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It’s What Bad Bosses Don’t Do That Makes Them Bad

When we think of bad bosses, images from the comic strip Dilbert and the television shows The Office and Mad Men come to mind. We imagine bad bosses as those screaming, paper throwing, sexist leaders Hollywood likes to portray. Since most leaders don’t demonstrate these behaviors, they don’t consider themselves bad bosses.

However, research suggests that the offensive actions associated with being a bad boss make up less than 20% of the behavior that actually defines the worst bosses.

When HBR authors Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman analyzed the behavior of 30,000 managers, as seen through the eyes of their 300,000 peers, direct reports, and bosses on 360-degree evaluations, they found that the bad bosses were guilty more of what they didn’t do than what they did do.

Bad bosses didn’t:

  • Give timely and productive feedback;

  • Spend consistent, quality one-on-one time with their direct reports;

  • Give quarterly performance reviews;

  • Clearly define job expectations;

  • Set goals aligned with the organization’s goals;

  • Develop their direct reports;

  • Create succession plans.

Empowered leaders ask themselves what they can do to be a better boss and are more successful.


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