Work long enough, and you are bound to have a bad manager. Unfortunately, they do not operate in just one manner. They can be aggressive, neglectful, ingratiating or just plain inept. And not all of them were bad to begin with. The very strategies and skills that may have made them star performers can make them terrible to work for.
Lawrese Brown, the founder of C-Track Training, a workplace education company, said bad bosses who used to be star performers “are following the script of ‘I do my job really well,’ but they don’t realise that their job has changed and they have to change, too.”
The first step to countering a boss’ bad behaviour is identifying how they operate. Here are the most common types of incompetent leaders who think they are actually good bosses.
1) The Rescuer
This is a bad boss who may seem like a good boss at first. If you have any trouble with a project, they’ll just take over. Any conflict with a client, they’ll deal with it for you.
Consultant Peter Block identified this work archetype as the “rescuer” in his book “The Empowered Manager: Positive Political Skills at Work.” According to Block, the rescuer is someone who is highly sensitive to discomfort and believes “the path to power, influence and gaining some control over the situation is to save other people’s lives.”
Brown said rescuers come from a place of thinking they’re protecting you from failure, and are bad at giving you honest feedback and more responsibilities as a result.
“When you have a rescuer, they pride themselves on being there to support you, so you really don’t have any space not only to make mistakes, but you also have a limited amount of growth,” Brown said. “Because part of rescuing, or being helpful, is a control mechanism for them.”
2) The Politician
The “politician” is good at managing the bosses above them and terrible at managing the people who report directly to them. They are good at public relations for your team, but they lack the will or the skill to be a good team leader.
“The executive team thinks your team is doing a good job, your projects get lauded at company all-hands... but actually this manager is never meeting with you, never giving helpful feedback, or even at all actually involved in the day-to-day,” said Lara Hogan, author of “Resilient Management” and a former vice president of engineering at Kickstarter.
Hogan said this kind of boss can cause bigger issues down the road, because they tend not to find out about team problems that should have been addressed or raised earlier. “Long-term, it often ends in disaster, because this person never did their first responsibility, which is managing the team,” Hogan said.
Her advice if you’re an employee of this kind of boss? Make sure that you build relationships with your manager’s peers, or other people in positions of power, and go to them for feedback and support. The goal is for more people to know what a great job you’re doing. “Spread the surface area of how you’re being managed,” Hogan advised.
3) The Great Manager Who Can’t Manage Up
This is a boss who is great at managing their own team, but is bad at dealing with the bosses above them. They believe in your work, but they lack the office-politics savvy to make sure others in positions of power do, too.
“They listen to you, they are completely involved in your work in a positive way, you trust them, they trust you,” Hogan said. “And then you realise nobody at the upper level has any idea what your team is doing, and you lose headcount. Your road map doesn’t get prioritised, you might get [reorganised].”
Because this boss is bad at lobbying on your team’s behalf, your team might lose out on valuable funding ― and team members might not get promotions or raises they deserve, since there’s usually more than one person who has a say in who gets these career rewards, Hogan said.
4) The People-Pleaser
You may sometimes benefit from a people-pleasing boss’ attempts to sway you to their side, but ultimately this manager is a hazard to work for. They believe getting ahead means giving others what they want, even when accountability is needed to maintain trust on a team.
They’ll make many verbal commitments, but they won’t follow through to make a tangible difference. “The people pleasers I’ve worked with never actually do anything, because it’s all words,” Hogan said.
Managers who get too invested in “being nice” are bosses who rule by “ruinous empathy,” as Kim Scott writes in “Radical Candor: Be a Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity.” Per Scott, these bosses “create the kind of work environment where ‘being nice’ is prioritized at the expense of critiquing, and therefore, improving actual performance.” Without necessary criticism, your career is likely to stall and you may even get fired.
5) The Numbers Boss
A “numbers boss” becomes an ineffective leader when every insight and decision has to be backed by data or a pattern.
If you need numbers to make every decision, you cannot make long-term plans. “I’ve worked with managers who require that every single thing be an A/B test, whether or not it makes sense ― to the point where no work could get done, because everything needed an experiment to come back,” Hogan said. “The person who is obsessed with data [...] doesn’t have a long-term plan. Everything is short-term, numbers-based decisions, which means you never end up with a vision.”
Creativity can also be a weakness for numbers people. As Brown put it: “They’ll say they want creativity, but how are you supposed to have creativity if everything you do has to be proven?”
6) The Lone Wolf
In her e-book “How To Be A Successful First Time Manager: Identify Your Leadership Style, Lay The Groundwork for a Positive Team Culture, and Give Better Feedback,” Brown writes that “lone wolf” bosses are known for their deep need for autonomy, are easily misunderstood and have limited and cordial interactions with others.
Brown says the benefit of working under a lone wolf is that they have a strong work ethic and they value assertiveness in team members. She said they often thrive at startups where succeeding means taking on multiple roles at once.
But the downside is that this rebel boss often changes plans at the last minute, creating tension on their teams. “What makes them toxic is everyone will get together in a team and make a decision, and the lone wolf later on will be like, ‘No, I’m going to [do] this.’”
7) The Know-It-All
While numbers people want you to make all decisions based on data, know-it-alls want you to make decisions based on just their knowledge. They often give feedback like “Well if I were you, I would have done it like this,” or “Well, it only took me three months,” Brown said. Know-it-alls are unable to account for times when their information is limited or outdated.
On some level, what the know-it-all wants is a clone who works and thinks exactly as they do. They want you to develop your career how they did it.
“They are people who you constantly feel like you’re in comparison mode with, but you don’t feel like they are accounting for the fact that, one, you are not them, and two, that the circumstances and environment may be different,” Brown said. “You always feel like you fall short because you’re not doing it their way.”