How to spot a ‘bad boss’


An excellent guest post by Adi Gaskell, Content & Communities Manager at CMI, UK. You can view Adi Gaskell’s linkedin profile here and follow him on twitter here.

The movie Bad Bosses is released this week.  Stanford academic Bob Sutton has made a point over the last few years of delving into what it is exactly that makes some bosses so bad.  He first coined the phrase bosshole in his 2007 book The No Asshole Rule.  The online urban dictionary defines a bosshole as:

Bosshole “an employer of a particularly evil nature, completely devoid of empathy or concern for anyone else. the deadly hybrid of boss and asshole.”

In his subsequent book Good Boss, Bad Boss he outlined various ways you can identify a bad boss (or bosshole if you will).  Here is his 10 point checklist

1. Kisses-up and kicks-down: If your boss is sycophantic to his boss, but super tough on those beneath him there’s a strong chance he could be a bosshole.

2. Can’t take it: Dishing out criticism is second nature to this boss, but if ire is turned on him then his skin proves very thin indeed.

3. Short fuse
: Anger is fine now and then, but if it’s a permanent fixture it can quickly breed a culture of fear, which is not a good thing at all.

4. Bad credit: You do the work, they take the credit.  Sound familiar?  This is a common trait of a bosshole.  The best bosses give credit where it’s due and make stars of their team.

5. Canker sore: Your boss decides to participate in your team activities, how do they often turn out?  Is it harmonious or full of conflict?  Talent is no excuse for being a bosshole.

6. Flamer: Email provides an easy channel for venting.  Is your boss a keyboard warrior that uses poor email etiquette to flame others, blind carbon copying to cover his back and other poor email form?

7. Downer: Does your boss make you feel excited and energized about coming into work, or does he fill you with dread when you set off each morning?  Bossholes tend to suck the energy from their team.

8. Card shark: In a knowledge economy, sharing information is a no brainer, but bossholes tend to keep knowledge close to their chest for their personal gain rather than that of their team or their employer.  Co-workers aren’t competitors that you have to defeat to get ahead, but a bosshole will think they are.

9. Army of one: Think back to your school days when you pick out classmates to play on your football team.  The bosshole would be the last pick without doubt because despite their talents people avoid them like the plague.

10. Open architecture: How would the prospective boss respond if a copy of The No Asshole Rule appeared on her desk?” Be careful if the answer is, “Duck!

This is a guest post by Adi Gaskell, editor of The Management Blog for CMI.


What Every Employee Needs…


Ask any fist line or second line manager what his or her biggest challenges are, there is a 8-on-10 chance that the top 3 would contain something related to motivating and aligning people to common objectives. Everyone has their own motivators and personal goals, and primary use they see of an organization or employer is to meet those goals. And many managers fail because they are either not interested in understanding this and try to push their own goals unilaterally, or try to be nice to everyone and in the process fail to meet any of the expectations – of their own managers and people they are responsible for. As a result, it’s a common conclusion that identifying the motivators of each of their employees and providing appropriate avenues for that is a futile exercise since it is so diverse and hence might not be feasible to achieve.

Though this is a very valid argument and also true in many instances, one common need I have noticed in my experience is, almost all employees want GROWTH. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs suggests that every human being has various degrees of needs at various stages.

Maslow Needs Heirarchy

In my experience, what I have noticed is, all employees want growth or evolution in whichever stage of need they are in. The true challenge for any manager is to figure out which stage the employee is in, and enable an environment of growth in the stage. Sometimes it will work, and many times it might not. This would also hold good while managing upwards. For managers to really succeed, it’s better to understand what is implied as the “need of the hour” for the organization and enable people achieve growth in that need – rather than “meeting” those needs. And personally, I have failed on this many times. In my opinion, truly successful managers are those that are able to enable an environment of constant growth for the organizational needs and the needs of people whom they work with.

And leadership maturity is having the ability to differentiate between providing “opportunities to satisfy a need” and “opportunities for growth in that need”.

What do you think? Should managers concentrate on satisfying particular needs or providing growth in a desired area?

