Bad Boss

Exit Interviews are one of the tasks that I often complete for clients and, while in many cases, I hear the classic excuses for leaving a firm, “I am going to get more compensation” or “the hours will be better,” the reality is that as I dig a little deeper I find that the bad boss syndrome is alive and well in our profession. These exiting staff members will share their feelings on their bad bosses with me, but are too intimidated many times to actually look at the individual – often a partner – and tell them the behavior that needs to change in order to stop them from leaving.

Many of the partners and managers in our firms today are untrained, uncaring, and not held accountable for their actions and interaction with employees. Some were promoted simply because of their technical abilities and not any training or skills they have in the management area. So, let’s go on a little journey of the bad boss behaviors that I have discovered recently and I would ask you to read in the spirit of self-reflection:

  • You Don’t Know What You Are Doing
    I am not necessarily talking about tax and accounting tasks in this statement. The complaint I hear more than any is that the leader did not know how to really manage. Communication, listening, time management, delegation, teaching and project management tasks simply go undone or are ignored. The general feeling is that the individual just did not know how, and they did not take the time to learn. Do you provide them with the leadership they need to succeed? Are you leading and managing in a way that makes your employees know that you know what is going on in the firm.
  • You Treat Them Disrespectfully
    Ignoring, yelling, talking down to and retracting tasks that you have delegated are all ways that show your team member that you simply disrespect them. I recently had a manager who left his firm tell me that the managing partner said “this is a dictatorship and I am in charge.” The statement was made most likely out of frustration but the message was clear – I am in charge and what you think just does not matter. When a lack of respect for employees is demonstrated, you injure their feelings, their self-confidence, and their self-esteem. Furthermore, if you treat them disrespectfully, you will never garner their respect in return. When you talk over them, belittle their ideas, ignore their input, and criticize them unfairly, they feel disrespected. Calling last minute meetings with no regard for their prior commitments, refusing to okay vacation time use that was appropriately requested and failing to commit needed resources in a timely manner are hallmarks of disrespectful behavior.
  • I Must Have My Fingers in Everything
    When is the last time that you gave out work and really walked away from the decision making process? I recently counseled a partner to take a sabbatical and NOT be a part of the workflow process during that time. Staff felt as though nothing in the firm could happen without the partner sticking his fingers – or nose – into the process at some point. The staff all felt as though they would never really be able to own their jobs due to the constant interruptions.
  • King/Queen of the Hill Syndrome
    The firm is my kingdom and I will rule in an unreasonable, selfish and manipulative manner. Many times I see this behavior play out in a way that causes one staff member to be played against another to garner the attention of the person in charge. In the end, great team members leave not because they have no talent, but because they are not one of the “specially chosen few” by the leader in the firm.
  • You Wear the Badge of the Firm Is My Life
    If you have read anything that I have written in the past, you know how I feel about partners who like to brag about not taking time off and bragging about it to their staff. Not cool! Firm leaders in short must act as though their staff have a life outside of the firm – and they honor that life by promoting a balance. Asking employees to work late, work more, and assigning more work than they can do will stress your team often to the breaking point. They want to do well at work, but they also have myriad responsibilities with home, family, friends, volunteering, sports events, and so much more. Offering some flexibility and understanding will earn their respect.

What would your exiting employees tell me about you? Would I hear about the bad boss syndrome? My recommendation: discover the answers now before you lose an individual in your top talent pool!



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Sandra Wiley, COO and Shareholder, is ranked by Accounting Today as one of the 100 Most Influential People in Accounting as a result of her prominent role as an industry expert on HR and training as well as influence as a management and planning consultant. She is also a founding member of The CPA Consultant's Alliance. Sandra is a certified Kolbe™ trainer who advises firms on building balanced teams, managing employee conflict and hiring staff. Sandra directs Boomer Consulting, Inc's annual Talent Development Advantage, a community of HR learning and human capital leaders focused on talent development through shared intellectual capital, peer networking, and collaboration.

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Sandra Wiley, COO and Shareholder, is ranked by Accounting Today as one of the 100 Most Influential People in Accounting as a result of her prominent role as an industry expert on HR and training as well as influence as a management and planning consultant. She is also a founding member of The CPA Consultant's Alliance. Sandra is a certified Kolbe™ trainer who advises firms on building balanced teams, managing employee conflict and hiring staff.

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