Avoid becoming the boss you always loved to hate


Let's try a little self examination as we start the new year. First, take a sheet of paper. On one side, write "Positive" as the header. On the reverse side, write "Negative" as the header.

Now try to think back to when you were in high school. Which teacher made the best impression on you? What was it you liked most about that teacher? Write that down on the positive side. Now consider a different high school teacher who was the "pits." What were some reasons you viewed this teacher in negative terms? Kindly jot those down on the negative side of the paper.

Now think back to your first job. What was your boss like? How would you rate that boss on a score of 1-10, with 10 being the best? Most people, in retrospect, either rate that first boss as a 1 or nearly a 10, with few in between. However, at that point you had just begun to learn what you liked and what you disliked; all you had for examples were your parents. Now consider the first boss you had after high school. What do you remember most about that boss? Can you find one thing you really liked and one you really disliked in that boss? Write that characteristic/trait on the appropriate listing as we continue.

Some readers attended a trade school, and some continued on to college. During that time you likely worked at some job. What was something good and bad you remember about that boss's behavior? Jot those down on the positive and negative listing.

Think back to the employer before your current employer. Recall your boss/bosses there. What was one or more things you found to be negative in her or his leadership/management behaviors? Use that sheet of paper again. You should be getting a good list on both sides by now.

Consider when you first came to work for your present employer. Consider that first boss you had (maybe it is still the same person). What made you downright angry about your boss then? Jot that down. Look around your company and identify those managerial behaviors that you personally dislike today. Jot those down now. Consider your present boss and identify two or three things that make him or her a good manager. Jot those down on the positive side.

Read the positive list carefully and put an asterisk by the three that seem to be  important behavioral traits of a good manager.

Look at the negative list - there are maybe five to eight items. Consider the items you have and put an asterisk by the three that have been the worst inhibitors to you as an employee. Now we have a little of your life experiences identified. What should we do with them?

Psychologists tell us that we learn from our experiences, both good and bad. Normally, what we have found "bad" we typically will avoid.

So it should be with the practice of management. Yet it doesn't turn out that way. Too many times, a manager practices many of the behaviors he or she once hated.

Look at your list of positives. How many of those do you see yourself practicing in your managerial role today? Yes, the environment is different from your previous experiences, but you can still incorporate those practices in your managing. Circle all those that you believe you are practicing. Did you circle the ones with the asterisks? I bet you have at least two of them circled. You might wish to see how you might include the other positives on your list in your day-to-day managing.

Now what about that negative listing? Those are things you disliked about your bosses through the years. How many items on that list might be true of you as a manager today? Circle any that are behaviors you can see in your managerial actions. Be honest. Research tells us you are guilty of some of those negative behaviors. Consider what many managers have experienced. Most leaders have disliked their past bosses for certain behaviors. Yet as one moves from the employee ranks to the managerial ranks, the same behaviors seem to occur over time.

Here are some specific behaviors I've noted in various workshops I have taught and in managers I have tried to mentor through the years.

  • Managers do not spend sufficient time in planning and organizing the workload. When problems arise, it is often the employee who is held responsible for the problems encountered.
  • Managers are often seen as thieves. They take the ideas of their staff and fail to give credit when they use the idea for their own benefit and self-promotion. It takes so little to give credit for ideas as well as good work. Giving credit actually builds greater loyalty from the staff.
  • Some managers never seem to know the individuals who work for them. What do you know about the issues that concern your current employees? They would like you to offer some solace and understanding of their individual plights. A boss can be a friend, too.
  • Believe it or not, you may be intimidating to your staff/employees. After all, you do have great power over their lives and futures. Try not to use that power knowingly and explicitly. Instead, reduce the potential intimidation by merely saying "good morning" to each person on your team. Plan a pizza party and, by all means, show up, but maybe leave early so the team can process what has happened "to them" by your behaviors.
  • Don't allow clones to be created in your likeness. They will pick up and use all of your bad practices. So ask employees at that pizza party what you should do differently, and maybe they will let you in on how they really see you.
  • Criticize quickly and gently and use the incident as a learning experience. Do not wait and use the incident as a hammer at an annual performance review session.

Finally, let me propose a possible aid for you. Through membership in a local service club, I have arranged for a half-dozen manager types to meet one or two Saturday mornings a month at a local coffee shop at 8 a.m.

We have no agenda. Each person brings one incident from their workplace, and we dissect them. The group is a stand-alone, collegial forum. It's a way to grow - and with less pain.

Share your of positives and negatives with your spouse or best non-company friend. I hope this helps as you create two to three resolutions for 2011. Happy New Year! It all starts again. Let's have fun at work this year.

Jerald F. Robinson, Ph.D., is professor emeritus, international management, at the Pamplin College of Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va. He can be reached at (540) 449-5870 or by e-mail: JFR@vt.edu.

This article originally appeared in the January 2011 issue.


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