What can you do about a culture of Mistrust…


Trust is a very personal thing. Many people can believe trust should between two people and should not be confused as a culture to be followed or propagated. But in many organizations, dysfunctions and interpersonal issues are mostly (from my personal experiences) offshoot’s of an underlying thread of mistrust. Most people are not willing to see anything beyond the layer of behavior and talk at lengths about what’s wrong and more importantly, with whom. Of course an organization is only a place we spend time in to fulfill a lot of our personal aspirations, but we spend considerable amount of time there. And if it bleeds of mistrust, we just can’t get up in the morning looking forward for a day’s work, even if it means just a check list item.

Some common symptoms of organizations bleeding in a culture of mistrust could include:

  • No meaningful confrontation happens, every dialogue happens through the immediate supervisor.
  • Only tasks are delegated, not responsibilities.
  • Issues are never isolated from people. Resolving issues always means pulling up people connected to it.
  • Data is not an important aspect in operations.
  • Data provided for anything is not validated, but contended.
  • Being politically right is more important than being right.
  • Personal interests always score over team/organizational goals, at any point of time.
  • People are more interested in saving the ass, rather than resolving issues.

The list can go on, but these are some of the major symptoms I have noticed from my experience. Requesting you to add your thoughts too in case I missed any.

And sometimes, we just accept this as reality and wait for the first opportunity to move on. Though that’s not wrong, I would say we can first try a few things to see if there is something we can do to make things better for us, and honestly for people around us before taking that step. And if we work in the capacity of managers, I guess it is our responsibility to try our best to make things better for our team and other teams as well.

Resort to meaningful dialogue – Talk directly to people to whom we have question. Rather than going to the manager, its better we talk to the people directly. It might work, or might not work, but it’s worth the try. This involves a lot of courage, but we should not forget it involves some consideration as well. Being honest is not an excuse for not treating people with respect.

Make Data the primary performance parameter N. R. Narayana Murthy once famously said, “In god we believe, everyone else brings data to the table”. This should not mean we must remove the human aspect out of the equation. Alarming data points can be used as a basis to understand issues, derive action items and then arrive at people responsible for them. In many cases, issues/deviation is more a factor of the process.

Identify process issues before people issues – Again this does not mean we should neglect people issues – which is very common – but does the process itself allow for eccentricities? You cannot expect a project to be profitable if it goes through 10 review cycles by different people, and expect the primary contributor to have a keen eye for detail too. You will end up overshooting the budget, and at the end of the day, the primary contributor will not be interested in doing things the first time right, given people are anyway going to have “new ideas” over every coffee they have.

Confront mistrust with honesty – M.K. Gandhi said the worst punishment you can hand over to an untrustworthy person is treating him/her with honestly. Nothing can be farther from truth. Always be honest and forthright with people, but don’t expect that favor to be returned.

Isolate issues from people – Whenever we need to resolve issues, its better we talk about the issue rather than the person responsible for it. Again, this is not to say people don’t screw up, but at least will help in building a culture of trust. Start with the issue, and then move to the people responsible for it.

Place facts over feelings – Feelings are generally an offshoot of behaviors. People “feel” something about others based on what he/she has “done” in the past. Though this is not something we should just disregard, it will help if we ask for facts. Feelings can be subjective, facts just cannot.

Trust people conditionally, and treat them respectfully – This is from one of my favorite authors – Stephen Covey. Trusting should not mean we blindly trust whatever people say. It’s better to also place accountability to what is said. We should specifically ask for instances/data when people generally provide malicious information about others. And this does not mean we should undervalue the importance of respect just because we have evidence of deviations. By treating people with respect and trusting them conditionally, we send out a very important message – I’m prepared to deal with issues and people who deviate from specified norms that you bring up, but that does not mean I will blindly trust you into pulling people up for “allegations”.

All the above points are a reflection of what can be done for a team/organization that is at the lowest level of trust quotient. Once the trust factor is established, we can move to more mature management/leadership principles like collaboration etc. What do you think?

When management training turns bad


Guest post by Adi Gaskell, editor of The Management Blog for CMI, with awesome insights on management training. You can follow Adi on twitter here.

It has become almost gospel that management training is a positive thing.  It boosts skills, improves employee engagement and enables your organisation to make the most of a valuable resource.  At least that is the standard orthodoxy when it comes to training your team.  Are there any circumstances whereby training your managers is not positive though?

