Are you working for a lousy boss? Here are five warning signs

Wake up, sleepyhead. Part of my wake-up ritual includes listening to the radio, sometimes singing along and always brushing my teeth to the rhythm of whatever.

Wake up, sleepyhead. Part of my wake-up ritual includes listening to the radio, sometimes singing along and always brushing my teeth to the rhythm of whatever.

By the time I’m in the kitchen pouring a bowl of cereal, the DJ is into his “we got an email” bit. Not long ago the email was about a listener’s recent job loss and his plan for billboard revenge. He was going to tell the world that his former superior was a total schmuck by buying $3,400 of billboard space near the office and inscribing it with a few choice words. Seriously?

Although he had performed well, the manager fired to hire — terminating the guy who wrote the email to make room for a best buddy in the open slot. What was the radio audience’s reaction to the proposed billboard bombshell? A resounding “don’t do it” — fuggedaboudit! Why waste money discrediting the jerk he worked for when he’s better off elsewhere, not to mention risking billboard backlash. Run, don’t walk to the door. He had a lousy boss.

Because everyone’s career is an adventure, you must choose your path wisely. Like Indiana Jones racing from the cave with the massive boulder tumbling behind him, for the fired employee reeling on the radio, escape was his leading option.

If our wronged worker thought about it, the miserable manager had been presenting a poisonous posture long before the position was pulverized. Although our guy was forced out, quitting your job usually means you’re quitting your manager. What are the signs you may be working for a substandard supervisor or that you may be the dreadful leader? Here are the top five failings of bad bosses that regularly ring true.


The crummy commander doesn’t communicate well. This includes not sharing information in an honest, consistent manner, not providing a vision and not entrusting employees with details about what the future holds (to the extent possible).

Transparency invokes trust, and clouded or limited information transmits suspicion and mistrust. Is your manager’s communication collaborative, open and team-oriented, or boastful and self-absorbed, with a profusion of “I” instead of “we?” Does your supervisor talk down to others? Is communication across the group discouraged?

Think of interaction style as the window to a person’s integrity and character — more on that in a minute. Lack of honest exchange is a strong indicator of lousy or lackluster leadership skills. Tip to avoid being a lousy boss: Communicate as if everyone were a valued and trusted contributor.


As mentioned above, communication style provides a teaser to a person’s integrity or lack thereof. Bad bosses exhibit meager character in their management approach, and likely in other areas, too.

Integrity issues with a superior are particularly distressing because they influence your livelihood. This gap in character includes being non-supportive, lacking follow-through and not having your back when issues arise. Think being thrown under the bus or into the path of a big, rumbling rock while makeshift managers are saving their own skin.

Scarce integrity often incorporates a chameleon persona, meaning you never know who you’re going to get — the super-nice superior one day and the raging “who let the dogs out” guy the next. Other examples of deficient integrity involve disrespecting others’ time, space and work-life balance, little interest in enabling workers, embarrassing or reprimanding employees in front of others or barking out orders while sitting back and taking it easy themselves.

Tip to avoid being a lousy boss: Exhibit high integrity and watch how its contagious spirit elevates integrity across your team.


I don’t know anyone who likes to be micromanaged. Nitpicky bosses are messaging a multitude of misgivings, including a lack of appreciation for employee skills and contributions. The insecure, immature and controlling nature of micromanagers causes worker self-confidence, sanity and job satisfaction to suffer.

The result is a nonproductive multiplier effect. Employees avoid the bullying behavior, which prompts the disparaging superior to dominate further, making subordinates pull away more. Poor morale sets in with this downward spiral of quicksand management.

The inverse of the micromanager can be equally detrimental — the invisible leader who’s never around. Ugh on both. Tip to avoid being a lousy boss: Never be a micromanager.


Everybody loves a hero, and a team of heroes is loved even more. Accessible managers know this because they are available to help the group succeed, whether through coaching, sharing knowledge, performance expectations or feedback during team and one-on-one sessions.

Shoddy supervisors don’t worry about workers’ needs, don’t ask for input and don’t think enabling their group is a priority. The accessible commander exerts authority to help get things done and provides political buffering for the team. Conversely, inaccessible chiefs are unavailable for questions or running political interference. They don’t encourage open discussion of issues. Shortage of support is the twin of lack of availability. How can you support your team if you’re hard to find?

Tip to avoid being a lousy boss: Accessible managers help everyone become a hero at times, and in so doing are heroes themselves.

Opportunity for growth

Your career quest is a huge part of your life’s existence. For intelligent and talented individuals, the journey includes a yearning for growth. Whether it’s a promotion, raise or a challenging assignment, ignoring the desire that people who are motivated have for development and advancement is another flaw found among second-rate managers.

Options for training and role upgrades keep thinking fresh and energy flowing. The abysmal boss is not concerned about team progression and does not ask workers whether they like what they’re doing or have an interest in other projects. Stagnation and limited alternatives for a brighter future eventually drive star performers elsewhere and pull down the overall performance of the group.

Tip to avoid being a lousy boss: Provide encouragement and opportunities for growth, training and advancement to bring out the finest in your team.

Did our disgruntled worker carry out his billboard vengeance? They didn’t say — I got the sense he didn’t. He did, however, get a big wake-up call on what to watch for when it comes to less-than-stellar managers.

Like the ending to a great action movie, there are no guarantees about the way your job adventure will play out or how big a hero or villain your boss may be. If you’re the employee in this saga, you’ll maximize your readiness for what lies ahead when you reliably deliver exceptional performance, continue improving your skills and build relationships along the way.

If you’re the superior, this is your wake-up call, too. What supervisory failings listed above are you guilty of in full or in part?

Fix the story now and begin adopting behavior that encourages the best from employees and yourself. Show you care, and share the love with recognition and words of appreciation. Stay in touch and keep the communication flowing. Dumping lousy management habits helps build loyalty, unifies and empowers your team and spurs energetic contribution to achieve success while enjoying the career adventure.

Mary Elston has spent more than 20 years in management in the transportation, consulting and technology industries. She is a member of the National Speakers Association and author of the book, “Master Your Middle Management Universe, How to Succeed with Moga Moga Management Using 3 Easy Steps.” Contact her at

This article originally appeared in the April 2016 issue.


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