do I like bad bosses?

This week on the Ask a Manager podcast, I talk with a caller who has found that she responds differently to her managers than most of her peers do – and she’s wondering what that might mean about her.

You can listen to our discussion on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify, or Anchor (or here’s the direct RSS feed). Starting this week, the Ask A Manager podcast is also available on the Volumes audiobook app, where you can listen to all the AAM podcast episodes, and get free audio samples and a free monthly audiobook download from Penguin Random House Audio.

You can also listen right here:

This episode is 15 minutes long, and here’s the letter:

I have found myself in this situation a few times – I find myself in a new position and begin to get settled. I enjoy my boss and develop relationships with coworkers. However, it eventually becomes apparent to me that my coworkers really resent my boss during certain situations (and some can be nitpicky), but I can totally see my boss’s point of view. Even when I stick around a while, it doesn’t dissipate. The coworkers develop more disrespect for the boss, and I am left biting my tongue in defense of her.

My real question is — is this an indication that I like not-great bosses? In general, the resentment results from accountability issues. I always tend to be a stickler for “well, these were the parameters, so we should do them.” I try to keep things common sense, and try to push back when things don’t make practical sense, but when I eventually become the Big Boss I want to have a productive team and not one that resents me. Am I going to be a bad boss?

And if you prefer, here’s the transcript.

{ 70 comments… read them below }

  1. Detective Amy Santiago*

    Oh, I can’t wait to listen to this. I’ve definitely been in this LW’s position before.

    1. Future Homesteader*

      That’s right where my mind went! I loved the mean teachers and was always on their good side. I’m (still) a hardcore rule-follower and I loved doing homework…

    2. Mallory Janis Ian*

      Ha. My favorite teachers have always been the “mean” ones. I like it when teachers don’t put up with other peoples’ nonsense (or mine either, if nonsense is what I’m giving them)!

    3. A Teacher*

      I don’t think of myself as a “mean teacher” but I have pretty clear expectations and I expect kids to step up. They are more capable than many give them credit for. I also like great classroom control–so no seating charts, kids sit where they want, no desks, office chairs and comfy chairs, but it works because I can manage my classroom.

    4. Lady Blerd*

      I did. They knew what the wanted and didn’t mess around in class. Now that I think about it, it is the same with my bosses, I can’t stand the spineless ones.

    5. BadWolf*

      My all time favorite teacher had the nickname “Mrs. Strangler” as a play on her real name.

    6. TheOP*

      OP here! I actually loved most teachers in school! The only ones I hated we’re ones who didn’t teach well, and so I felt like I was wasting my time with them. But my AP Lit teacher and I gossiped constantly and we still meet for lunch when I’m in town.

      My friends then were always baffled that I talked to them like normal people, and I guess I’m running into some of that now too. I think I just assumed most people grew out of it!

  2. Bea*

    I’ll have to listen soon. I could have written this letter. Granted I’m sound in my acceptance and love for my bosses, I’m in a position of knowing exactly why my bosses behave the way they do. Most people who complained about them were slackers and childish.

    A lot of people have authority issues as well. Bless their hearts.

    1. TheOP*

      I think my main conundrum, especially here, is that we’re all high performers. So since we were interpreting the same situation so differently I was very confused

      1. Bea*

        But are you the same personality type?

        Some folks prefer different management or none at all, they want free range or very specific things spelled out.

        I’ve had good performers who will howl about what is and what isn’t in their job descriptions. I don’t ever even know what mine is because I don’t care.

        That kind of stuff adds up and sometimes it’s all about personality and tone!

  3. Triple Anon*

    I can’t listen right now, but I can relate! I’ve disliked popular bosses and had a good rapport with unpopular ones. Sometimes the popular boss was behaving unethically (in my opinion), but other people liked them because they were charismatic, easy going in some ways, and “fun”. I tend to see the fun stuff as an attempt to win people over, and pretty slimey at that, when it goes with unethical behavior.

    I also tend not to complain about things that seem annoying but are good for the business. All that “omg extra work!” stuff. I understand the need to vent about work that’s unpleasant, but I don’t hold it against the boss in a personal way as long as the tasks make good business sense.

