4 Telltale Signs of a Nightmare Boss

Nightmare bosses are every where. Learn how to find them so you can avoid them!
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Nearly everyone has been there: the nightmare boss. It’s so common that it’s become a trope in nearly every workplace comedy; think Office Space, 9 to 5, Horrible Bosses. What are some of the signs of a nightmare boss that you notice in those shows?

Okay, that last one is a dead giveaway, seeing as it’s right in the title. However, it serves as a sign for how normal it is for people to have a terrible boss. Scott Adams made an entire career out of lampooning terrible leadership in his Dilbert cartoons.

Read on for a look at the four telltale signs of a nightmare boss, and then make sure you don’t practice any of these bad habits.

1. Trying to Lead with Fear

Some leaders seem to take a page from the handbook of politicians, using fear as a means of uniting and motivating their people.

When politicians do this, the intention is usually to unite people, as fear is a powerful emotion. However, this rarely works as a motivational tactic in the professional world. In practice, this might look like, “If sales don’t improve this quarter, we’re going to have lay-offs.” It can even take on an “us versus them” feel, such as “If XYX Corp continues to out-sell us, we might get bought out.”

The problem, of course, is that fear is not a motivator. People operating from a place of fear may react in a variety of ways. For example, the most common reaction to fear is stress. Over time, stress causes performance levels to drop. It also tends to cause people to go into survival mode, where the only goal is making it through the threat. When this happens, say goodbye to innovative or creative problem solving; fearful workers are not inspired workers.

2. Using Threats of Punishment as Motivation

Closely related to attempting to lead with fear is trying to use threats as motivation.

Anyone tasked with training others, from parents to teachers, can tell you that the greatest way to encourage the type of behavior you want to see is through rewards, not punishment. No, not raises and bonuses, though those are nice, too. A heartfelt kudos, recognition during the next all-employee meeting, or even a simple personal acknowledgement of an employee’s hard work is enough to demonstrate that you recognize and appreciate extra effort when you see it.

Fear of punishment, however, is designed only to punish bad behavior. This doesn’t inspire the recipient to behave better. Usually, it does nothing but create feelings of resentment. What’s more, threats of punishment are only effective if you follow through. It only takes one, maybe two empty threats, before the entire group realizes that there are no real consequences.

3. Showing Blatant Favoritism

There’s a fine line between rewarding your best people and showing favoritism. Bad leaders regularly step over that line and surround themselves with sycophants and kiss-ups. The in-group of favorites gets cushy assignments, bonuses, promotions, raises, or any other industry-specific benefit. In return, the favorites praise the leadership of their benefactor, even if said leader runs the business into the ground, because the benefits for doing so are so great.

It becomes a vicious cycle of kissing up and rewards. In the meantime, the business slowly fails, and people who are not in the in-group, who prefer to get ahead based on their merit and not their flattery skills, take off to work for better companies, further driving the business into the ground.

4. The Lust for Power

People who actively seek leadership roles must have a certain amount of confidence in their abilities, as well as a desire to exercise control and make decisions. This is not only natural, it’s necessary. Not everyone is meant to be a leader.

However, some people simply enjoy the feeling of being powerful, or possibly the benefits that come with power. This might include a fatter paycheck, stock options, or other bonuses. Once that desire for the trappings of power takes over, this type of leader has no problem enacting policies that hurt employees while benefiting himself. As long as he keeps his yearly bonus and gets that yearly raise, lay-offs and salary freezes don’t bother him.

In the end, every decision is made with one person’s well-being in mind: his own.

If you’d like to look at the other end of the leadership spectrum, check out our slideshow on what makes an exceptional leader.

What signs of a nightmare boss do you know? Share below!

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