Graci Leadership Solutions Blog

Leadership Lessons from a Bad Boss


The best boss I ever had gave me excellent advice on how to be a successful leader. She said, “Jot down everything your worst boss ever did to tick you off, now do the exact opposite. I bet it does not cost any money to do, and it falls under a leader’s job description.” I often think about that boss when I conduct focus group discussions on an effective leader's qualities. Below is a summary of my most recent virtual focus group discussion on the four worst types of bosses. The material is based on a consensus reached by the group, which consisted of 12 millennials age 24-39 who were not in management or leadership positions.

Unavailable Boss – This is the leader who never seems to be around. They spend their time traveling, closing deals, networking, or are perpetually “in meetings.” Personally, having never worked for an unavailable boss, I often think of the character George Costanza from the TV Series Seinfeld. In one episode, George leaves his car in the parking lot while vacationing with his girlfriend, to give the appearance that he’s still around.

You’ve likely heard the expression that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. When team members are left with an unavailable boss, employees are left to make decisions and solve problems that are untrained and unprepared for. Also, the team's problems go unaddressed, allowing the poor behavior of slugs and slackers to cause friction with the rest of the group.

The Jerk Boss – My focus group defined a “jerk” as someone who treats their team as their personal servants. This type of boss usually makes decisions based on what’s best for them, instead of what best serves the organization. They often remind their employees that they’re in charge, as though the rest of the team is supposed to be impressed. I have another name for these types of leaders: A Narcissistic Boss. Narcissistic bosses have an inflated sense of entitlement and seek constant admiration. They are quick to claim credit for others’ work and achievements and blame colleagues, or anyone else, for that matter, for their failures as a leader.

The Slot Machine Problem Solver Boss – These leaders are clueless about solving problems around the office. They enjoy throwing ideas against the wall and seeing if they stick. For some reason, they also tend to offer their team unsolicited advice on how to deal with personal issues. Doing the foundational leadership work, that is, gathering facts and developing the skill to separate facts and opinions is a foreign language to this type of leader.

And yet, these types of bosses tend to hold others to a much higher standard than they hold themselves. If they ordered a coffee and received the wrong order, they would let everyone in earshot know about it.

The Spineless Jellyfish Boss – This is the type of boss whose primary concern in the workplace isn’t about being a good leader, but about being everyone’s friend and earning social acceptance from everyone on the team. Like most spineless creatures, they do not like conflict and go to great lengths to avoid it. When problems arise, they often metaphorically put their head in the sand and hope that it will magically go away.

They want to be so well-liked by the team, and they will throw upper management under the bus when communicating a change. They are simply unable to balance the expectations that management has of them, with the expectation of responsible human interaction with their team. They don’t like making decisions. When dealing with a problem, they’re often like a squirrel caught in the middle of a road - they dart from one side to the other…eventually, what happens is: thump, thump.

Always remember that Leaders Are MADE, Not Born. Just because a leader was excelled in their previous position of working, selling, or servicing does not mean they will be good at getting work done through others like a boss. At Graci Leadership Solutions LLC, I teach leaders on all levels to look in the mirror and ask themselves, are they a part of the problem, or will they be a part of the solution? I teach managers the skills they need to motivate their teams to give their best every day.

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