Seven ways to avoid becoming a bad boss

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By Bruce L. Katcher, Ph.D. President, Discovery Surveys, Inc.

Most employees experience a bad boss at least once in their career. Many feel they have never really had a good boss. Insensitivity, failure to communicate, and a lack of fairness are the hallmarks of poor supervision.

Why is it that good supervisors are hard to find?

  1. Supervising is Not EasyHandling the complex issues of motivating employees and solving job and people-related problems is very difficult. Few are capable of handling these responsibilities well.
  2. The Peter Principle Organizations promote those who are good at programming, selling, and making their numbers, rather than those who have demonstrated good leadership and people skills.
  3. Poor Hiring Practices In this age of specialization, employers rarely focus on hiring people with good potential for supervising others. Instead, they are inclined to look only at the technical skills of applicants. Characteristics such as the ability to motivate others, the ability to solve complex people problems, and emotional intelligence are rarely considered during the hiring process.
  4. Lack of Recognition for Good Supervision Pay increases and promotions for supervisors are rarely based on how well they supervise others.
  5. Lack of Training Most organizations do a poor job of providing the appropriate training for their supervisors
  6. Lack of Good Role Models Excellent senior level managers who are able to mentor other supervisors is the exception rather than the rule. Instead, it is often the blind who are leading the blind.

Here are 7 basic principles for becoming a better boss.

  1. Treat Employees With Respect and Dignity3 out of 10 employees do not feel they are treated with respect by their supervisors. To be a good boss requires doing the many little things that demonstrate respect for employees.- Introduce your employees to visitors.
    - Discuss personal and sensitive issues in private rather
    than publicly.
    - Get to know your employees as people rather than mere workers.
  2. Involve Employees in Decisions Only 1 out of 2 employees feel their supervisors involve them in decisions. As a result employees feel they are not valued.- Make it a habit to ask employees for their opinions.
    - Let employees know that their ideas are welcome.
    - Thank employees for their suggestions.
    - Most importantly, don't discount good suggestions. Use them.
  3. Empower Employees Employees want to be treated as adults, yet 4 out of 10 feel they don't have the decision-making authority they need to do their job well.- Delegate whenever possible.
    - Allow employees to have more of a say in how they do their work.
    - Recognize that a supervisor's power in the organization will increase rather than decrease by empowering his or her staff.
  4. Clearly Communicate Assignments 4 out of 10 employees do not feel that their supervisor clearly communicates goals and assignments. Unless expectations are clearly set, employees feel powerless to properly perform their job.- Communicate goals and expectations in groups, individually, and in writing.
    - Communicate goals and expectations frequently. Although the goals may be clear in your mind, your employees may need to be reminded.
    - Don't assume that employees understand. Once you have explained the goals and assignments, ask employees to restate them in their own words.
  5. Listen, Listen, Listen4 out of 10 employees do not feel their boss listens to their suggestions and 3 out of 10 say their boss isn't even available to speak with them when they have questions. Absentee supervision is rarely effective.- Make it a point to be available to employees any time they have questions.
    - Practice active listening techniques such as asking open-ended questions.
    - Learn how to probe for information, ideas, and feelings when speaking with employees.
  6. Recognize that Your Job Includes Solving "People Problems" Only 1 out of 2 employees feels their supervisor does a good job of solving people-related problems.- Be prepared to address employee issues such as ineffective performance, health problems, family crises, substance abuse, and harassment from co-workers.
    - When necessary, seek counsel and involvement from professionals in the human resource department.
    - Be aware that sometimes employees will need to speak with a professional outside of the organization.
  7. Provide Personal Recognition Employees desperately want to know that their good work is recognized and appreciated. Unfortunately, only 1 out of 2 feel their boss does a good job at this.- Keep your eyes open so that you can "catch employees in the act" of performing well. Provide them with recognition immediately, rather than waiting for a performance review discussion.
    - Just like the best gifts to receive are those when there is no occasion, periodically thank your employees for their hard work.


Being a good boss is difficult. It takes thoughtful action and commitment. If you supervise others, become a student of the craft. Continually try new approaches to learn what is most effective for you and your employees. Don't become known as "that terrible boss I had at my last job."

Contact Bruce L. Katcher, Ph.D.,
9 Blair Circle Sharon, MA 02067
Voice - 781-784-4367 Fax - 781-784-6450
E-mail - [email protected]
Web -


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