horrible boss

7 Traits of Truly Horrible Bosses

Jack Fehr

If you own a small business, chances are you’re not only a business owner, but a boss. Whether you have employees or are managing vendors, managing people is part of your job description. If you’re striving to grow your business, or reevaluating how to manage one, you can increase your chances of success by avoiding these seven traits of truly horrible bosses.

1. They fail to communicate. You can follow every best practice there is to running a business and still fall short if you fail to communicate those practices to your employees. “The big differentiator of small business success is communication,” says Chester Elton, founder of New Jersey based management consultant The Culture Works and author of What Motivates Me and All In. Horrible bosses often forget this; they fail to share their plans with their employees and refuse to listen to the good ideas those employees have to offer. As a result, they often struggle with employee buy-in, support and morale.

Solution: Communication involves both talking and listening, and many experts would agree that the latter is the more important of the two. “When a boss listens thoughtfully and gives employees permission to speak the truth and be supportive to one another, it is a beautiful thing,” says Barbara Chan, executive coach and certified management consultant of Barbara Chan Consulting Group. But learning to communicate clearly is no easy task. Start by setting goals and sharing your vision with your employees. Put your ego aside, ask for feedback, and make the changes that can benefit your business.

2. They refuse to get the help they need. Many business owners lack the time needed to learn new skills and others downright dislike some of the functions necessary to run a business. “Starting out, business owners wear multiple hats and have a learning curve,” says Jeremy Sisemore, founder of ASAP Talent Services in Kingwood, Texas. “Sometime after I started my company, I realized I needed to hire or outsource where I was weak or unwilling. Just because I was great at recruiting didn’t mean I would run a great business. So my first big hire was an operations person.” Business owners who try to do everything themselves can’t possibly do everything well, and they risk the future of their companies.

Solution: Learn to delegate effectively. This means assigning existing employees to the tasks they’re better suited for, as well as hiring new employees to fill in the gaps. Don’t struggle to do something that you neither have the time or skills to do. Learn to let go and accept help instead of ignoring growing problems. You’ll be setting your business on the path to success.

3. They are insecure. “Great leaders are invested in finding people smarter than them,” says Jane Hundley, an organizational psychologist and founder of Impact Management, Inc., an executive consulting firm. “Bad leaders don’t hire anyone who threatens them,” adds Hundley. “It is extremely important for bosses of any kind to learn their strengths and gaps, and to hire people with the knowledge, skills and work styles that complement their own,” says Chan. “One of my clients was a founder who had hired a lot of people like himself, and he couldn’t understand why his company didn’t perform the way he wanted. Everyone had the same mindset, same skills and knowledge. But it takes all kinds of people to succeed: analytical, relational and creative. Successful businesses need a diversity of thinking and action to come together for the same purpose.”

Solution: If you keep letting your insecurities drive you, you – and your business – are bound to fail. So stop competing with your employees. Accept that they are there to help you grow your business. Going forward, focus on hiring employees and consultant who will complement your skills.

4. They are bullies. Whether you work alone and delegate some tasks to vendors, or you’re managing a staff of employees, people don’t work well with abusive bosses. “I worked for companies where you knew you would get clobbered,” recalls Hundley. “One boss would criticize employees in front of everyone. All this did was create scorn. You want to praise in public, criticize in private…I worked with another company with employees who felt like they were in a pop-a-mole game. Employees said they didn’t speak up because they didn’t want to get whacked. The boss didn’t understand why everyone sat with their heads down in meetings. That’s the worst thing—mismanaging your employees to the point where they become disengaged.”

Solution: If you feel like you’re constantly blowing up at employees or vendors, or preventing others from getting a word in, it’s time to change your management style to create a culture of teamwork. If you think your behavior is fine but your employees are showing signs of mismanagement, take a step back and reconsider if you’re really doing a good job. If necessary, ask your employees for anonymous feedback on your management style.

5. They micromanage their employees. When business owners start out doing everything themselves, it can be hard to relinquish control. “Micromanaging is one of biggest challenges to growing a business,” says Sisemore. In fact, micromanagement can damage both employee morale and the value of a business. Not only do employees find it difficult to have someone hovering over their shoulders, but “micromanagers are tacticians when they need to be leaders,” says Hundley. Rather than focusing on the big picture, they lose the forest for the trees by preoccupying themselves with minor, and often unimportant, ideas.

