How NOT to Be a Bad Boss [Part One]

By Etta Kate

Respect – give it in order to earn it – it is not your due

As on any sports team, the coach is the boss who calls the plays. The coach could run rampant over the players but unless he wants the best team members to take their ball and go to another team, the coach has to respect the players and show it.

Women bosses should take a lesson from that paradigm – the respect comes from the top down before it filters back up. Otherwise, what you receive is fear-based, not admiration-based, respect. One lasts and inspires. The other is fleeting and retires.

Make up so you don’t break up

Here is another lesson aspiring female leaders can glean from the sports realm that men learn while growing up participating in team activities:  it’s possible to compete like cats and dogs one minute, then clap each other on the back and go hit happy hour as best pals the next.

Until fairly recently, women have gravitated towards individual pursuits, where “once an enemy, always an enemy.” It is helpful to realize that the cache of cash and perks is much smaller for women in the marketplace, so the idea that the competition is fiercer has validity. Thus, women are less well prepared to lose a skirmish or two and still have the heart to win a coveted promotion. Don’t be too quick to draw permanent battle lines lest your career might suffer. Even if you rise above someone in your quest to be the best, circumstances can change, and you might find that “enemy” as your higher-up in a few years.

A female boss should take the responsibility to engender respectful competition and maintain collegiality among her staff by rewarding cooperative attitudes and good team-play. If you have a genuine backstabber on your workforce, that can undermine any effort you make in that regard, and it must be addressed.

Strangle the grapevine

As a boss, you must not only be fair in your ultimate actions, but completely fair-minded. That means the ethics you use to gather information upon which to base management decisions must be above reproach. Having your ear to the water cooler might have gotten you to a leadership position by giving you an awareness of juicy office gossip and backstories. However, now that you have risen to leadership levels, you must firmly shut down back-channel tattlers who might have their own motives to tell sketchy “truth-or-myth” stories about colleagues or potential changes in the company.

If you lean toward “what’s the harm?” philosophy about gossip, the best that can happen is you might learn a bit of lore that could possibly give you a heads up on an emerging threat; but, the stronger likelihood is you would let a tale told sotto voce shape your impressions of a staffer who deserves the chance to be heard in a more open fashion. Failing to be fair can have long-standing negative repercussions. Keeping your ear to the ground is fine, just develop good observational skills and don’t take the word of a possibly disgruntled staffer over more reliable ways to gather intelligence about what is happening in and around your company.

No one likes a rat – or the person who feeds that rat its chewy chunk of cheese.

Get a grip on the workload

You’re new in your leadership position. Quite naturally, you are eager to pounce on the job and put your imprint on things – especially things that appear to be inefficiencies.

But wait!

Before you disrupt the work flow, don’t rip up the fabric of the current process just yet … at least not until you understand how it was woven together. Until and unless you can define the impacts of a work flow change proposal you have in mind, it is wise to delay major changes.

Interview staff to find out why things have been done that way and ask “what would happen if we implement my idea?” If the answers are the dreaded, “Well, we’ve always done it that way,” then perhaps your changes will ensure efficient, effective change; but, if you ask and hear “well, that would throw off the delivery process and customers would have to wait a week longer for product,” then you will have saved yourself from expensive delays, angry clients and a full range of people at your workplace who wonder if you were actually the right person for the promotion.

It is also wise to determine the fiscal impacts of a seemingly innocuous change. There once was a boss whose first order of business was to change an organization’s titles of Chairs to Directors.

Simple? Innocuous? Seemed so.

Her impetus was to match the titles they used at her previous company, so there was no real merit or gain from the change – but as it turned out, there was a huge downside. The change was not only unnecessary, but expensive. Little did the new boss know it would take staff hundreds of hours to find and amend every instance of the word in all external and internal publications; but the cost of reprinting forms was quite a hit on the organization’s bottom line.

The result was that the staff performed a lot of unrecompensed overtime; and the cost of the forms was paid for by eliminating a recently-approved and much-needed new staff position, resulting in a double impact on workers, all thanks to her sudden flight of whimsy and desire to prove she was “the boss.”

She was later fired by the president of the company because both he and her staff had lost respect for her. Because of that rash decision at the start of her new job, her chances for smooth sailing became like a riverboat captain trying to navigate through mud flats.

Re: change – Wait, evaluate, then instigate.

Coming in Part Two: Simmer down. Nothing demoralizes a team like a boss who yells.


Etta Kate is the nom de plume of a long-time public relations professional who has advised a top business management entity and been syndicated on NPR’s WFAEats. Her mission is to help those struggling with what is right versus what actually works in today’s world and points her readers to no-nonsense solutions to modern-day problems. 

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