Bad Bosses, Big Problems

My brother-in-law got laid-off. It happens and it is always sad. What struck me the most was that his boss did not even have the decency (or courage?) to tell him face-to-face. He used the phone instead. It made me wonder if this was something exceptional or more common practice. I browsed the internet and could not find any specific data on a situation like that but I stumbled upon some shocking figures:

    Results from a poll of 1,000 U.S. adults in March 2007 by the Employment Law Alliance (ELA) found that “44% of American workers have worked for a supervisor or employer who they consider abusive” (Employment 2007).Among the instances of abuse the ELA poll’s respondents had witnessed or experienced at the hands of a supervisor or employer were sarcastic jokes (60%), public criticism of job performance (59%), “interrupting… in a rude manner” (58%), yelling or raising one’s voice (55%) and “ignoring you/co-worker as if you/he/she was invisible” (54%) (Employment 2007).

It made me wonder what the cause of all this bullying and bad behavior can be. It cannot be that all these bad managers are ‘bad people’. I don’t believe that managers in general love bullying and bossing people around. I believe that there are mainly three causes – or a combination of them – that make managers bullies or otherwise bad bosses.

Peter Principle
The Peter Principle is a belief that in an organization where promotion is based on achievement, success, and merit, that organization’s members will eventually be promoted beyond their level of ability. The principle is commonly phrased, “employees tend to rise to their level of incompetence.”

This happens a lot. A striking example is Sales Management. When there is a vacancy for the position of Sales Manager, many organizations search within their own staff to fill the position. In most cases, the best salesperson becomes the new sales manager as a ‘reward’ for his achievements and success. But, being a great salesperson doesn’t automatically mean being a great manager. In fact, the chance that a great salesperson will become a bad manager is much bigger. Salespeople are ‘loners’. Always on the road by themselves, reigning their own little Kingdom without residents. A salesperson is not a natural team-player. Aside from that, the skill-set needed for sales is totally different from the skill-set needed for leadership and management. It is like expecting the best cellist in an orchestra to be able to conduct the orchestra without any problem.

Although not employees themselves, entrepreneurs often have the same problem. Starting up a business and making it survive and thrive are the core of entrepreneurship. But a growing business needs more and more employees and at a certain point, the entrepreneur finds himself in a position of manager. He wasn’t born for that and most of the times he doesn’t like it and has no clue how to handle it. The Peter Principle kicks in.

Social Pressure
In our society it is hardly acceptable to be content with what you are doing and not wanting to ‘make career’. If it is not the pressure from family and friends, than it is the pressure from within the organization.

Many people accept a promotion because of the expectations their environment has. Even if they don’t feel ready yet, the fear that they will not get another chance later makes them accept. That fear is not without cause. I know of HR departments that put a note in the file when somebody rejects a promotion that states that the person is ‘not interested in a further career move.’ Twenty years later, that note is still in the file and that person will not be offered a promotion anymore.

But accepting a promotion because of outside pressure does lead to catastrophe. In the end nobody is happy, the employees nor the manager himself.

Lack of Training
An August 2007 survey by the Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp) in conjunction with HR.com found that almost half-about 47%-of the 338 organizations surveyed have no training programs for new supervisors. And the majority of organizations that do provide such training do not measure its effectiveness.

There you go. It is weird that we need certificates and diplomas for all kinds of professions but everybody can become a manager. There are no minimum requirements whatsoever. Keep in mind that a manager is responsible for the profitability and sustainability of his department and – more importantly – for the well-being of his staff (and the family members of the staff). A study in Holland showed that almost 40% of all depression and stress related sick leaves were caused by the manager.

Leadership asks for skills. A very few people are natural leaders but most of us just aren’t. We need to learn those skills. Investing in a proper training and coaching program pays off. Big time. Not just in matters of the personal effectiveness of the manager but it will give a tremendous boost to the engagement of the manager and his team, with an increase of productivity as a result.

Conclusion
People that are involved in hiring for and promoting people to a leadership position should take into consideration that there are other elements to be considered aside from diplomas, certificates, track-records and resumes. Is the candidate indeed ready for the position? Will it fit him? Is he ambitious because it is his nature or because it is what he should be according to his surroundings? Does the organization provide a proper training program to help the new leader in acquiring the necessary skills?

I already hear all HR-practitioners yell:”But of course!” That makes me wonder who hired all those ‘bad bosses’ than.

Happy leading.