Solution:  “There are many ways to accomplish the same task, but you have to give workers the freedom to find their way,” says Chan. Start by empowering employees to take initiative and rewarding creativity. This means allowing them to make decisions without prior approval and recognizing and encouraging those who take risks, even if their efforts don’t pan out. Make this commitment and you’ll be pleased with the improvements you see in productivity and office morale.

6. They overwork everyone. Some bosses expect their employees to work 24/7. Thus, it’s not surprising that one study found that nearly 60% of respondents believe bad bosses have the most negative impact on work-life balance. When employers take their employees for granted, morale and productivity are bound to suffer.

Solution: Rested employees are happy employees, so make sure your employees are taking time off. “When workers get off the grid—get real rejuvenation—they come back as totally different employees,” says Katharine Halpin, founder of the Halpin Companies and author of Alignment for Success: Bringing Out the Best in Yourself, Your Teams, and Your Company. “They get off the hamster wheel for a while.” In addition to letting your employees take time off, allow for more flexibility in their work schedules. If you have an employee with young kids, respect the fact that he might need to come in a little later or leave a little earlier to spend time with them.

7. They don’t acknowledge employee success. Sometimes, bosses don’t realize their management style hurts employees and, by extension, the company. Others don’t care—they simply lack empathy. “People don’t quit companies—they quit bosses,” says Elton. “We forget to celebrate what employees do right.

Solution: “Employees crave communication—especially positive feedback,” says Sisemore. Therefore, you should take the time to recognize and congratulate employees on a job well done. “Some small business owners want to make it all about how employees don’t do their jobs right,” adds Sisemore. “But if they take the time to coach their employees, they set them up for success.” Focus on highlighting the talents your employees bring to the table and find ways for them to use these skills successfully. You’ll be surprised by how much more invested they are in their jobs.

Next Steps:  Are you looking to manage your employees more effectively but don’t have time to keep up with the latest research and trends in talent management? We’ve got you covered with the weekly Small Biz Ahead Newsletter. Sign up today and start receiving the weekly newsletter chock full of the latest tools and resources to help you run a successful business.

66 Responses to "7 Traits of Truly Horrible Bosses"
    • Thomas Brown | December 29, 2020 at 9:58 am

      GREAT info.

    • Angela Ciocca | October 12, 2020 at 9:49 am

      Great article!!! Wealth of information!

    • SILVIO VALENCIA | September 22, 2020 at 2:48 pm

      As a retired person from different industries, I implement my old managing practices in my restaurants yet you tend to forget some important issues, great article, thank you.

    • Phyllis Kirkman | September 21, 2020 at 2:49 am

      Good solid list…and good advice. But, I’m curious why there isn’t an accompanying article on “The Seven (or more) Traits of a Truly Horrible Employee”. Bosses get REALLY tired of making sure everyone’s balloon is inflated!

    • Glenda Smith | September 17, 2020 at 8:29 am

      Great information! We do need to sometimes take a step back and re-evaluate ourselves so we can become better and enhance and improve the culture. It is never too late to learn.

    • Jerry Smith | September 16, 2020 at 10:57 am

      Superb advice – which should be common sense. But personalities and circumstances influence management, occasionally, which can lead to undesirable outcomes. In 1995 and again in 2019 I lost my temper with one of my contract contractors. On both occasions I apologized to the other person in the presence of everyone in the office, whom I has asked to witness the apology. inasmuch as those third parties heard me they deserved an apology as well, and in person.

      The 7 points could well serve employees, contractors, and the business. Perhaps the original white paper could be recast as set of goals that everyone could use in their dealings with one another? Basically the message consists of a single word: Respect.

    • Liz Head | September 16, 2020 at 9:46 am

      Love the article. Unfortunately, I saw myself in the example of making people work 24/7. Fortunately, it was back in the 1980’s. Back then I had to analyze what was working and what was not working. After looking at the productivity logs, number of mistakes, and most importantly, finally listening to the supervisors and managers realized that people needed rest in order to perform at their peak. When we know better, we do better. Great article!

    • Sofia Fernandez | September 16, 2020 at 1:08 am

      This is a really good article. Soo true. Thanks

    • Kimberley Bradley | September 15, 2020 at 2:07 pm

      I love this article. I’ve worked for the greatest people ever like General Colin Powell. So having a manager like this would make me very quickly. Unfortunately, until companies lose people these types are managers rarely change.

    • Israel Bamberger | September 5, 2019 at 1:26 am

      Now that I am a boss I realize that bosses are just as vulnerable as employees.

