The boss no one wants to work for

The boss no one wants to work for

3rd Aug 2023

As leaders, we often reflect on what is it that we can do to be a better boss or mentor. And if you listen to the experts, to a large extent, that means (among other attributes) being empathetic, communicating well, remaining accountable and using emotional intelligence.

But if EQ is key to being a ‘good boss’, does that mean we should have the self-awareness to consider the question through the lens of those in our charge? Rather than just doing a bit of subjective self-reflection? And to flip the discussion, perhaps the better perspective is not what can I do to be a better boss, but rather: what is it that makes someone the boss that no one wants to work for?

If the tightness of the labour market in a post-COVID world has taught us anything, it’s that to attract the right talent, we need to offer the right environment, good opportunities, and an appealing culture. And if you’ve developed an unfortunate reputation for being that boss that no one wants to work for, good luck in recruiting!

To test the idea, I recently asked a group of colleagues, friends and staff for their views as to the attributes of the ‘worst boss’ they had the misfortune to work with. To assist, I gave them a non-exhaustive list of some less desirable characteristics that included:

  • Micromanages.
  • Poor communicator.
  • Doesn’t share information/secretive.
  • Doesn’t lead by example.
  • Says one thing but does another.
  • Blames others.
  • Throws people under the bus to protect their own position.
  • Incompetent.
  • Lacks empathy.
  • Doesn’t acknowledge the work or success of others.
  • Fails to provide feedback or clear direction.
  • Has favourites and teacher’s pets.
  • Lazy.
  • Disrespectful.
  • Fails to appreciate the impact they have on others.
  • Lone wolf.
  • Confrontational or aggressive.
  • Yells and screams at people.
  • Racist/sexist/inappropriate.
  • Lacks strategic vision.
  • Unrealistic expectations and expects too much.
  • Fails to train and mentor.
  • Won’t delegate.
  • Always takes the glory.
  • Never available or never around.
  • Unresponsive.
  • Inefficient.
  • Lacks courage to have frank, open discussions.
  • Lacks insight and self-awareness.
  • Changes the goal posts.
  • Selfish – puts themselves ahead of the team.

And the outcome was a little surprising. I expected that favouritism, being lazy or setting unrealistic expectations would top the list. According to those I surveyed, the top five attributes of the boss that no one wants to work for are (in order):

  1. Blames others or throws them under the bus.
  2. Unresponsive or hard to get a hold of.
  3. Disrespectful or inappropriate.
  4. Confrontational or aggressive.
  5. Micromanages (an equal 4th).

I was also a little surprised by some of the ‘war stories’ that accompanied the survey responses – from a boss throwing a half-full archive box at a 19-year-old secretary in a screaming fit of rage, to the disappearing partner who always took lunch and never returned (unless in a drunken search for lost keys). I’m sure there are plenty of contenders for a podium finish in the ‘bad boss behaviour’ awards!

As leaders, managers and bosses, we undoubtedly need to have a solid self-awareness of the impact we have on those in our charge. We are in the position to drive positive culture and ensure job satisfaction for our teams, but we also have the ability to destroy morale and lose top talent in the process.  

If one good thing comes from a labour market in which there is genuine competition to recruit the best staff, it may be that organisations are forced to critically analyse their culture and whether their leaders and managers are in fact a barrier to recruitment. But if you’re a boss with an EQ deficit, you probably wouldn’t even click past the heading of a blog like this!

The ALA thanks Travis Schultz for this contribution.

Travis Schultz is deeply motivated to ensure justice is accessible for everyone. Travis founded Travis Schultz & Partners in 2018 with a vision to create a professional services firm driven by the values of fairness, respect and compassion. Travis has been a Queensland Law Society Accredited Specialist in Personal Injury Law since 1999 and is recognised as one of Queensland’s leading compensation lawyers.



The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent the views and opinions of the Australian Lawyers Alliance (ALA).

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Tags: communication Travis Schultz leadership management emotional intelligence EQ empathy