7 Signs You're a Bad Boss (and How to Be a Better Manager)

Find Out More

As Austrian management consultant, educator and author Peter Drucker once said, “So much of what we call management consists in making it difficult for people to work.” This probably isn’t your goal. 

Nevertheless, if you aren’t inspiring and empowering your direct reports, you’re most likely doing it wrong, not getting the most out of your team, damaging morale, increasing employee turnover, and impacting the bottom line. 

As a manager, your role is critically important. From studying millions of managers and organizations worldwide, Gallup has found that “the role of the manager is a dominant factor in the employee experience — from onboarding and performance to development and retention.” 

Managers are the heart of your organization. They communicate and uphold the standards of your culture and your brand. They can make or break any change initiative. Nearly every problem and achievement in your organization can be tied back to the quality of your managers.

Bad managers  — “who are not engaged or who are actively disengaged” — cost the US economy nearly $400 billion annually, while the three in 10 people who possess either a high or basic talent for management contribute to a combined 48% higher profit for their companies. 

While good managers help their teams achieve excellence, bad managers lose their team members. In fact, one in two employees have left their job “to get away” from their manager at some point in their career

Being a good manager isn’t easy. You not only have to understand people, you have to know your people, and what tactics you should (and shouldn’t) take to ensure your team meets its business goals — while feeling appreciated and respected

It might be a good idea to ask your staff to review your management capabilities, and offer feedback on how you can improve. This will show them that you value their opinions and want to create a culture conducive to team success. However, this may be easier said than done. 

So, we’ve developed a list of seven signs you’re a bad boss, and compiled some helpful tips toward becoming a better manager

multiracial group of three women at work, on a couch with their laptops, happily in conversation

How to Go from Bad Boss to Great Manager

1. You don’t encourage feedback

Virgin Airlines founder Richard Branson says that a good leader should be listening twice as much as they’re speaking. If your employee one-on-ones and performance reviews focus solely on your employees and your perceptions of their work, and you don’t ask for feedback from anyone but your peers or superiors, you are demonstrating to your team that you believe you’re above personal growth and don’t value their experience. 

Advice: Solicit feedback formally and informally. Distribute an anonymous survey or questionnaire that your employees can complete on a monthly or quarterly basis, and actively strive to create a work environment that encourages open dialogue. At the beginning or end of a team meeting, inform your staff that they can always email you with suggestions, and that their input would be appreciated. Finally, split your one-on-one employee check-ins into two segments for reviews and feedback, or restructure them as back-and-forth conversation aimed at shared success. 

2. You don’t celebrate successes 

In a gratitude survey of 2,000 Americans by the John Templeton Foundation, 81% percent said they’d be willing to work harder for an appreciative boss, and 70% said they’d feel better about themselves and their efforts if their boss thanked them more regularly. If you forget to show appreciation, but never fail to point out a mistake, you’re creating an environment of fear, in which employees work not from motivation but to prevent punishment.

Advice: Happy workers are 13% more productive, so thank your employees publicly for their hard work (and not only for results), develop an incentive program with their input, and reward successes with monthly employee spotlights and creative gifts and perks.

a male and female office worker exchange a high five, sitting at a desk

3. You micromanage

If you have difficulty spreading work across your team and, when you do, only assign one project at a time and check in frequently, you’re probably micromanaging. While it may seem like you’re facilitating focus and accountability, you’re really demonstrating distrust — “and any gains realized from process improvements will be offset by the deleterious effects of disengagement” (Harvard Business Review). This is why entrepreneur and Forbes Council member Brandon Stapper calls micromanagement the number-one way “to demotivate a team and burn yourself out.”

Advice: Delegate intelligently, and you’ll have more time to be strategic and more energy to motivate. For each task, be sure you fully understand not only what needs to be done, but why, and by when. Then, determine the member of your team who is most qualified to successfully complete the task. Next, carefully explain the task to this person, encourage questions and comments, and confirm they are prepared to take on the responsibility. Finally, ensure you understand the employee’s level of expertise, check in only as necessary, and make yourself available in case any issue arises. 

4. You’re inconsistent (with your policies or vision)

As serial entrepreneur and author Eric V. Holtzclaw writes in Inc., “Consistency is the difference between failure and success.” If you don’t hold all of your employees — and yourself — to the same standard, or if your policies and vision shift sporadically, you’re demonstrating a lack of consistency that will adversely impact accountability and transparency across your team.

Advice: If you want your employees to respect and trust you as their leader, standardize team rules and policies, and publish them internally so they’re accessible to everyone. Additionally, work with your team to set teamwide goals for the month, quarter and year, hold team meetings to encourage and celebrate progress toward these goals, and evangelize your vision to other departments and company leadership so your team can be recognized by others as well.