    • Dulce Munguia Albarran | August 30, 2019 at 12:20 pm

      Great input, lots to analyze and a few things to change. Very helpful

      • Chloe Silverman | September 3, 2019 at 9:47 am

        Thank you for the comment!

    • JuliAnn | August 28, 2019 at 3:58 pm

      I love that you put communication first. I think of communication like a muscle and work it out every day by learning one new tip about communication and most importantly… practicing it!!

      • Chloe Silverman | August 29, 2019 at 8:56 am

        Thank you, JuliAnn!

    • Sue M | August 28, 2019 at 1:20 pm

      Estaven, I have experienced the same several times… One took 20 years but ultimately he was let go and lost his “golden parachute.” Keep doing the right thing and ethics WILL win. In the meantime we can use those bad bosses as examples of what NOT to do/who NOT to be.

    • Linda | August 28, 2019 at 10:11 am

      I hit a wall last December with a personal health issue, and in the process learned how much more capable my staff was than I ever believed them to be. They stepped up and closed the books for the year without me. I learned delegating is important not only for my own benefit, but because it allows them the opportunity to develop themselves. It gave them the opportunity really shine in our owner’s eyes; it presented challenges they had never encountered (because I thought I was protecting them). They went ‘over the top’ in my absence and have automated 3-4 different processes. Great learning experience for me…I learned to trust my team.

    • Patty | August 28, 2019 at 8:47 am

      I very much liked your article, but I have one more trait for you. Good bosses need to be fair to their customers and their employees. When rules are applied for some employees and not for others, it causes disharmony, hurt feelings, and disengagement. If an employer is unfair to his or her customers, it will eventually drive them away.

      • Chloe Silverman | August 28, 2019 at 8:59 am

        We are glad you enjoyed this article. Thank you for the feedback, Patty!

    • Yvonne | August 28, 2019 at 7:41 am

      This kind of stuff should be a required course in getting any kind of business degree. And maybe it should be some kind of course in high school for building business relationships when you kids leave high school for the “real world”

    • Ron | August 28, 2019 at 7:31 am

      Had a horrible boss at last job. He never had anything good to say & would violently criticize employees for things that were beyond their control in front of everyone. He was definitely a bully.

    • GIUSEPPE | August 28, 2019 at 6:47 am

      I had to read it twice to realize how “horrible” I am, thanks to this I am tracing a plan to become wonderful.

    • Pamela Greenwald | August 28, 2019 at 6:44 am

      What would you suggest if one’s boss is like this? I used to own my own practice and now I’m an associate. The office manager and business owner are terrible communicators. I do my best to keep lines open with them. Suggestions??

    • Warren Ward | August 28, 2019 at 5:05 am

      I used to be a terrible boss, but now I just fire anybody who disagrees with me. Problem solved! 🤔

    • Glenn | August 28, 2019 at 1:36 am

      Good article, worked for a few of them myself. I would like to add one thing. I have often observed that bad bosses also are good at butt kissing those above them and that is how they move up the chain. It is not so much that they did great work but rather they found ways to make those above them feel good about their mutual relationship and assure them that they would not create challenges/problems for them.

    • Jackie | August 27, 2019 at 11:55 pm


      They already published the “Horrible Employees” article, but it was titled “ 5 Signs it’s time to fire”. It covered tardiness, gossip, excessive negativity, and excessive cell phone use if I remember correctly.

      These are all great articles; keep’em coming!

    • J. Schilling | August 27, 2019 at 11:48 pm

      Now where’s the article about the employees that are Jekyll & Hyde. Stars to get in the door & price to be horrible after.

    • Estaven Shepard | August 27, 2019 at 11:43 pm

      I never considered bad bosses a big problem. They are unpleasant to be sure but every time they have been unpleasant to me in the past bad things seem to happen to them. And I help make that happen.

    • Ann Salomon | August 27, 2019 at 11:39 pm

      I have been reading these posts for the past few months. They are so helpful, insightful, and I love that they are quick reads. Thank you for this. Keep up the good work!

      • Chloe Silverman | August 28, 2019 at 8:54 am

        Thank you for the feedback, Ann!

    • Tina K | August 27, 2019 at 10:42 pm

      I’m reading this so I guess that must mean I’m NOT the horrible boss!
      Still, there are warning signs in here; pitfalls to avoid and facets where I can definitely improve.
      Also, this points out ways to help me with MY new boss… so far, not horrible, but I’d like to keep it that way!

