We Hate Bad Bosses. So, Why Do We Become Them? Here’s the Research

“My last boss was a complete dictator. He micromanaged everything.” said someone on Reddit.

The person continued, “I tried to leave and applied for eight other positions in our company, and he blocked or destroyed every attempt.”

“She wasn’t a bad person, but she was just difficult to work with for [many] reasons. She had this knack for making people cry. She made me cry several times,” said another commenter.

If you ever dealt with a horrible boss or manager, you can relate to these hurt people.

Poor leadership is such a problem that 50% of people quit because they hated their boss.

This has such disastrous effects on a business. If a worker has a salary of $45,000 a year, it would cost an employer $15,000 to replace them.

Get Lighthouse calculated that the hidden costs can be over $65,500 for an employee making $100,000 per year or $40/hr!

Don’t Judge Too Hard. You Might Be a Poor Boss Too

Bad leadership ruins good organizations. They make work a living hell.

However, their influence hasn’t stopped the emergence of a new generation of poor managers.

Most people have dealt with a lousy boss, yet it doesn’t stop them from mismanaging another person.

You would think that they would have empathy. In reality, it’s the total opposite. Research shows that you’re more likely to become a bad boss than a great one.

There’s a lot of personal, social, and systematic factors that reward your bad behavior. Hell, these factors can even punish you if you try to do better!

There’s a lot of personal, social, and systematic factors that reward your bad behavior. Hell, these factors can even punish you if you try to do better!

To stop yourself from being the leader you hated, you must understand what can influence you to become that way.

Then, you can use your new knowledge to become the leader that your team wants. You’ll increase their performance, productivity, and even revenue.

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1. Your Bad Attitude Will Get Rewarded

What was your worst boss like? Was the person arrogant, controlling, or intimidating?

If yes, that’s why they got promoted.

Dominate people are given leadership roles, even if they’re not qualified. This is because we tend to confuse confidence with competence.

A study revealed that groups picked overly domineering people as leaders over those with less influence.

This was a mistake. Many of these leaders made terrible decisions and damaged the welfare of their group.

But here’s the surprising part: many of them went unchallenged. This is because group members trusted their decision making at their expense.

This phenomenon is why narcissism, intimidation, and bullying runs rampant in workplaces.

We give people status and power because they look like leaders, not because they are.

A super counterproductive habit. The same study showed that the more overly powerful people had the worst performance.

The same study showed that the more overly powerful people had the worst performance.

If you’re a confident, aspiring leader, you have to be more mindful of your leadership style.

This is because there’s a high chance that you’ll become the boss you hate. You won’t realize this until it’s too late.

The solution isn’t to limit your confidence. It’s quite the opposite. It’s to use your courage to promote an engaged and psychologically safe workplace.

You have to look beyond the rewards from your higher-ups to ask yourself, “Is what I’m doing the best for my team?”

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How to Be the Leader Your Team Needs

Confidence isn’t bad. Neither is a dominating or influential presence. But, these personality types are more likely to use intimation to convince others to act.

Although this style does produce results, it’s only short-term. It has long-term adverse effects on employees.

These effects include low productivity, high turnover, workplace bullying, and poor decision-making.

Leadership trainer Kathy Caprino told Forbes that psychological safety is the key to reversing the damage of fear-management.

Psychological safety is when employees have enough freedom to disagree, challenge failure, and develop creative ideas without fear of punishment.

Psychological safety is when employees have enough freedom to disagree, challenge failure, and develop creative ideas without fear of punishment.

According to Gallup, this can lead to:

  • 27% decrease in turnover
  • 40% decrease in safety incidents
  • 12% increase in productivity

Companies like 3M used this to develop ground-breaking products like surgical tape, face masks, and post-it notes.

But to reap these benefits, you must put your ego aside. Dominating people tend to limit other people’s opinions.

Don’t use your confidence to earn more influence. Instead, use it to convince others to express their ideas. Ask your workers to challenge your suggestions by creating better ones.

This will be hard because you’ll have to admit your flaws. But that’s fine.

You’re learning to respect the diverse views and thought-processes of your team. You’re giving others the voice you wished you had.

Better yet, you’re transforming your destiny. You’re shifting the chances of you becoming the boss you hated.

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2. Building Up Your Empathy is Exhausting

If you read the latest leadership book or LinkedIn hot-take, you know how important empathy is.

Without it, you’ll become an office tyrant rather than an effective leader.

But here’s the ugly truth about empathy: it’s not easy. It’s emotionally taxing, sometimes impractical, and hard to maintain.

Especially if you have a severe workload and have struggled to progress in your career.

Researchers McDonnell, Nordgren, and Ruttan reflected on their study on empathy in the Harvard Business Review.

They discovered that if you endured challenges, you might be less likely to empathize with people dealing with similar struggles. You’ll even become overly critical if they failed to cope with them.

When a distressed employee contacts you, you might respond with, “Why are you complaining? I’ve been through worse.”

Although this reaction is harsh, it’s not full of malice. It’s proof that your workload and experiences have made empathy difficult.

You can overcome this by framing empathy as a skill, instead of a trait. Traits are inherited. But, skills can be mastered with time and effort.

When you “practice” empathy, you’ll slowly learn how to use it in your daily life. You’ll become less focused on yourself and more understanding of the needs of others.

