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Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Bad Bosses: When Good Intentions Go Wrong And 5 Ways To Lead Well

This week, we celebrate Boss’s Day and the timing seems right to not only celebrate the great ones, but also appreciate the bad ones.


Yes, sometimes the worst bosses can teach us the most about how to be a better employee and how to be a better leader ourselves. Douglas McGregor was a leadership expert who touted the value of “Theory Y” in which you assume good intentions and believe people want to do a good job. This is certainly accurate for most leaders: While some leaders may not be extraordinarily effective, most of them don’t wake up in the morning seeking to be anything but their best.

However, things can go wrong, and a positive characteristic can become an unhappy reality for a leader’s employees. Here are the mistakes to avoid:

Alternatives to Good Intentions Gone Wrong

The cheerleading boss. One characteristic of a great leader is optimism and encouragement. Employees thrive when there’s a vision for a positive future and a sense of how their work matters. However, be sure you’re not providing all substance and no style. Just providing accolades and peppy “way to go” messages can be disheartening for employees if you don’t have literacy about their projects. Great leaders must know what their employees are working on, so they can provide positive feedback that is meaningful and informed, not just superficial.

The high-energy boss. Who doesn’t appreciate the energetic, uplifting experience of working with someone positive? The caveat here is to maintain consistency. The boss who is upbeat sometimes and not others can be disconcerting. Unpredictability can take a negative toll on individual and team motivation. In studies, people chose a consistent dour boss over an inconsistent energetic one. Exuberance is generally positive when it is a consistent personality trait, rather than an arbitrary or un-sustained characteristic.

The encouraging boss. People appreciate bosses who set them free to create and innovate, but the underbelly of this positive trait can be those leaders who take credit for their team’s ideas. Avoid being the manager who empowers employees successfully, but then fails to recognize the good work they do. Be sure to provide them with the positive PR that should follow from their contributions.

The empowering boss. A leader who empowers people to stretch and develop beyond their current skills is terrific, but this must be balanced with clarity about roles and responsibilities. Taken to its extreme, empowerment without limits creates a free-for-all in which people may be—at best—confused by how to make a difference and—at worst—climbing over each other to gain favor. Give people plenty of opportunities within clear boundaries and allow for ongoing development within clear pathways.

The high-recognition boss. Great leaders consistently reinforce their team members’ work and value it publicly. The caution with this kind of leadership is to ensure you know your team members well enough to provide recognition that suits them best. Some may appreciate the applause of a crowd, but for others, a quiet, personal “thank you” is much more meaningful. Provide kudos but do so in a way that is unique to the needs of team members and their preferences.

Being an effective leader comes with plenty of nuances, and no one is perfect. Pursue positive actions but be cautious about how they can go awry. Be upbeat but make it meaningful. Embrace an energetic approach but be consistent. Encourage people, but give credit where credit is due. Empower people and ensure swim lanes are clear. And finally, give recognition in ways it is most meaningful for the unique needs and preferences of team members. Good intentions can go wrong, but with intentional effort they don’t have to.

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