The Boss You Don’t Want to Be

Here’s the one thing that separates good managers from the bad.

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

Recently, I was reminded of the latter — 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. They’ve become The Boss You Don’t Want to Be.

What’s going on?

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

These Bosses You Don’t Want to Be 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 employees feel because they’re scared of what they might hear, and how it would personally feel to hear those things.

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

Sound familiar? Perhaps you yourself have worked with The Boss You Don’t Want to Be, 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 mindset of The Boss You Don’t Want to Be is easy to succumb to yourself if you’re not paying close attention.

Consider these situations:

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 Boss You Don’t Want to Be or The Boss Everyone Wish They Had comes down to how you react to these situations.

You have two options:

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.

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?

Enjoy this piece? Read more of Claire‘s writing on leadership on the Know Your Team blog. And, check out Know Your Team – software that helps you become a better manager.