Bad boss culture

Tomorrow we publish my February blogs in the March issue of The Leader Letter. This issue focuses on bully and bad bosses. The line between a bad boss and a bully boss can be tough to discern. It’s mostly about intentions. Bad bosses often intend to do well — and many times overrate their own effectiveness. Bully bosses are out to dominate and hurt people.

We start this month’s issue by figuring out if you have a bully boss or just a really poor leader. When that blog and bully boss quiz was posted in February, a reader sent me this message, “I specifically like the point that many bad bosses aren’t necessarily bullies, but come out of environments that weren’t positive and continue to perpetuate bad behavior…a good example would be the abuse of members that has been brought forward in the (police service) and many others. Behaviors there have been perpetuated for many years as appropriate behavior until someone sees it as inappropriate and it is called upon and addressed. Much bad behavior is learned and must be unlearned, so it’s good to point out how specific work cultures perpetuate and condone ‘certain kinds’ of bad behavior. People learn what they see.”

Absolutely. Bullying or bad bosses are often a product of their environment or organizational culture. We’ve long defined culture as behaviors that are expected/rewarded or accepted/overlooked.

The reader goes on to write about her experience dealing with a poisonous environment “with every effort to positively lead upwards. Unfortunately inexperienced bosses allow their ‘egos’ to get in the way and feel the need to control everything. It’s a matter of them having to prove themselves in their position since they are less experienced, instead of having a “learning” attitude with the staff they manage. This is a tough lesson to learn with many younger people being put in management roles they are not yet ready for and don’t allow their staff to help teach and support them.”

Bad bosses aren’t just inexperienced. Many have built up years of bad habits. She’s put her finger on a competency Zenger Folkman calls Learning Agility. ZF’s 360 research shows that leaders with the highest levels of learning agility make a real effort to improve based on feedback, actively look for opportunities to get feedback, quickly adapts his or her approach to other people’s need or situation, and creates an atmosphere pushing self and others to exceed expected results.

We’ve been calling the open learning part of this culture, Moose-on-the-Table. Bully and bad bosses often create a closed culture with stifling learning loops and smothering silence.

An ineffective boss is often a good person doing a bad job. This issue provides some how-to steps for leading up. These under-emphasized leadership skills are vital. It’s too easy to feel victimized and wallow in frustration with a bad boss. Highly effective leaders don’t do that. They step in and step up to fill the leadership vacuum.

What if you’re “that boss?” How do you know how you’re truly perceived? We’ll look at a powerful tool to help you get that feedback.

May the blogs published in this month’s issue help you to increase your learning agility.