That is the question posed by a new study conducted by the University of Iowa.  Making the most of management training is a key concern.  In the UK around £1 billion a year is spent on management training, with that figure rising to a whopping $134 billion a year in America.  So the stakes are high.

The research was led by Scott Seibert, associate professor of management and organizations in the UI Tippie College of Business.  He found that if management training is accompanied by opportunities for career advancement then it is a potent tool.  If however you develop a managers skills, but then offer no opportunities for promotion you end up doing more harm than good.  Seibert believes that if career development is not offered all your training will do is make managers more employable at companies that will give their career a leg up.

All of which perhaps should not be surprising to companies.  It is one thing to offer training to gain better qualified managers to help you deliver better services to customers, but one must also understand the flip side of that bargain, that those managers will be looking to progress their skills with their new skills and qualifications.

Given the large investment in management training, combined with the high cost of both employee disengagement and employee turnover, this is an issue that really needs addressing.  Providing each manager with a clear career path is the ideal solution, but the research found that career development was not only found in terms of promotions.  Mentoring and job rotations, as well as good relationships with their immediate boss, can create the feeling that career opportunities are available.

“Career opportunities are perceptual in nature, so raising perceived career opportunities for employees may be largely a matter of letting employees know more about the range of possibilities that are already available within the organization,” they wrote.

Adi Gaskell is the Editor of The Management Blog for CMI, a leading supplier of management training in the UK.

3 people who can benefit from Micromanaging…


Micromanaging is often seen as a bad word and a bad habit – in many arguments, rightfully so too. People who micromanage are seen as terrible managers and people who are micromanaged rightfully lose their motivation. While all this is also backed by research results, I also feel one size does not fit all and sometimes, we also need to micromanage for the benefit of not only the system, but also the people themselves. Here are three kinds of people whom I think can benefit from micromanaging. The key though is, knowing when to stop. This is a result of some of the experiences I have had, and would love to hear your thoughts on the same.

People moving from unstructured environment to a process driven environment: As the organization moves from a start up to a mature one, it is critical that we set some processes that serve as principles of engagement and collaboration. A key trait of mature organizations is systems that are scalable. In a start-up, we might have worked day in and day out just to satisfy customers and help cash flow, but as the organization matures, I think it is critical to set some ground rules that serve as a basis of operation – a Standard Operating Procedure you might call. But these ground rules and processes can require a lot of re-iteration and hand holding initially. We cannot expect the entire organization to follow a process by just sending out mails to a few people. A new process also needs a lot of feedback to enhance it – thus making the system scalable. I don’t think it can happen fruitfully unless we micro-manage the process, and people who follow that process to an extent.

People who are under some kind of performance review: Periodically, many organizations put employees through some kind of performance review in case their performance does not meet certain levels of competency. While this is not done in a mature manner in many originations, I feel unless we micromanage these situations and people, we are actually doing injustice to them and the system. These are very sensitive situations that need some maturity to handle. We should neither be seen as tough task masters without humane considerations, nor weak managers who let bad performance pass by. Both will set employees for failure. For this to happen, I think we need to back the performance of the concerned employee with solid, authentic data. This quantification of performance is not possible unless we micro manage to an extent. If we just say an employee’s performance has been bad over let’s say, one year and they need to buckle up, we are actually putting the employee in wilderness. They neither know why their performance was bad, nor understand what is expected of them to scale their competence up. It’s a typical management jargon to say “feedback needs to be specific and action items followed through”, but can this be a justifiable exercise without micromanaging to an extent? I think it is gross injustice to the employee if we put them under performance review but not be specific enough on the plan of action and also not follow through them – in short periods that too. Without this, I feel a decision to either fire them, or retain them will both be subjective. And being 100% subjective in these situations is setting these people up for failure.

High performers who are groomed for the next level of responsibilities: Not just bad performers, but even high potential performers who are being groomed for the next level of responsibilities can benefit from a bit of micromanaging. Specifically, when people move from an individual contributor’s role to a leadership role, I feel it is vital they are hand held for some time to begin with. I feel one of the primary reasons for failure during this transition is expecting the team to do the same things we did – thinking it is the only right thing to do, given we have actually been promoted doing it – and benchmarking the team performance against our own as individual contributors. Guiding those people will only help them in the long run. But the key in this scenario is deciding what exactly we do to guide them. While in other cases, its simple micromanagement from the industrial era days, in this case, it’s more about giving those people tips, providing training tools, fixing accountability and escalation guidelines, etc.

