Do You Work for a Bosshole? Here are a Couple of Tips to Help You Manage Them

July 5, 2024
7 min read

We have all heard it more than once: “people quit bosses, not companies.” At any organization, you’ve probably come across someone who shouldn’t be in management. Maybe it was Sally, a super productive employee, or Joe, who holds the longest tenures at work; at some point, these employees were promoted into a manager role. As organizations tend to use managerial positions as rewards, those who are top performers or hold the longest tenures may be more likely to land these positions.

However, we know that the highest performers don’t always make the greatest bosses. This is because the skills that enable people to be successful as individual contributors don’t always overlap with skills that enable managers to be great bosses. Even more importantly, management requires an aptitude in interpersonal skills, and organizations don’t always develop these until people reach a more senior supervisory position (Though here at Monark, it’s our mission to change that). Although these types of bosses may likely be ineffective managers, there are other attributes that can turn these ineffective bosses into absolute bossholes.

So, what qualifies as bosshole behavior? It is persistent negative behavior, often coupled with a lack of awareness, or worse, no intention to change or improve. One particular study examined three types of bad management behavior: passive, mild abusive, and strong abusive supervision; they found that there are significant negative impacts on employee perceptions and behaviors for all three types. Building on this study, below we summarize three levels of bad bosses:

  1. Bosses who are zero or 100. A passive leadership style, which includes a lack of leadership (or laissez-faire) or management by exception, can be frustrating to deal with. These bosses habitually keep a distance from their employees’ tasks to avoid any responsibility. Instead of clarifying expectations, they might assume an unspoken understanding of what the priorities are or what is expected of them. If they do eventually intervene, it’s usually only when the situation or problem has gotten out of hand and can no longer be ignored. This type of passive management has been found to be related to a host of negative employee reactions, including being 15 times more likely to be actively disengaged at work. On the other hand, a boss who constantly micromanages and is unable to empower and trust their employees to carry out their work can also grind down on employees’ motivation.
  2. Bosses who lack accountability. When expectations aren’t met, these bosses tend to get defensive and quickly place blame on employees instead of providing constructive feedback. They may also use pressure tactics to try and motivate employees, such as reminding them of the negative consequences that might occur. Additionally, when things do go right, instead of giving recognition and appreciation to their team, they may try to bolster their own reputation and overplay their role in the success. In one survey study, this type of behavior is cited as one of the top reasons employees left past employment.
  3. Bosses who berate and bully. These bosses are not afraid to let others know when they are unhappy. Not only do they get angry, they might berate or insult their employees with no regard if others are around. They may also use threats to let employees know how they can make work difficult for them. This is known as abusive supervision and has been found to be linked to increased employees’ intentions to quit and workplace deviance behaviors. Other abusive supervision behaviors include invading others’ privacy, ridiculing or giving others the silent treatment, and taking things out on others.


If those summaries sound like your boss, here are some things you can do:

  1. Provide Honest Feedback. When dealing with chronically hands-off or overbearing bosses, sometimes it might be a lack of awareness. Speak with your supervisor about the lack of clarity and if there is a way to build in processes or new methods to approach the situation.
  2. Display Empathy. While certainly not easy under the circumstances, some research indicates that recognizing the pressures placed on your manager and displaying empathy may not just help you manage up but also instigate reciprocal actions from your manager. As we mentioned earlier, many managers are placed in their roles with little to no leadership training, which means this may be them trying their best (despite being incorrect about what good management actually looks like).
  3. Consider What Part You Play. We often don’t show up as our best selves when we’re under stress. While you may not have been the catalyst for the stormy relationship between you and your boss, that doesn’t mean you may not be contributing to it now. Reflecting on your own actions and what you could change to diminish the tension between you both, could prove helpful.
  4. Contact HR. If things continue to escalate, look into other resources at your company for reporting and resolving inappropriate behavior.
  5. Call It Quits. If you’ve tried the strategies above and it seems your boss is aware of these behaviors and has no intention of changing, it may be time to contemplate switching positions or organizations.


Making Bossholes a Thing of the Past

On the organization’s side, once alerted to a problem such as this one, they should do all in their power to remedy the situation. Doing so at this point is typically much more complex (leaders are less likely to be willing to change if they feel they are being reprimanded) and often too late (if it’s reached HR, you’ve likely already sustained turnover or have several team members searching for new jobs at present due to a bossholes actions).


Because of this, addressing the problem early on (i.e., before it shows up as a complaint) is essential. Here are three ways to do this:


  1. Hire for Leadership. We stated before that one of the reasons bossholes end up with power can be faulty hiring and promotion structures. Looking at and targeting research-based leadership capabilities, such as supporting others and communication, is essential when hiring for managerial roles. Developing a promotional structure that can reward high performers and technical wizards without placing them in managerial roles can also allow you to retain vital organizational knowledge without placing other individual contributors in harm’s way (and lose them along the way).
  2. Train Your Managers to Become Leaders. Support your managers (and individual contributors interested in management) by providing them with leadership training so they have the resources necessary to fill the big shoes the role entails. Monark’s leadership courses focus on the leadership skills that research has shown can be developed and grown with training, ensuring leaders receive the tools they need to lead instead of simply manage. Courses like Leading High Achieving Teams, which cover how to provide effective and helpful (instead of aggressive and demoralizing) feedback as well as how to accurately recognize and reward team members, and Building Trust and Relationships, which covers topics like perspective-taking and empathy, can help decrease the number of bossholes in your organization.
  3. Continuously Measure What Matters. Don’t let poor management go unnoticed. By keeping tabs on team key outcomes (we’re talking job satisfaction and burnout, not just current revenue generation- those two will eventually make a dent), you can spot and correct problem behavior before significant damage is done. This can be done in various ways. Organizational surveys and 360s from a third party like Monark’s own Organizational Health and Effectiveness Profile, Leadership Vigilance Profile, and Micro Managerial 360s can all be helpful for both leaders and organizations to gain insight into their strengths and weaknesses.

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