When you “practice” empathy, you’ll slowly learn how to use it in your daily life. You’ll become less focused on yourself and more understanding of the needs of others.

Also, you’ll learn how not overly to attach your emotions to it. It’ll become a habit, not something you failed in.

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How to Be More Empathetic Without Burning Out

You must practice empathy throughout your leadership career. This is because the more power you gain, the less likely you’ll care about others.

Berkeley Professor Dacher Keltner has studied powerful people for decades. He noticed that they acted as if they had brain damage.

They struggled to read others emotions and understand their point-of-view.

In other words, if you don’t maintain your empathy, your mind will forget it. A reality that many bad bosses are dealing with today.

In HBR Magazine, psychologist Adam Waytz offered advice on how you can better manage and grow your empathy.

Make it a habit by setting reminders. Every day, at a certain time, you try to be sensitive to another person for 15 minutes. You can ask how they feel, think, and want about certain topics and situations.

Don’t just talk about work. Learn more about their lives and interests. But, don’t give everybody this opportunity. At least not at first.

Start small by targeting specific groups like customers and employees. You can branch out when you feel comfortable.

Don’t forget to take breaks. Compassion-fatigue is a problem. Spend 50% of your time focusing on bettering others, and the rest on yourself.

Every skill needs rest to grow. If you’re not serving yourself, how can you serve others?

Lastly, focus on the process rather than the results. Empathy doesn’t have any quick rewards or reactions.

So, it’s going to be difficult for you to know if you succeed or not. But if you do this task every day, it will soon be part of your character.

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3. You’re a Product of a Toxic Culture

So far, you know how your flaws can make you a bad boss. But what if the problem is bigger than you? Like at a systematic level?

Sometimes, you fail at leadership because your work culture has failed you.

Work culture is the accepted behavior of everybody in the organization.

For example, the corporate values poster in the office lobby isn’t culture. The bank teller creating fake accounts to appease her manager is.

This is what happened at Wells Fargo.

Wells Fargo is an American bank. It pressured bankers and managers to create millions of fake accounts in their customers’ name.

In a Get Lighthouse article, I explained that massive fraud was due to toxic work culture. Employees were ordered to create fake loans and bank accounts to meet insane sales quotas.

Although employees were punished if they failed, so were their managers. Employees told The LA Times that managers would be humiliated in front of their peers by the community banking president.

Yes, the president. All the major executives like the CEO were supporting the fraud too.

All the major executives like the CEO were supporting the fraud too.

This scandal is an example of how bad leadership is the result of toxic upper-management and culture.

You feel pressured to ignore your employees’ frustrations out of fear of abuse.

The solution to this is simple but brave. You need to get help.

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Culture Change Will Be Met With Resistance

Fixing a toxic culture is the hardest part of leadership. It’s because of the intense push-back.

Most people don’t like change. They’ll fight and argue with you to keep their old habits.

If you don’t get hate from employees or customers, you’ll get it from those with more power.

That’s why you must organize a team of people who share your mission for change. They’ll help develop strategies to manage conflict better and support you when stressed.

Emerson Consulting’s Tricia Emerson recommends that you fire toxic people — even if they’re your top performers. You want to remove all the harmful people who supported the toxicity from the beginning.

Then, create a list of new standards you want employees to adopt. Assign them actionable behaviors that will make your new rules reality.

For example, want to improve customer service? Offer employees training and scripts on how to be more polite. Track their progress through customer surveys and interviews.

If you don’t think any of these tips are an option, quit your job. Seriously, look for a new job.

Submit that resume to LinkedIn. Schedule that interview. Send that two-week notice.

Bad cultures will damage your mental, emotional, and physical health.

It’s OK to give up and try something else. Even if you have a family. You’ve sacrificed so much already. It’s time to bring those talents elsewhere.

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Bad bosses are deadly. Their rude behavior affects your self-esteem, job satisfaction, and even your physical health.

Just the thought of your worst manager makes you shiver and raises your blood pressure.

However, don’t judge too hard because there’s a possibility that you’ll one day become as bad as them. Hell, maybe you already are.

The track to becoming a horrible manager isn’t a fast one. It’s a slow downward spiral.

You make small bad decisions without knowing it. You start to overestimate yourself. Get upset at feedback.

A commenter on the HBR explained how this happened to her:

“Other people treated me as special, and I began to believe it. The process is subtle, and even my executive coach didn’t spot it…One thing I notice in hindsight is that I stopped wanting to hear any criticism from people I perceived as not supporting me. Now I see that my very resistance to the criticism was a [sign] that there was a problem that deserves close examination. My emotions — anger, fear, pride — got in the way of my willingness to [become more self-aware].”

To stop yourself from becoming the person you despised, you must understand your flaws.

Know when rewards are inflating your ego and not making you a better leader.

When your workers are dealing with a problem, ask yourself, “Is my attitude helping them feel better and strive to a solution?” Because when people feel bad, they’re less likely to fix their problems.

Lastly, diagnose your culture.

Determine if your workplace has changed your behavior for the worst. It’s best to ask another person for confirmation on this. But, don’t get too offended if they say, yes.

It’s an on-going process not to become the boss you hate.

Have feedback? Email me at info@bethromelus.com OR tweet me @Beth_Writing

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