As mentioned before, in all these instances, the key is, knowing when & where to stop. Understanding that and striking the right balance defines our own Leadership Maturity. What do you think? Is micromanaging bad irrespective of the situation or have I missed more kinds that can benefit from micromanaging?

Three Questions Every Manager Must Ask, All the Time…


As managers, one of our primary responsibilities is to make decisions, on behalf of the business, team, and ourselves. As much as we like to quantify every decision and try to work formulas for an objective decision making process, I’m sure we all agree that many situations also demand subjective decision making where data is not the primary driver but things like perceptions, feelings, emotions, relationships, etc are. While dealing with subjective decisions, I feel all managers must ask themselves, and if possible the key stakeholders, the following three questions, and analyze responses before taking a final call, exactly in that order.

  1. What will be the impact of this decision on the business: Like it or not, the biggest stakeholder in any decision is the business itself. We all need the business to grow to ensure we grow. Thinking our growth is mutually exclusive of business growth is probably the most basic leadership mistakes we can make. There are a number of subjective ways in which a decision can affect the business, brand equity, strategic fit, brand creditability are just some. We need to ensure that the decision will take the business to the next level is some way or the other, or atleast not affect the business negatively.
  2. What will be the impact of the decision on the team/people: The next key consideration should be, how it affects the team and the other stakeholders of this business. For example, while initiating a new product offering, the key consideration could be the returns, but how well the portfolio complements the skills sets of the team (sales and operations), and also takes it to the next level could be another consideration. We generally get tied by how much we can produce using the avaialble resources and miss out the point of how much the skill sets of the team will grow by taking up some assignments.
  3. And Finally, what will be the impact of this decision on us personally: At the end of the day, we too have a stake in the decision. The outcome of the decision we make directly affects and defines our performance as much as it affects the business reasoning and team morale. Therefore, it is best to also check if we will be benefited from the decision. There were instances early in my career when I made decisions that were for the good of the team, but were awfully bad for my own good. The manager is not a sacrificial lamb and does not gain anything from being one – not even brownie points.

While the points above maybe too simplistic, the key is the order. We generally exclude one or two points, or jumble up the order. For a manager to be successful, I guess considering all the above parameters is as critical as the order in which they are considered. What do you think?

These points were actually inspired from a placard I came across in an officers training academy of the Indian Army, which read something like this:

  • The interest of my country and countrymen come first
  • The interest of the soldiers who fight with me comes next
  • My interest come last, and always last.

When does a Manager Grow…


I recently read a post, that talks about busting the “I can do anything” myth for a manager. These were some fundamentally sound thoughts and should be read by all managers and aspiring managers.

But then, these thoughts might help a front line manager. Leadership is not just about inspiring, motivating etc, agreed, but then is it about being the specialist? In my opinion, being a specialist will not pave way for a holistic picture of the business and environment in general. Leaders and managers may not, and in good many cases, cannot grow if they are functional specialists. The chances of growth are more if we are operational specialist, people who know a bit of everything, and everything of something. Did Bill Gates know anything about marketing or sales or HR when he started off? He was a specialist. But, could Microsoft have become so big if he had not known a few things about all functions without being a specialist in them?

For a manager to grow, the “I can do anything” myth is definitely not going to help. But knowing what you can do, getting help in places you cannot, knowing what questions to ask, understanding the right problems to solve, a deep understanding of the stake holders who are going to be benefited by solving the problems, etc. can be the key for leadership success and generally, leadership growth. It then boils down to a more fundamental thought – Humility. What will help a manager grow is the “I can manage anythingconfidence, but a deep rooted knowledge and acceptance of the “I don’t know everythinghumility. That way, the manager not only grows, but also helps the specialist grow by asking the right questions and brining into focus the specialists at the right time.

What do you think? Do you feel being a specialist is probably the best way to grow? Do you feel working at being a “true” generalist is not a good use of time? Or what else do you think is the best organic growth factor for a manager?

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