    1. She's One Crazy Diamond*

      Same. A lot of people complain about my boss but I absolutely love her and have no complaints. The one time I questioned something she did I found out later I didn’t know the whole story and she did indeed do the right thing. She’s not the kind of boss that will pretend to be your buddy and will call you out on it if you don’t get your work done or behave unprofessionally so people who are lazy and like to come to work drunk resent her but I wouldn’t respect her if she allowed people to slack off. For a while I couldn’t figure out why she liked me so much and my experiences with her were so different than my coworkers until I realized that she liked me because I was an employee who just showed up and did what I was assigned and didn’t cause problems for anyone. She just appreciated having someone do the bare minimum without her having to pull teeth.

      1. MommyMD*

        This is excellent. You were a good employee and she was a reasonable boss who expected work to be work. From the time I was 15 I’ve worked and found the worst complainers to be the laziest, most entitled employees.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          Am chuckling. It’s been a thing of mine to watch how long people spend complaining. I have notice that in the time spent complaining some people could have finished the task several times over. Instead they have made it into a mountain of a project by complaining about it for 45 minutes, then setting up the work in the MOST inefficient manner possible, and taking numerous small breaks to visit with others. The 15 minute task takes well over a half hour PLUS the 45 minutes complaining about it PLUS the follow up complaints once the job is done.
          I can do the same task in 7-10 minutes and I am free to go about my day. The task does not own my day.

          OP, it sounds like you work with tired people. Tired people can belabor many simple things.

          It’s so hard to show people that if they just plunge right in, the task would be OVER before they realize it.

  4. MadLori*

    If the reason the boss is unpopular is some variation on “expects staff to be accountable for their performance and meet expected standards” (which is what this sounds like) then I’d be on the boss’s side, too. I’m frequently in this position. A boss who holds staff accountable to expectations is a GOOD boss, not a bad one.

    1. Jenny*

      Agreed. I’ve had bosses who were tough but fair and worked very hard. Often they’d have the difficult task of relaying rules from above or communicating unpopular changes and I’d feel sympathy for their position. Often in middle management you need to communicate things you might not agree with but it’s not your call.

      But then I have also had times where I’ve disliked a boss who bullies or plays favorites and the favorites always seem to love the boss and can’t understand why others would dislike. For example, the one boss at a TV station who LOVED any of the on-camera folks and hated all of the behind-the-scenes workers. Reporters and anchors thought he was the greatest thing ever.

    2. Anonanonanon*

      I think it depends on if those standards make sense. I can see becoming resentful if my boss seems to be creating extra work for no reason. There is a difference between “Reformat this 100 page document from Ariel to Times New Roman because some of the weird technical words are confusing to read in Ariel” (sadly true story) and “Reformat this 100 page document from Ariel to Times New Roman because I like it better.”

      1. Talvi*

        “Reformat this 100 page document from Ariel to Times New Roman because some of the weird technical words are confusing to read in Ariel” (sadly true story)

        I mean, there might have been some truth to that, though. I personally have a really hard time processing things when they’re in sans serif fonts, and things take me much longer to read than when it’s in a serif font. (I also have problems when things are written in columns on a page rather than going across the whole page, for some reason…)

    3. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Listen to the show if you can! One thing that came out as we talked was that the OP is very comfortable approaching the boss when she has questions or concerns about things, so she gets more insight/gets things resolved … whereas her peers generally won’t approach the boss and thus have much less of a window into how she operates. This is such a common dynamic, and it’s exactly this kind of detail that the back and forth format of the show is designed to ferret out!

      1. Detective Amy Santiago*

        I feel like I could have that exact conversation a few years ago. I was on a team of 10 and I was the only one really *got* our boss. We had similar thought processes/approaches whereas his style didn’t work for a lot of my teammates. But I was also one of the only people who was able to successfully push back on things because I used logic, not emotion.

