How to avoid hiring bad bosses and deal with those who slip through

Studies show one in five workers plan to look for another job this year, many because of bad bosses.
by Paula Burkes Modified: January 10, 2014 at 11:20 pm •  Published: January 12, 2014
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A former boss caused such anxiety for Oklahoma City communications professional Leslie Spears that she took an antidepressant.

Her ex-boss once approved newsletter copy for an event in which his wife was involved and, when his spouse complained upon publication, had a meltdown with Spears' whole department, she said. Later, he pitted staff members against one another, paying $500 Christmas bonuses to some and inexplicably skipping over others, she said.

“I felt like I was spiraling downward and going to be fired at any minute,” said Spears, who gave a two-month resignation notice, only to see her “bad boss” fired on her last official day.

Kathleen Ahrberg of Tulsa can relate. A former supervisor at her current company once lunged across a conference table at her, yelling and calling her a liar, she said.

“She thought I was accusing her of not knowing her job when I simply was telling her how I handled a similar situation,” Ahrberg said.

Not uncommon

Bad bosses are common in the workplace, according to long-standing and recent research. Per a survey conducted by Harris Interactive and released on Thursday by CareerBuilder.com, 21 percent of workers plan to seek new jobs this year and 37 percent of those blame a poor opinion of their boss' performance.

Oklahoma City observers aren't surprised.

“Bad bosses typically blow up, show off and conform under pressure,” said Ethan Waples, chair of the management department at the University of Central Oklahoma.

“Companies look for somebody confident, commanding and who can make decisions,” Waples said. “But those behaviors used the wrong way — to accomplish self interests and control, coerce or manipulate employees, versus to persuade and gain commitment — can cause employees to lose trust in their leaders,” he said.

Bad behavior

The employees of 75 percent of bosses would say they have incompetent leaders, said Robert Hogan, president of Hogan Assessment Systems in Tulsa, in a recent telephone interview with The Oklahoman. But only 50 percent of those will be fired, he said.

The most common downfall of poor managers is volatility and mood swings between good and bad, and optimism and pessimism, Hogan said. Other bad boss behavior includes playing favorites, lying, harassing or anything that erodes employee trust versus building employee engagement for high-performing teams, he said.

Hogan said the best way to choose managers is to ask the people who've worked for them in the past about their integrity, judgment, confidence and vision. The next best, he said, is to use the 50-minute, automatic online assessments his firm sells, though only about 25 percent of companies nationwide use such tests.

“Instead, hirers are taken in by the cult of personality, or those who look good and do good in interviews,” Hogan said. “And bigger companies are all about politics, all the time,” he said.

Hiring a bully

Evelyn Bollenbach, a marketing and public relations director for a local children's charity, can attest to the latter. She once worked for a large organization that used a selection committee to check applicants' references and unsolicited references of their previous colleagues and subordinates.

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by Paula Burkes
Reporter
A 1981 journalism graduate of Oklahoma State University, Paula Burkes has more than 30 years experience writing and editing award-winning material for newspapers and healthcare, educational and telecommunications institutions in Tulsa, Oklahoma...
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Companies look for somebody confident, commanding and who can make decisions. But those behaviors used the wrong way — to accomplish self interests and control, coerce or manipulate employees, versus to persuade and gain commitment — can cause employees to lose trust in their leaders.”

Ethan Waples,
Chair of the management department at the University of Central Oklahoma

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