Closeup of hands being held in a crowd, facing a speaker at a conference, holding their hands up

5. You’re impersonal

The legendary venture capitalist Tim Draper told CNBC that managers should “wander around, randomly connect with employees, ask them what they’re doing, and how they’re doing.” Tom Ferry, a New York Times-bestselling author and top-ranked Swanepoel Power 200 real estate coach, said, “When you take a genuine interest in your employees and impact their lives beyond the office, you build lasting relationships and a more loyal tribe.” If you’re all work and no play, and don’t relate to your employees as human beings, with unique needs and goals, you miss the opportunity to nurture truly reciprocal and committed relationships. If you don’t express interest in what matters to them, they’ll feel less likely contributing team members and more like service providers, decreasing the likelihood that they would go the proverbial extra mile or recommend your organization to other top talent.

Advice: Don’t think of yourself as a boss; be a coach, and a mentor. Provide continuing education opportunities, and help your staff set and reach goals. In addition, employ techniques to make the workplace fun. Celebrate birthdays and work anniversaries, give personal gifts on holidays, plan retreats and after-work events, host team lunches, offer wellness programs like yoga classes or massages, offer extra time off and half-day Fridays during the summer, create a gamification system with point-based rewards like gift cards, and/or create a business goal-based team award. As Gallop writes in its Guide to Great Managers, “Happy, healthy employees mean a better culture and a more productive, profitable company. They love their jobs and spread the word — setting you up to hire and keep more top talent.”

6. You’re inflexible

Ninety-seven percent of employees are looking to be a “flexible worker” in the long term, and more than three quarters of workers say they’d be “more loyal” to their employers if they offered flexible work options. In fact, more than a third of remote employees say they’d be willing to take a pay cut of up to 10% to continue working from home, and companies that allow employees to work from home experience 25% less turnover. So, if you make it difficult or impossible for your employees to work from home, or work the hours that make the most sense for them, you’re risking not only damaging morale but losing employees. Plus, you’re actually weakening productivity, creativity and quality of work. Remote workers work more than the standard 40-hour workweek 43% more often than onsite workers, and companies with remote staff experience 41% lower day-to-day absenteeism and a significant decrease in executed vacation time. Perhaps most importantly, though, the work itself also improves — by up to 40%, as Forbes noted in February 2020.

Advice: Create a work-from-home policy, and offer it to all of your employees. Then, in extenuating circumstances, be flexible, and accommodate your employees in need. If the nature of your work does not allow for full-time remote work, include additional remote work days in your gamification system or other employee incentive program. If you are not in the position to offer this flexibility to your team without a company-wide policy change, urge your business leaders or human resources department to consider the benefits of flexibility, as demonstrated by extensive research.

Are your employers asking to work from home more? Find out how remote work benefits staff and your business's bottom line. Download My eBook

7. You aren’t prioritizing diversity and inclusion

It may seem right to hire employees with similar backgrounds, or from the same networks, and it may feel uncomfortable to discuss cultural differences in the workplace, but studies show that organizations that are intentional in hiring — and developing and retaining — diverse talent are 19% more innovative, earn 140% more revenue, have more than twice as much cash per employee, and are 35% more likely to outperform their competitors. So, if you’re building your team solely from your own network, internal transfers and employee referrals, and not following best practices for ensuring your employees feel respected, valued and included, you’re not only not keeping up with the times, you’re putting your bottom line at risk.

Advice: “You can’t eliminate bias simply by outlawing it,” writes Dr. David Rock, a thought leader in the human-performance coaching field. “Most people don’t like being told what to believe, and anything that feels like pressure to think a certain way makes people want to do the opposite.” In other words, requiring standard diversity trainings is not the answer. Instead, actively recruit from a larger, more diverse talent base; evangelize diversity and inclusion across your organization, and with your human resources department; and facilitate radical inclusion within your team by focusing on intervention and not only bias reduction, inviting your employees to help you and the organization better identify points of conflict and possible resolutions, keep the focus on workplace (and not personal) issues, keep the conversation going to maintain accountability, provide diversity and inclusion resources that empower individuals to take action, and stay flexible in content and delivery.

Lacking diversity? You're not alone. Many companies are not only reimagining their recruitment process but reconnecting with their employees to ensure everyone feels respected, valued, and included. Download My Guide to Achieving Diversity

Getting the Support You Need: The MBL Difference 

If you’re looking to broaden, strengthen and/or fine tune your organization’s flexibility, diversity and inclusion, and work-life strategies, and want help streamlining and optimizing the process, there’s no better solution than MBL. At MBL, we are a true partner. We think of our work as building relationships, not as a business transaction. It’s our mission to learn as much about your company and its needs as possible, so we can act as your guiding force. We will share our vast network of partners, carriers, technology and wellness providers, and more, so you can diversify your talent pipeline, foster employee satisfaction and inclusion, and boost your bottom line.

Consult with our advisors

Learn More With Our Experienced Consultants

* required