      2. a1*

        Yes, this! And it’s the same thing as the comment the OP made above about talking to her teachers as if (gasp!) they were people. Yes, they are superiors in an org-chart way, but that doesn’t mean you can’t talk to them in just a person way. So many people have trouble with that. I remember one day at ex-ex-job, I ran into some higher up at our cafeteria. I only sort of recognized him (knew he was higher up, but not what role) but he asked some benign work question and it spiraled into a real discussion and as we’re standing there holding food and at tables, by coworkers were kind of just staring at me, mouths agape. I asked if wanted to sit with us (they were floored). We had a great conversation. When he left one of them even said “Do you know who that was?!? That’s Mr So-and-so, he’s head of Marketing*.” Me: shrug, “Oh yeah, I remembered that out shortly into the conversation…” Like, they couldn’t believe I just talked to him as if he were a person.

      3. Not So NewReader*

        Maybe OP can share what she is doing in conversation with the boss, so that her cohorts can begin to get a feel of how they would approach something with the boss.

        I worked one place where I had a super good boss. No one could see this because a Key Employee was so, so very toxic. (Death threats? During the workday? Really?) For some reason though I was able to see that Good Boss could not let go of Key Employee without a replacement person. He was in a bad spot.

        But he and I were able to talk and joke. It was fine. One day the crew came to me with an idea. I said, “It’s a good idea, you should mention it to Good Boss.” I got hit with a wall of NOOOOOs. The timing was great, Good Boss walked into the area, and I said, “Good Boss, Crew Folks here have a good idea that you should hear!” This forced them to tell him their idea. He loved it. I knew he would. He immediately said, “Go, ahead do that!”
        And then things started to change. The crew realized that they actually had a gem of a boss.

        Sometimes, OP, we have to do bridge work. I did it again at another job with another good boss. One by one I dragged several people into conversation with the good boss in which we discussed the Thing they did NOT want to ask about. Now. These were simple things, I was not opening up a discussion on something that would have been personally embarrassing. The topics were similar to: “Can we store this item over here, rather than over there?” OR “This tool is not working well anymore, can we get a new one?” I only did this one simple questions that would be beneficial to the group.

        If you are a new person on a job sometimes you may find yourself a clarity that others do not have. You can use that clarity wisely to build bridges.

    4. McWhadden*

      This veers to close to just assuming everyone else is lazy and doesn’t want to do their jobs. Which is usually not the case. If most people dislike a boss it’s usually not just based on nothing. Even if you disagree.

  5. Doe-Eyed*

    I’m usually the one who ends up bonding with crazy bosses. As long as they think I’m competent, and don’t nitpick my work I really enjoy the havoc they wreak on other people.

    Most notably I was given a PhD/MD to work with who was known for being HIGHLY volatile and had chewed through like 8 admins in under a year. The last one he’d hurled a tape dispenser at (thankfully not hitting her). Day one I walked in and told him I used to play fastpitch softball and anything that came flying at me would go right back at him. He laughed hysterically and we got on like a house on fire.

    1. Canadian Teapots*

      Throwing things at people in anger is a huge red flag, I would think, since in no way, shape or form can that be even close to justifiably appropriate as a response to an underperforming worker – and the fact that you “enjoy the havoc” is honestly a little concerning, since it’s clear you’re willing to overlook some pretty Serious Shit.

      Why that PhD/MD was not charged with attempted assault or at the very least called into HR or to the Dean’s office is beyond me. Have they got tenure? (that said, there are some fireable offences even -with- tenure, so it’s not a 100% armor protection)

      1. Amelia*

        Yeah…throwing things at employees lands one squarely in the territory of “bad boss,” regardless of whether they could share a laugh with an employee who told them in no uncertain terms they wouldn’t stand for it.

        It’s not the employee’s responsibility to have to set a boundary with a boss like “if you throw something at me, expect it to come flying back at you twice as hard.”

        That boss is just a bad boss. Period. Any other employee who complained about them would be 100% right.

      2. paul*

        agreed. I mean, being able to work with crazy is a good skill, but that’s the sort of thing there’s just not an excuse for and it isn’t “Oh, they’re not so bad, just strict” territory.

