Personal Growth

This Is the Trait That Most Incompetent Bosses Share

If you told us you've never vented about an insufferable boss, we'd call you a liar. Even if you love your current boss, chances are there's at least one leader in your employment history whose memory fills you with frustration. According to research, the most incompetent of bosses all share one common, perhaps unexpected trait. Consider this a heads-up.

Related Video: 3 Ways to Win Your Next Job Interview

Horrible Bosses

You've probably had a handful of terrible bosses in a variety of flavors. We've all been there (except, obviously, at Curiosity, where the leaders are perfect and wonderful and can do no wrong). For years, researchers have studied something called "managerial derailment," a fancy term for the dark side of management. According to the Harvard Business Review, the characteristics that make bad managers so bad fall into three categories. See which sound the most familiar:

1. Moving-away behaviors. These actions create distance between leaders and the workers beneath them, which leads to a lack of communication and skepticism that erases trust.

2. Moving-against behaviors. These actions completely overpower people and may even involve manipulation. Obviously, nobody likes that.

3. Moving-toward behaviors. These actions make a leader too agreeable and into being a people-pleaser, which will make them reluctant to take chances or stand up for their team.


If you've ever had a nosy micro-manager always shoving their nose in your business, you've probably wished you could scream "Why don't you leave me alone?!" once or twice. Well, be careful what you wish for. Of the three buckets of horrible bosses we mentioned earlier, there is a single trait that tops the worst of the worst, and it may not be what you expect. A nitpicky boss who lurks over your shoulder isn't the worst thing that could happen. According to research, an absent boss is your worst-case scenario. This is the boss that's largely removed from your work and basically lets you do whatever you want. But wait — that doesn't sound bad. It actually sounds pretty good, right?

This dream boss would likely, in reality, be more of a nightmare. A 2015 survey identified nine traits that working adults complained about most from their leaders, eight of which were absent behaviors. In the survey of 1,000 people, 63 percent of them said "not recognizing employee achievements" bothered them the most. Apparently, employees mind what their bosses don't do more than what actions they do take. According to a 2014 study, being ignored by your boss is even more alienating than being treated like crap. Hey, at least they're acknowledging your existence, right?

Good Boss, Bad Boss

If you've got a boss that's driving you up the wall in one way or another, here's a weird tip: poke a voodoo doll of them. Sounds a little dark and more than a little passive-aggressive, but research shows that it's actually a healthy way to boost office morale (just keep it to yourself, obviously).

If you're in a position of leadership and you're afraid you might be the bad boss in this scenario, here are a few tips, from HBR: Notice and acknowledge your employees' unique contributions, have daily interactions, give public recognition to your employees, proactively ask for feedback from your team, and don't wait for performance reviews to let your employees know how they're doing, just to name a few. It might seem like letting your employees do what they want would make you a workplace favorite, but regular feedback and recognition is what they really want.

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Want to do the boss thing the right way? Check out "Leadership on the Line" by Ronald A. Heifetz and Marty Linsky, and published by the Harvard Business Review. The audiobook is free with a trial of Audible. We handpick reading recommendations we think you may like. If you choose to make a purchase through that link, Curiosity will get a share of the sale.

Written by Joanie Faletto May 1, 2018

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