3 unpredictable traits of bad bosses and signs of ‘dysfunction’, according to workplace experts

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Bad bosses are always at work — they are usually known as toxic bullies, who are overly demanding and critical. But there are three traits that are both unexpected and more dangerous, according to one workplace expert.

Simon2579 | E+ | Getty’s image

Bad bosses are always at work.

They can be toxic bullies, overly demanding and critical. Or a micromanager, who provides unsolicited advice, or takes over tasks that their employees can handle.

But there are unexpected and more dangerous traits of bad bosses, according to Kevin Legg, founder of Sage, a company that helps design and develop workplace training curricula.

The characteristics in question: undermanaging, over-talking and faux friendly.

“All of these traits not only seem harmless, but are even desired by many employees,” says Legg, who has 20 years of experience in corporate professional learning.

“After all, who doesn’t want a boss who likes to leave you to your own devices? What’s wrong with a leader who acts more like a friend than a boss? A leader who talks too much during meetings can be a little annoying to be sure, but… there’s a trait bad thing a boss can have, right?”

But these traits often have negative implications for team cohesion, morale, respect and efficiency, Legg added, especially during “high-stress periods.”

“When a difficult decision has to be made, a boss who is too friendly loses credibility in making that decision,” he explains.

“Subordinate managers will experience decision paralysis, making a bad situation worse. Excessive talkers will suddenly find their instructions are not being listened to.” [because] employees have long since stopped listening.”

Employees detest micromanagement, but for Legg, undermanagement is a more common vice.

“Even worse, bad bosses constantly take advantage of bad management… [by saying, for example] ‘My people can come to me if they need me – my door is open,'” he added.

That’s what a “lazy boss who doesn’t have the courage or work ethic to actually coach and lead” would say, according to Legg.

In the medium term, there is resentment at annual reviews when people are passed over for promotions because they never met a standard they never demonstrated.

Kevin Legg

Founder, Sage

Without an active manager, work suffers as junior staff are self-directed without guidance – “dysfunction” will also occur when team members try to guess how to engage the boss for feedback and direction.

“In the medium term, there is resentment at annual reviews when people are passed over for promotion because they never met a standard they never demonstrated,” Legg warns.

“In the long term… they go to greener pastures where they can thrive.”

A “personal problem” from Legg’s, bosses who talk too much usually have an “overrated opinion” of themselves and believe they are the smartest person in the room, he says.

“They love the sweet melodies of their own voices,” added Legg. “They believe they should be constantly giving their employees the chops, and will have team meetings with that as a core feature.”

What’s dangerous about such behavior is that it perpetuates a culture in which people stop talking “by reflex.”

“Employees will anticipate very watery and too long conversations when timely insight is sufficient,” says Legg.

“The problem here is that employees stop taking their bosses seriously. This means that really valuable advice or experience is thrown out along with other harsh words.”

Having a boss that’s too friendly can be more dangerous than it seems, suggests Legg.

“Bosses do this when they don’t have the tools to navigate the asymmetry in the relationship between them and their employees,” he says.

“They use the superficial – and ineffective – tactic of behaving and talking as if they and their staff are just peers hanging out in the office.”

Not drawing clear boundaries can leave staff feeling confused as a friend should not dictate workload, promotions or write references.

“Some employees may embrace friendliness and begin to think they are ‘friends,’ which will make difficult decisions and requests even more difficult [for bosses],” Legg added.

What’s worse is when employees end up “exchanging friendships” with the professional results they need, and bosses make decisions based on favors, not merit.

“Once this started, there was almost no going back to the professional baseline,” said Legg.

Fortunately, employees with bosses who display these undesirable traits can learn valuable lessons that they can apply in the future — should they become managers.

“Immediate knowledge of what not to do is just as important as knowing what to do,” says Legg.

“As a leader, once you see the antithesis modeled, you’ll more quickly recognize yourself rambling during meetings, so you’ll let others do the talking and have their say. You’ll detect the first attraction at play in befriending your staff, and choose relationships that friendly yet professional with your team.”

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