5 traits that define a bad boss and how you can defend yourself

leadership development coaching

A lack of appreciation and disrespectful treatment by the boss is a burden for many employees. But there are strategies to help you survive a hell of a boss.

Most of us are certainly annoyed by the boss now and then. But unfortunately it is the case that in many management levels there are still people, who seem to have little idea of how to lead a team and who completely fail on a human level. We have listed the five most common characteristics of these horror bosses for you here. But what to do if you are under the regime of one? This is exactly the question we would like to answer in the following. And who knows: maybe this article can also serve as a mirror for the executives reading along. If you notice yourself that you are a bad boss, you might be able to turn the tide in a positive direction.


1. Your boss is a narcissist

In extreme cases, a narcissistic tendency by the supervisor can become an enormous psychological burden for employees. This characteristic becomes clear through contempt. To confirm themselves and make them look better, managers use this trait to belittle their employees. It should be noted here that this could indeed be a personality disorder that requires psychotherapeutic treatment. However, this is not always the case and narcissistic tendencies can be seen when your manager tries to make fun of you, preferably in the presence of colleagues, badmouthing your work and making you feel like a loser. It gets particularly ugly when the person threatens you and explaining how interchangeable your role in the company is.

Council for Workers: Needless to say, the mental stress associated with the systematic devaluation of oneself and the services provided. Resisting these traits is the hardest, as they are deeply rooted in the person’s personality concerned. Often the only thing that helps here is to let a thick skin grow on you or to take flight. A counterattack usually only causes more damage.

Advice for employers: If you find yourself in the personality described above, rethink your behavior and seek the help of an expert. It could be a narcissistic personality disorder, the side effects of which can be treated with medication. However, even without such a disorder, a visit to a psychologist can have advantages, not only your employees but also yourself will be helped.

2. Your boss doesn’t know the meaning of the word recognition

Do you actually like your work, get involved in projects and always deliver them successfully? And yet you don’t even get a pat on the back from your supervisor? This is not a rare case. Repeatedly, managers seem to underestimate the importance of recognizing the achievements of their employees. This is how appreciation can be expressed, which serves as motivation for better performance. Apart from that, recognition leads to employees staying longer in the company, being loyal and feeling more comfortable in the work environment.

Council for employees: Actively seek dialogue and demand constructive feedback. This will force your boss to deal with and reflect on the results of your work. In the best-case scenario, he will praise the positive aspects and perhaps give useful advice or objectives for the future and perhaps soon show appreciation of his own accord.

Advice for employers: Appreciate the work of your employees. Your employees do what they do for your company. They keep the wheel turning and ensure success and profit growth. Of course, you don’t have to praise every little thing, but showing appreciation after a successful project shouldn’t be too much to ask for. This can be done through personal talks, an invitation to a lunch together or some other small benefit for everyone.

3. Your boss sees you as a tool

Another sign of poor leadership is when your direct superior cannot even remember your name. Unfortunately, a lack of empathy and compassion is characteristic of many bosses. In their eyes, employees are nothing more than tools that get the job done. Not anymore. Under such a superior, every sick call is an accomplishment. Such people also show little understanding when, for example, they are asked for a day off because of personal emergencies. And overtime? Overtime is a basic requirement for such managers and does not have to be paid or even prevented. Most of you are probably familiar with the latter in particular.

Council for employees: Here it can help to confront the boss directly with his behavior. Remain objective, but explain that certain situations are unavoidable. Question whether he would like to be treated in the same way. In extreme cases, you can also try to make the manager feel guilty. The important thing is that you don’t sound like a whiny, nagging child. So don’t get too emotional in your speech, but present the facts in a hard and rational way.

Advice for employers: Empathy is one of the most important qualities that make a good manager. An employee who takes sick leave is not immediately lazy. Nor can private problems always be separated from everyday working life. Think about how you want to be treated in exceptional situations and behave towards your employees in the same way. Show compassion, understanding and above all: learn the names of those who report directly to you.

4. Your boss is a control freak

Many probably know it. You are hardly allowed to make any decisions yourself, but have to clarify everything with your supervisor even if it is your area of responsibility. Your boss interferes in everything, throws employees’ plans overboard and, in severe cases, meticulously checks your break times? Congratulations, you work for a control freak. This situation is particularly damaging for companies because employees’ potential cannot develop, and their dissatisfaction grows.

Advice for employees: One method you can try to use is to do your own thing, but give the boss regular updates on your progress. In this way, he will hopefully notice that his employees can work independently without having to appear for constant monitoring. You can also try to build trust. Of course, you don’t have to suck up to your boss, but you may find it useful to build up some sympathy by laughing at unfunny jokes or listening to stories.

Advice for employers: Let the reins down. Too many employers are afraid of giving up responsibilities and losing power. However, you will get much more respect from your employees if you express your trust in them in the form of responsibilities. Many studies have already shown that control freaks merely hinder the progress of a company. So try to loosen up bit by bit and you will see how this is positively reflected in the results of your projects.

5. Your boss is hiding everything

Also this phenomenon is certainly known to many of you, your superior is a book with seven seals. You don’t know what his work actually looks like, how the salary policy works and some figures your company writes are completely withheld from you. Transparency is the basis for trust. And trust in the employer is essential for employees to be more loyal, to have more respect for their superiors and to go to work with greater motivation.

Council for employees: Request information. You have a right to know certain things. So ask your boss if necessary in front of the entire team. Then your colleagues might get on board and in the end the manager has no choice but to open up.

Advice for employers: You have already read about the advantages of transparency above. Now is the time to really change something. Hide nothing from your employees, but explain to them how your salary policy is composed, what tasks you perform, in which sectors there may be problems at the moment. That way you build up trust and who knows for one or two problems you might find a solution among your employees.

More tips on how to defend yourself against a horror boss

In addition to the points listed here, there are many other scenarios and behaviors of employers that can get you upset and restrict you in your work. Fortunately, there are just as many other pieces of advice. For example, if your boss is a mobber and loves to tease you and other colleagues with sexist, racist and other comments, repartee can help. Counter stupid remarks cleverly. You can read how you can do this in various tutorials. If you are a real choleric person, it can help to just stay still. Simply digress with your thoughts and ignore the roar of your superior as best you can. However, if your boss’s behavior is totally unacceptable, you can join forces with colleagues and lodge a complaint with the works council. Sometimes you have to play the “snitch” and “denounce” or report to your superior on the next higher management level.

If the above extreme cases have not yet occurred, but your boss develops more and more negative attitudes, first seek dialogue. Explain what bothers you and other colleagues about the behavior of the manager. If things used to go better, make them aware of it. That way, your manager may be able to recognize his or her own mistakes. At the same time, it can also help to show understanding if the boss is simply under pressure, after all, he or she also has a lot of responsibility. And if you know that certain types of behavior provoke negative reactions from your superior, try to actively avoid them.

Last resort: retreat

If the behavior of your boss is no longer bearable, you are mentally and physically attacked because of the tense relationship and all attempts at mediation fail just withdraw. That means you should resign. Of course, this is a serious step that also entails risks for you. In addition, many employees see a dismissal as a defeat against their boss. But remember one thing, everyone deserves to be treated humanely and with respect. If this is not the case in your workplace, the job is not worth this kind of stress, even if it is your dream company. Nobody deserves harassment by the boss. That’s exactly why a dismissal in this case is by no means a defeat, but a liberating blow. Your health as well as your career will benefit from finding a healthier working environment with a superior who appreciates you as an employee.

Published by Dave John

Decade of work experience in leadership consulting with strong focus on talent acquisition & assessment across different industries and geographies.

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