  6. Denise*

    I enjoyed the podcast. I think the advice to think about perceptions is important. I might add that the guest might also think about whether she has a personality that is more authority/power-affiliating than she might realize. It’s not as petty as a “teacher’s pet” scenario, but some people will more naturally align themselves with whomever they perceive to be in authority and take on that perspective. In that case, the defense of the boss is a little more about loyalty to authority than objective reasonableness.

    I only say that because I think that if you’re frequently the outlier in a certain kind of situation, that is saying something about you more than about the people around you. People do like to gripe and gossip a lot, so I’m not saying that that it’s a bad thing to not be like that. But at the same time, I would guess that at least some of the time these bosses may well have been being annoying or overbearing in tone or behavior. The co-workers expressed their displeasure with that, whereas the guest chose to overlook it in favor of taking the bosses’ pov. These stances can easily be personality driven and intentionally chosen.

    1. Indoor Cat*

      Yeah, to me the fact that she’s the outlier with multiple bosses was striking.

      It sounded (to me, when I listened to the episode), that she doesn’t mind if her bosses basically lack soft skills. The thing she mentioned about her boss never complimenting / praising work done well, but critiquing and criticizing work done poorly, for example: it’s cool that it doesn’t bother her, but that’d definitely bother me! And I’d still do my work as best I could, but I’d definitely complain and roll my eyes once and a while. To me, it’s important that my effort is appreciated, and I think that shows I’m invested in my work, not that I’m judgemental.

      Also the thing about taking complaints to the boss– if a boss has poor soft skills and shows with their body language / tone of voice that my input isn’t valuable or, I dunno, stupid, even if they never overtly insult me, I’m going to be hesitant to taking a small-to-medium complaint to the boss. Because then what are the odds that my complaint will be dismissed as stupid or valueless? At that point, I’d be working on putting less effort and emotional investment into my workplace, not putting more in by risking a level of vulnerability in front of my boss over a small thing.

      So one of OP’s questions was, would she be a bad boss. And to me, I think soft skills aren’t the sole determiner of whether a boss is “good” or “bad.” But having a friendly, encouraging vibe is a big plus for many employees.

      There was a misattributed quote that said, “People rarely remember what you did; sometimes they remember what you said; but they always remember how you made them feel.” And people who feel appreciated are more motivated to work hard and put the extra hours in.

      1. LeRainDrop*

        Denise and Indoor Cat, both great comments. What you said aligns with how I perceived this situation, as well.

  7. W.R.*

    OP: the need for punishment is a key component of the human psyche. Much can be explained if one knows this. My best wishes in your career.

      1. MicroManagered*

        I think W.R. is saying that sometimes you’ll run up against people who create misery for its own sake–such as coworkers who make a Huge Deal out of normal instruction/management.

    1. MicroManagered*

      That’s an interesting response. I take it to mean–in this situation–that the eye-rolling coworkers are perhaps “punishing” themselves with their own negativity. Why would a person do such a thing when being happy feels so much better?

      the need for punishment is a key component of the human psyche. Much can be explained if one knows this.

    2. Solidus Pilcrow*

      I think this is a spam bot or troll. This user name has posted fortune-cookie comments in at least one other thread today.

  8. Caramel & Cheddar*

    Have added the podcast to my queue, but before I forget to come back and comment: this reminds me of why I’m often hesitant to “warn” new staff about people who are difficult to work with, whether that’s bosses or colleagues. I like to think I have a good handle on these things and often think a heads up might be warranted, but at the end of the day my relationship with a boss/colleague might end up being very different from the new person’s and I don’t want to poison their perceptions right off the bat on the slim chance there was an opportunity for them to have been the person to really work well with the difficult boss/colleague.

    It feels like 95% of the time they end up coming to the same conclusions as me anyway (at which point I’m happy to share my tips for managing those personalities!), but it’s that 5% that could end up being really helpful as a go-between if you need one at work (i.e. maybe Arya is the best person to ask Difficult Colleague about X, Y, or Z specifically because of that positive relationship).

