good boss from a bad one – and how to avoid becoming the bad boss you've always hated.

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“People Leave Bosses, Not Companies.” We’ve all heard this truism in corporate leadership discussions.

But how many of us have lived that statement? How many of us have left a bad boss? How many of us know what it’s like to work for a good boss versus a bad one?

Most of us have had two different types of bosses during our careers: The Good Boss Everyone Wish They Had and The Bad Boss You Don’t Want to Be.

The Bad Boss

Recently, I was reminded of the Bad Boss (or The Boss You Don’t Want to Be), when talking to two friends the other week.

Both of my friends are employees. One works at a large, growing healthcare tech company, and the other at a notable, high-profile nonprofit.

Both have managers who they cannot stand. Both of their managers have absolutely no idea.

One friend told me: “Three out of six people on the team have already quit, and two others are on the verge of quitting… And he has no idea.”

The other friend told me: “We keep losing talented people all the time because of him… And he has no idea.”

Both of their managers are good, well-intentioned people. In fact, they’re popular with their respective CEO and Executive Director. They were placed in their management positions because they were strong individual contributors and high performers.

But as managers? They are literally driving their own employees away.

Why do well-intentioned people can become bad managers?

In listening to my friends, I realized their managers have one thing in common:

These bad managers habitually put their own self-interest ahead of their team’s best interest. 

They cover their ass to look good to upper management, even if it comes at the expense of supporting their team.

They don’t want to know the truth of how their team feels and employee satisfaction because they’re scared of negative feedback, and how it would personally feel to hear those things.

They take credit from others and feel entitled to more privileges, leeway, and benefits because they feel they’ve worked harder than anyone else on their team.

They damaged their team’s trust, and as a result, affected employee engagement.

Sound familiar? Perhaps you yourself have worked with this type of boss, who exhibited some of these beliefs. But don’t be so quick to judge: These people are not evil nor maniacal.

Truth be told, the wrong mindset and management is style is easy to succumb to yourself if you’re not paying close attention.

How to avoid becoming The Bad Boss

Consider these four scenarios:

  • Someone on your team isn’t pulling their weight and you have to pick up the slack… You’re frustrated.
  • Someone on your team didn’t execute up to right quality standards… You feel like you can’t trust anyone to get the job done well.
  • Someone on your team isn’t producing the right outcomes… You’re worried how that’s going to make you look.
  • Someone on your team is pressing your buttons (and honestly being a pain-in-the-ass)… You feel low on patience when talking to them.

Whether you become The Bad Boss or The Good Boss comes down to how you react to these situations.

You have two options:

(1) You can decide the situation is hopeless — you’ve done all you can. Everyone has pretty much proven they’re incompetent. You choose to focus on yourself and move your own career forward. You put your own self-interest before the team’s.

(2) Or, faced with the same situation — you can decide to look inward. You see your team’s shortcomings as a reflection of your own leadership shortcomings. You ask yourself, “What can I be doing to create a better environment for our team to be successful?” Surely, taking responsibility for your team’s hardships and treating them as your own means more time, effort, and energy on your part. But that’s what the best leaders do: They do the hard thing because it’s the right thing. They put their team’s best interest before their own, instead of the other way around.

This is what separates The Boss You Don’t Want to Be from The Boss Everyone Wish They Had.

Which are you?

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