Why We Allow Bad Bosses

angry_boss-home_lifeRegardless of the name on the building, we all work for a person: the boss. Considerable research points to the importance of the relationship between employees and their supervisor for engagement, productivity, and longevity and most of us would agree that the quality and nature of the boss plays a critical role in operational success. Nevertheless, most organizations talk a great game about the importance of having good bosses, but assume little can be done to consistently address the gap between employee needs and supervisor capabilities.
This is a big mistake. A leader who cannot motivate and engage employees successfully will produce less than optimal results. So, why do we allow the “wrong” behaviors and attitudes to continue?

Our Experience – Most of us develop into leaders with few positive role models. When you think back on your career, how many bosses took the time to ensure that you would be successful at your job and you own development goals? Moreover, like almost any other profession, most bosses perform at an average level. In other words, exceptional role models occur very rarely. Human nature lends itself to assuming if something was good enough for me; it should be good enough for you. In a variety of other areas of our professional life, that would be considered striving for the least common denominator.

Paying Dues – In some organizations, having dealt with an incapable as well as inhuman boss is a “rite of passage” for advancement. In meeting with leaders, a common part of most personal timelines includes at least one instance of having to deal with some especially awful boss along the way. The heart of the story being that overcoming that terrible boss somehow made the leader better for having suffered and survived. The most common conclusion being: “that experience really showed me the leader I wanted to be.” Although a variety of positive and negative experiences play an important role in defining who we are, it may not be fair to conclude that everything that happens is always for the best.

Excellence is Hard – The last reason combines elements of individual as well as organizational change. Change is hard at any level, especially if the bad boss produces some positive results. We talk about individual leadership styles and methods of interaction, but neither focuses on the key element of what we want from people as leaders: to help others produce the best possible outcome. A leader’s individual approach, behaviors, and actions need to align with the group that he or she leads, if he or she wants to maximize success. In the absence of that alignment, one is hammering a screw into a board. It will work eventually, but not near as efficiently and effectively as a screwdriver. If one only knows how to use a hammer, at what point is it worth learning how to use a screwdriver? The decision to learn the new skills requires a commitment and investment on the part of the individual as well as the organization

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