    1. Kj*

      That is true. I was that person in one of my jobs- boss and I got along great and she listened to me. When staff had a hard time with something, I could say something to her really nicely and it got fixed.

    2. Mallory Janis Ian*

      This. Different people can have completely different relationships with the same person. I was apprehensive about one faculty member becoming my new department head because a few of the other staff disliked working with him and were constantly irritated by him.

      After working with him for a while, I realized that none of those things bothered me. He was super busy and had to have a lot of flexibility around his department head duties, his private practice, and his lecture circuit. He would always give a heads up about things he could anticipate, but there were a lot of moving parts and things that couldn’t be anticipated, and that is what the other staff members hated about working with him; they liked to be able to anticipate everything.

      On the other hand, the same staff members loved another of the department heads and thought he was the gold standard for how a department head should work with staff, but I watched him work with his admin, and I would have quit if I’d had to work for him. The other staff thought he was pleasantly predictable, but I thought he was overly rigid in a way that I couldn’t stand.

    3. pope suburban*

      I’m on the other side of that equation in that everybody I work with now “warned” me about my grandboss. I do understand why, he’s definitely a polarizing figure and he can definitely be difficult to work with. I’m just…not bothered by any of it. He’s not malicious, he’s not the kind of person who would criticize you behind your back rather than letting you know you need to improve, and he does a lot of this stuff out of an intense desire to see our programs succeed. After working for a passive-aggressive, judgmental jerkface for three years, someone giving too much of a hoot is easy to me. Which ends up working out for everyone because I can intercept a lot of his weirdness before it gets to other people, which lowers their stress levels, which is good for everyone.

      1. Jenna*

        I like direct comunication and I love to have clear goals and know when I’m meeting them.
        There have been a few times where I have liked the “difficult” boss or coworker because I liked the clarity, and other people were scared of being told they were doing something wrong. They weren’t being corrected harshly, it’s just some jobs have quality control or a building has rules and someone has to enforce the standards.
        People were actually scared or wary of the QC team (who were actually all very nice people, they just had to score the calls). It was their job to make sure we were in legal compliance and give people things to improve. We also had a manager who got the task of enforcing the rules on space heaters, headphones, phones, etc. She got tasked with this so the other managers didn’t have to, and so people saw her as harsh while their team leads got to be the good guys. She was doing it for the company. It needed to be done because of fire codes, data security, or confidentiality, but people don’t always see why.

  9. Oxford Coma*

    LW, is it possible you just appreciate and thrive on pedanticism? I do. It’s part of why I write robust code. I just try to keep myself in check by creating different mental levels for different audiences. Legal appreciates it when I pick something to death; advertising, not so much.

  10. Eye of Sauron*

    Another point to consider (haven’t listened to the podcast) is if the LW and the ‘Bad’ Bosses generally have the same type of personalities.

    I put ‘Bad’ in quotes, because from the letter it doesn’t sound like we are talking about tyrants here. I think the LW is coming from a position that will make themselves a good boss in the future (if they aren’t already one now). The ability to see the larger picture is a critical trait with leaders.

    Perhaps I’m projecting a bit, because I think I’ve always preferred the ‘bad’ bosses and the ‘hard’ teachers.

    1. Roscoe*

      I think that is probably some of it. My current boss, I get along with fine, but don’t love him like some people do. But personality wise, we are just so different that working for him is a bit more challenging for me.

  11. Memily*

    I love this one and thought it was fascinating! My thought is that some people are a lot more sensitive to things like tone, manner, body language, etc than others. Like Alison said, it could be that the words themselves are reasonable, but that the LW isn’t picking up on the WAY the instructions are being given.

    Also, given that one of the complainers I think is the LW’s direct supervisor, I kind of wonder if that person prefers to work with a lot less direct oversight. So if the big boss is much more hands-on, some people might feel micromanaged and some may be ok with it.

    1. TheOP*

      In the weeks since this I have talked more with my direct supervisor, and she is currently in line for a promotion in the company that would take her away from our property and essentially directing her own department. At this point I think that a lot of the uptick in frustration with boss-boss that I’ve noticed in her may just be her being ready for her next step.

