It’s Time to Talk about Horrible Bosses

Unfortunately, at some stage or another in our careers, most of us have crossed paths with the aforementioned ‘Horrible Boss’. Whether it’s been through direct report or we’ve been lucky to witness only from afar, most of us can tell a story or two about someone with a bad attitude who found their way into a management position.

The question I’d like to ask is why it’s so common? I’d like to follow that question with – what can we do about it? In fact I have a lot of questions on this topic because I’m always baffled as to how these people get such an important job, how they’re allowed to keep it behaving as they do and why it takes for them to break a team repeatedly before anything gets done about it?


I say repeatedly because the natural ramification of bad management is poor employee retention, followed by enthusiastic replacements who, after initially giving the team a lift, quickly feel the reality of their new work environment setting in; then we’re looking for their replacement too. The personnel within the team changes, but the problems never do. That should be a sign.

It seems that when there’s a problem the spotlight shines on the individual culprits and that’s understandable. But when a trend of problems becomes apparent, with different individuals involved, high staff turnover, poor engagement and performance that’s forced rather than natural or organic – what is the magical cloak that diverts our focus from the manager of the team to just the team itself when looking for the solution?

We complain about our workforce “they’ll never be happy” or “they’re lazy” or “they’re not reliable” but if we actually have confidence in our recruitment practices then at the time we identified people who were happy, capable and committed; people we believed had the ability to do the job well. Is there a chance that their perceived bad attitude has developed because of the quality of their experience within the job?

Not all bad managers of course are trying to deliver such a poor service to their team and employer. In fact, sometimes, the employer is to blame for identifying the wrong person for the role in the beginning and then not developing or supporting them. We assume that because someone has been good at a job they’re naturally ready to manage others to do it too. But management and leadership are completely different roles requiring a multitude of other attributes and behaviours.

So how do we identify the right people to promote into management positions? What do we look for? Length of service? Success in their current role? What does that tell us about their passion/ motivation for wanting to lead a team and their ideas for how they’ll go on to inspire performance and build engagement?

In truth a lot of the time people are offered management roles literally because they’re the last person standing. Everyone else they joined with left, got fired or has been off sick with stress for what seems like the duration of their tenure. Here stands the battle hardened next manager of your company who will either apply for the job for a salary increase or take one offered to them because their spouse would kill them otherwise.

We’re left with someone who hasn’t naturally got the hunger to want to build a successful team and has probably also picked up a lot about how not to manage through their own poor experiences of being managed. They need quality learning interventions to understand not only what effective leadership looks like, and how to implement it, but why it matters too. We need to build their motivation for them to want to bother; after all they’ve got the job now.

So what is the motivation for being a good boss anyway? It sounds like an awful lot of effort.

We’re all motivated by different things but at a fundamental level we have our basic needs (food, water, shelter) and our psychological needs (relationships, connections, self-esteem). I get that people, who never had the ambition to be a manager, find themselves being offered a promotion which they’d be mad to turn down. Potentially they’ll be earning more money with more stable shifts and the idea of being in power appeals too! Maybe, though, when it comes to their work – self-actualisation (achieving their full potential) isn’t really their driving force. That’s fine, I firmly believe we’ve been given this life to live and we should strive to be happy – if that’s not sat behind a desk making someone else rich I don’t have a problem with that. But actually taking a promotion to management for what seems like an easier life and then delivering a poor service to your employees because you can’t be bothered doing the job right is self-defeating.


It links back to those fundamental human needs. What happens to the quality of your relationships, connections and reputation when you’re poorly thought of in work? How does that impact on you psychologically? When you’re always battling with members of your team to be more reliable, hit targets and make less mistakes – how does that affect your stress levels? When you go home in the evening after a day filled with nastiness and animosity how does that impact on the quality of your relationships with your friends and family? Does it reduce your enjoyment of your time outside of work knowing that you’ve got it all to go back to?

In the end when there has been enough complaints, enough leavers and enough attention paid to exit interviews – the spotlight will fall on you. When you lose your job because you didn’t care about forging a connection with your team, supporting it and behaving in a morally correct manner – and you’re now panicking about those basic needs of being able to pay your rent or mortgage and put food in your/ your dependants mouths – will you wish you led your team differently then? If you’re in a leadership position it’s better for you, as much as it’s better for everyone else, to embrace the role and set the right example. The quality of your working relationships, your own career experience and life will be much better as a result.

Being in a position of leadership is a fantastic opportunity and one which can provide real reward. But the assumption is that anyone can do it and that everyone should want to do it because it’s a natural progression from being a long serving member of staff or high performer. Is it?

When identifying our future managers we need to look for people with the inclination to balance the concern for results with concern for people; because people will only be concerned with getting us results if we’re concerned about their needs too. We need to look for people with the ideas to unite a team and the passion to support and nurture talent.

We also need to be more attune to what is going on within our business; whether we have the right managers in place and have given them the support to do their jobs effectively. I recently heard of a manager who sat at their desk watching porn one day, then mouthing off about team members in full range of the team. The next day – they called everyone into the office and told them not to speak while they delivered a rollicking about staff not being allowed to use their PCs to access non-work related websites. One rule for management, another for everyone else?

The sad fact is there are too many bad managers. For businesses to achieve their potential this has got to change.

  • What do you look for when identifying future managers within your company?
  • Are managers accountable? Who to? Are there measures in place to ensure they are performing?
  • What support do you give to new managers to help them transition into the role & develop skills?


Vibrant Talent Development provide leadership interventions working with new and aspiring leaders to create leadership visions they can unite a team behind. To have a chat about leadership development fill in our webform or drop us an e-mail

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