Bad boss stereotypes

Feb 02, 2009

Stereotypes exist for a reason. Sometimes there’s a lot of truth in them. Good examples of this can be found in how bosses are portrayed in pop culture. The problem is if any of these bad boss stereotypes apply to you or someone who else who is a principal in your A/E/P or environmental firm. They’ll do a lot of damage. Here are some of them: The boss is a crook. We’ve all seen the boss be shown as a completely unethical businessperson who will cheat the government, suppliers, or anyone to make a buck. Inflating overhead rates, charging clients for work not performed, paying bribes, stealing money from the business for personal stuff— all of these behaviors and more do nothing but reinforce the idea that the boss would steal from you (the employee) if they could get away with it! The boss is a liar. We’ve all seen bosses portrayed as complete barefaced liars. The boss tells clients their project is late because they are waiting for information when in fact they simply forgot the deadline. The boss tells a bad-pay client they are too busy to take on their work instead of telling them their slow pay practices are the issue. Or the boss tells employees they cannot afford raises because health insurance went up when in reality it was the bosses’ pay that increased! All that this kind of lying does is destroy trust and encourage employees to lie themselves. The boss is on a power trip. Bad bosses are frequently shown lording over other lesser people and reminding them who is boss. I once worked with a guy who always had to tell you how much stock he owned and that was supposed to be sufficient reason to do what he told you to do. This is terrible for morale and encourages each person down the line to similarly wave their “boss flag” at everyone who reports to them instead of trying to build a cohesive team where everyone is respected. The boss is a fool. The stereotype of the boss who has “Peter Principled” and risen to his or her level of incompetence is a popular one. Not much you can say other than no one wants to work for someone they perceive is stupid or is unable to do a good job. The boss is a management junky. In more recent pop culture, thanks to comic strips such as “Dilbert” and TV shows such as “The Office,” the boss may be portrayed as a management junky, i.e., someone who is always creating silly new initiatives for one thing or another or over-using clichéd phrases. Then there are those who insist all employees read a specific management treatise. We have too many of these in our business if you ask me! The damage they cause is insidious. They make all management change efforts seem suspect and unlikely to succeed. The boss is easily influenced. Bosses are commonly depicted as people who cannot resist a compliment who are easily “buttered up” by any employee who wants something from them. This is a dangerous stereotype because it doesn’t reinforce the idea that the most competent/hardest-working/most conscientious employee is the one who gets ahead. Instead it says “*ss kissing is rewarded here!” The boss has retired on the job. We’ve all seen the boss portrayed as someone who sits behind a closed door, doing nothing other than putting, or reading the paper or sleeping at their desk. Of course, this situation does exist in our business with some degree of frequency. No one likes working in a company where the boss comes in late, takes long lunches, and leaves early, only to avoid all real responsibilities for anything when they are working. If any of these boss stereotypes sound like a principal you know, hand ‘em a copy of this article. Maybe if they realize their behavior is so obvious they will get off their rear ends and change their behavior before it’s too late! Originally published 2/2/2009

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