    2. Sunshine on a Cloudy Day*

      Totally agree with this. It actually made me thing of something that has come up here in the past (but I don’t think it has in awhile – or maybe it just came up once).

      Someone once brought up the difference between process oriented and relationship oriented people (within the workplace). It was hugely eye opening to me, but I’m a pretty pretty extreme on the process oriented side and I was really struggling to work with a co-worker who was pretty extreme on the relationship oriented side. While listening I went straight to that. The OP, and by extension the boss sounded like they might be more process oriented, whereas the complaining colleagues might be more relationship oriented. I’ll see if I can find links to it, but I’d totally encourage the OP to look into to see if it rings true (also – I could be totally off base – if so, feel free disregard).

      If it any of it does ring true, I’d just keep it in mind once you do become a manager. You might be managing people with very different, but still completely acceptable, ideas of good management than you do. As the boss, your preference, wins – if it really comes down to it. However, I think a good boss does what they can (within reason) to accommodate their employees.

  12. SoCalHR*

    Even before I became management, I feel like I was similar to this LW. It is the same thing with teachers/professors: figure out what they want and do it and most of the time that keeps you in their good graces.

    Now that I’m in management, I operate similar to the ‘bad’ bosses she is describing. Sometimes, yes, it is a perception issue and I need to work on the touchy-feely side of things (I’m nice, I’m just not fake nice or overly flowery). But I also wish more employees would realize that most bosses aren’t just crazy tyrants and the whole reason you get a paycheck is because they expect a certain level of work from you. In HR, I work hard to balance the line between pro-employer and pro-employee. The sad part is, most people just see when I have to come down hard on something and aren’t privy to the times I’m fighting for grace for an employee or campaigning for bonuses/fun stuff.

  13. Kat Em*

    I discovered years ago that I love working for workaholics. When I get warnings about that sort of thing, I know I’m going to enjoy the job. If standards aren’t really high, I just get bored and depressed.

    I feel like there’s probably a right boss out there for everybody.

    1. Jenna*

      My roommate is an executive assistant, and she loves having a challenging boss. She hates being bored, and a slightly chaotic but smart and direct boss keeps her interested and engaged.

  14. voyager1*

    “There are no average managers. There are great managers and bad managers in the making. Once you have had a great manager in your career all the average ones will seem underwhelming at best.”-some strategic management professor in college circa 2004.

    I found this to be true in my life. I seriously don’t think I will ever have as a great as a manager I had in my 3rd civilian job.

    1. Denise*

      Wow, I really relate to this. I’ve had the fortune (or misfortune) of having 2-3 really excellent bosses. They had a gift for it. Once you’ve seen how it can be done well, just OK ends up being frustrating because your expectations have been raised so high. I think it’s difficult for managers to occupy the middle ground because the seemingly small things easily build up and cause issues.

  15. thesoundofmusic*

    I don’t think there is any one “boss type” that is universally appreciated, though there are a few types that are universally disliked–i.e. the yelling ones, the bullies, etc. People have different management styles, and if they are fortunate they can hire a team that produces under that style of management. I personally thrive with being allowed to think up and try new things and see if they can improve how we do business. My boss encourages that for all of us. I don’t do anything that would blow up a whole system, but I do get to experiment with things like new workflow processes, using new technology, etc. Some things have worked out well, others haven’t, but they’ve all helped our dept get better at what we do. Our entire team is quite innovative and we are making great strides at modernizing our systems and way of conducting business. I could see another type of boss–and another type of employee–having a very difficult time in this environment.

  16. L*

    My boss is the sweetest, gentlest, kindest soul ever . . . . and he’s about to run this business into the ground because he can’t seem to bring himself to call his employees on their crap. His father, who started the company, was somewhat feared but only because he didn’t let people get away with not working, and if you were goofing off and messing up, you were fired. I get/got along with them both because I have a work ethic and know my job extremely well. Give me a “difficult” boss who communicates expectations and requires that employees live up to them ANY time!

