Poison and sub-par people in power. Why is this so often the case?
To be sure, there are many fantastic and phenomenal bosses out there.
However, it seems that people tend to have far more “bad boss” stories as opposed to good ones. That, when considering the whole of one’s personal employment history, poor management and lousy leaders tend to outweigh the incidence of good ones.
How can it be that so many who make it into such prominent, high power leadership roles are, much of the time, ill equipped or even downright awful at it?
There are several reasons for such, both that I have observed personally, as well as gleaned via reading on the topic.
1. They don’t have a handle on their own emotions (aka, they are emotionally immature).
A person cannot effectively lead others if not in control of, or thoughtfully aware, with regards to their own emotions. Most people need greater awareness of why they feel the ways they do. Were they to actually seek the knowledge, emotional tools, and learning toward such, this would result in improved interpersonal awareness, as well as greater insight with regard to the ways they then respond to and act on those emotions.
Often times, people tend to be defensive when met with information about themselves that might be hard to hear, though indicates areas in which they may need to grow. This is a trait and response that only serves in stunting personal growth, defensiveness in the face of personal feedback. Though it can be very hard to hear, we should consider personal feedback a gift, an offering towards helping us toward growing into and becoming our very best self.
People also tend to blame others, a lot. It’s tough to take responsibility and admit error/fault. It’s also rare to find a person with much personal clarity, self awareness, and a sense of personal responsibility (without defensiveness or anger accompanying).
As a result, many people move through life in a cloud and/or rut of remaining just as they are, with little to no personal growth, or true inner emotional awareness.
Further, while some people do this, most do not, and what I am referring to is: the active pursuit of continual learning, personal growth, and seeking of wisdom. Via many routes, including reading books, articles, taking classes, possibly counseling, and receiving feedback from others (both positive and negative). Then, the careful considering of such and, with intent and effort, growing in the areas where need be.
Most people do not do this, much, if at all. Hence, all of the above tying into a major reason why we have so many poor leaders. They don’t have a handle on their own emotions, nor even really much awareness of such. They are closed off and defensive with regards to hearing otherwise. And have a lack of interest in seeking personal growth.
2. A lot of people have never seen inspiring, motivating, high quality managers in action.
Because there are so many lousy leaders and bad bosses out there, just like there are numerous other unhealthy relational models (romantic, friendship, colleague, you name it), when this is all a person has ever known/experienced/witnessed, they don’t know any better.
And thus, they assume that the dysfunctional, crappy managers they have experienced are the “norm.” Potentially then even mistaking these poor managers for decent ones.
Good managers: empower others, build a vision for the future and inspire others to follow, respect your boundaries, encourage corporation and collaboration between people, understand and honor what makes their employees tick, and much more.
The vast majority of managers are so overwhelmed with what’s on their own plate that they fail to attend to (or even care) about the needs of their staff.
Unfortunately, as humans, we believe what we see. And there are not nearly enough great role models out there for us to learn from.
3. Many managers mistake authoritarianism for leadership.
Many think that parading their power and influence for all to see, and demanding blind submission to their will, is leadership. It isn’t. Instead, that’s called being a dictator and bully.
How many of us have had a boss who insists on our being a “yes” man or woman, as being the only means by which we can succeed in their company? How many of us have had our ideas suppressed or contributions undermined, and our growth thwarted because of a narcissistic boss who cannot tolerate being challenged or given difficult feedback? This is not a good boss.
4. Communication skills are sorely lacking in a lot of managers (as well as, in a lot of people throughout our culture).
So many of us are utterly mindless when it comes to how we communicate, and with regard to the powerful impact of our words and actions. Sadly, many in corporate America are more comfortable using their words as weapons rather than communicating in kind, open, gracious ways that pave the way for better listening, trust, and collaboration.
5. Too worried about politics and managing (and kissing) up.
Terrible managers worry more about kissing up, being noticed, and getting ahead, rather than doing the right work at the right time, with the right people. Being politically savvy is certainly important, but spending most of your time and energy maneuvering to step over others and reach the next level makes you a lousy manager. If your sights are solely on the prize of a better title and salary, you'll miss a plethora of opportunities to grow, learn, develop, and lead in the truest sense.
6. They are miserable in their own careers.
Believe it or not, a lot of people with “top” positions and huge salaries are not especially happy people. Many are strained and over worked, incredibly stressed, and are struggling in a job they dislike. Often times, someone like this is too wrapped up in their own unhappiness and stress to see straight.
(You can read a bit more on this topic here, the studies which show how more money actually tends to make people less happy).
Your cup must be at least half full to muster energy, generosity, and time to support the growth of others through a positive, “giving” management approach. A lot of people are operating with far less than a personal cup that is half full and thus, are not emotionally or mentally able to be a good boss or healthy leader.
If stuck under a terrible boss, there are several things you might do:
— Use this as a temporary learning experience. Unfortunately, there are a lot of difficult and even bad people out there. One needs to learn particular skills (very strong personal boundaries, inner strength and confidence, etc) in order to deal effectively with these people and not let them affect one’s own life negatively. Your current job can be a perfect learning experience for this very point.
— Begin interviewing widely outside your company/current workplace to get a better idea of your own worth in the marketplace, as well as to assess what else is out there. (You are never stuck anywhere, and there are always loads of other possibilities, opportunities, and so much more beyond wherever you are at the moment. Do not forget this).
— If you aren’t going to switch jobs at the moment, explore new ways to do work you love in another department, group, or division that is out from under this boss.
— Build a powerful support network within, as well as outside your current employer, to help support you to change jobs when the time is right.
— Develop a mentor/close friend at your company who can have your best interests at heart and help you navigate these challenging waters.
— Put in the effort to seek out and secure another job. You spend 8–9 hours a day at your workplace. If it’s somewhere you feel largely miserable, this is a problem, and one that needs to be addressed and changed. Life is way, way too short to spend the vast majority of your waking hours in a place that feels deeply distressful, unfulfilling, or miserable.
— Use the experience with this terrible boss (and the other crappy ones you had prior), to learn about the kinds of ways you do not wish to be/behave/act, both as a person in general, as well as a potential prospective leader yourself someday. We desperately need more good leaders/managers/bosses. You can be one of them.
If you are struggling under the stress of an awful boss, don’t forget, this is just one job, and just one person.
We frequently forget how much more there is beyond the narrow picture of what is each of our lives at the moment.
There is so much out there, endless possibilities awaiting. Additional job opportunities you likely haven’t even considered or had cross your mental landscape. Even other career options that you hadn’t thought of, which are likely to be just as good a fit for you as your current one, if not better.
Life is short, and fast. All of which is one big experiment. If the current experiment isn’t working any longer, it might be time to seek out a new one. Learn from it while you are there, but do not remain complacent, stuck, or stay in something that isn’t a great, as well as healthy or an inspiring fit for you over the long term.