  17. Kelly L.*

    Years ago, I worked for one boss who inspired a couple of people to ask me, “isn’t he scary? He always seems mean!” This was pretty much always from people who’d met him once or twice in passing. I got to know him pretty well and he wasn’t mean at all! He was really introverted and his voice kind of gravelly, and I think that was most of what people were picking up on: this guy who wasn’t really socializing at big events, and when he did, sounded kind of like a bear just awakened from hibernation. But he wasn’t at all like that underneath. He had resting bitch voice.

  18. OtterB*

    Many years ago now, I was working in a group under a boss that everybody liked – and he was, in fact, very likable. An opportunity that interested me came up in another group. I was hesitant because that group’s boss was generally thought of as hard to deal with. I decided to give it a try anyway.

    I never found him hard to deal with. He expected you to have reasons behind an action you took or decision you made. As long as you could explain your reasons you were absolutely fine, even if you were wrong. He’d just work with you to figure out some course corrections or tell you in a straightforward way how to do it better next time.

    On the other hand, I realized after a while that Nice Guy boss wasn’t as good a boss as I thought. He tended to change direction easily and often and, while a boss ought to change direction when needed, he leaned too much toward agreeing with the last person who talked to him. Tough Guy boss, on the other hand, had a rule of thumb that I still quote on occasion: Decisions remain in effect until changed. In other words, make a decision and go with it, revisit if you have to, but don’t be constantly rethinking, and don’t drift away from the things you have decided to do.

  19. Cafe au Lait*

    OP, are you a big picture person? So many people are not, and are afraid to ask clarifying questions. If you can instinctively grasp the bigger picture, aligning your viewpoint closer to the boss than your coworkers, it makes you seem like you “like” mean bosses.

  20. Indoor Cat*

    Or, another way to break this down. There are (imo) five broad traits of good bosses.

    1. Visionary. A visionary boss understands the big picture and is good at making wise decisions that align with that big picture. A boss with vision might do creative, unexpected stuff that puts some conventional employees on edge.

    2. Detail-oriented. Pretty much self-explanatory: a good boss doesn’t overlook small details, whether it’s paperwork, compliance, client-feedback, office cleanliness, whatever small things add up to a good or bad workplace.

    3. Encouraging / Patient / Employee-oriented. This trait means a boss is a good mentor, whether it’s mentoring people for leadership or helping someone who’s struggling by putting them on a PIP or helping them transition to a different, more suitable role. This trait means the boss wants what’s best for each employee, perhaps even more-so than what’s best for the whole company, and advocates for things like better pay and benefits rather than an exploitative model of “how little can we get away with paying to boost our profits.”

    4. Friendly / gregarious / likable. A boss who makes a person feel good by being around them. Good at complimenting and praising. Great at getting clients. Makes people feel included.

    5. Resolute. Someone who has follow-through, whether it’s on PIPs, discipline, meeting company goals, etc.

    Pretty much no boss has all five. But, if a boss only has none (or only one or two) she might be a bad boss. And, depending on employees’ personalities and the nature of the enterprise, different traits become more important. I have never heard of a boss with all five traits called a bad boss, but I have definitely know bosses who are, say, visionary, detail-oriented, and resolute, but not friendly or employee-oriented, and they are more widely disliked than a boss who is resolute, friendly, and employee-oriented, but not detail-oriented or visionary.

    I gotta say, employee-oriented is most important to me. Does my direct manager advocate for good benefits, bonuses, and compensation for people? Do they understand that employees’ work-life balance usually means prioritizing family and health needs? Because 100% of the time my least favorite bosses have been underpaying workaholics who can’t understand why their employees are *not* workaholics and value, I dunno, going to their kids’ soccer games and doctors’ appointments.

  21. Ann Onimous*

    This was a really interesting subject, and I love the way Alison approached it.
    There would be one more thing I’d like to add to Alison’s overall assessment of the situation. Is it possible that OP is more inclined to give people the benefit of the doubt?

    I have also often enough found myself baffled when some colleagues would go on lengthy tirades about how the box having said X actually meant Y, and it was all being said in a tone of voice which made it seem really obvious. While, I was not constantly trying to split hairs to get to something wildly different…

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