      • Chloe Silverman | August 28, 2019 at 8:54 am

        Glad to hear it! Thank you for the comment, Tina!

    • Sue M | August 27, 2019 at 5:47 pm

      I am a small business owner and I have 2 of these traits (working 24/7 and micro managing.) I found this article encouraging for my strengths and motivating to work on my weak spots. Thanks!

      • Chloe Silverman | August 28, 2019 at 8:52 am

        We are so glad to hear that you found this article helpful. Thank you for your feedback, Sue!

    • Brandon Korman | September 30, 2018 at 12:49 pm

      A solid article that is easily digestible, but accessible and timely. Thanks so much. Keep the great advice coming.

      • Hannah Sullivan | October 1, 2018 at 7:46 am

        Thank you Brandon!

    • Jonathan | September 17, 2018 at 11:54 pm

      Thanks for this great article, Hannah. It was refreshing and re-affirming of best practices needed to manage my employees for success.

      Please keep feeding us great stuff.

      • Hannah Sullivan | September 18, 2018 at 8:24 am

        Thank you, Jonathan!

    • Amy | September 14, 2018 at 3:19 pm

      I’m glad you have communication first on your list. Sad to say, I left a job I loved and had held for eight years primarily because the boss relied on me for information but would not reciprocate so that I had context. It left me feeling like I was being asked to do my job with no tools and one hand tied behind my back. But, as others have commented, those that need to read and apply these points are the ones who never will.

      • Hannah Sullivan | September 17, 2018 at 1:36 pm

        Thanks for your feedback Amy!

    • Kathy | September 14, 2018 at 12:35 pm

      Jeff-you shouldn’t have any “Truly Horrible Employees.” If you are an effective small business owner you should have let go any horrible employees.

    • Eunice F | September 14, 2018 at 9:16 am

      Great article

    • Andrea Slaughter | September 13, 2018 at 3:31 pm

      Great reminder that communication is vital in any relationship. Most misunderstandings, hurt feelings, and low morale stem from a lack of communication. Many times we may be agreeing but, coming from a different perspective, sounds different. Because we are not truly listening, we end up hurt or confused. Stop, repeat what your heard, then address it.

      • Hannah Sullivan | September 17, 2018 at 1:35 pm

        Thank you Andrea.

    • Jerry | September 13, 2018 at 11:22 am

      I had a boss like the type in your article he and others forced the company out of business by their refusal to admit they were wrong. You are spot on with your article.

      • Hannah Sullivan | September 17, 2018 at 1:34 pm

        Thanks, Jerry!

    • JP Saleeby, MD | September 13, 2018 at 11:00 am

      Some very good points.

    • Pam | September 13, 2018 at 10:34 am

      Excellent article! It very accurately describes our boss/supervisor (pastor of a small church) . . . I have printed the article to give the Elder Board – in HOPES they will take some of these issues seriously . . .

      Unfortunately, these behaviors have been going on the entire 10 years our boss has worked here . . . do you have any suggestions for EMPLOYEES who have to work with someone like this? . . . I am always trying to think of thinks I can do to improve communication and support my boss – but to no avail . . .

    • JoAnn Peters | September 13, 2018 at 10:31 am

      Excellent Article!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • Jeff | September 13, 2018 at 10:20 am

      This should be followed up with 7 Traits of Truly Horrible Employees.
      The advice given overall is very good. Thanks.

    • Carlos Garcia | September 13, 2018 at 8:51 am

      Excellent article. I love the way you set it. I will put it on practice right now. Thanks.

      • Hannah Sullivan | September 13, 2018 at 8:53 am

        Thanks Carlos!

    • LInda Rey | September 13, 2018 at 8:25 am

      The really REALLY unfortunate part is that those who are bad bosses don’t realize it, think their methods are perfectly fine and they aren’t the problem.

      • Hannah Sullivan | September 13, 2018 at 8:26 am

        Thanks Linda for your feedback!

    • WIliam Potter | September 13, 2018 at 8:00 am

      Great article, you hit the “nail on the head” Now if we could only get these types of bosses to read the article!

      • Hannah Sullivan | September 13, 2018 at 8:24 am

        Thank you, Wiliam!

    • Cate | September 13, 2018 at 1:31 am

      Love this!! 🙂 Couldn’t agree more!!

      …How can I re-post?..

      • Hannah Sullivan | September 13, 2018 at 7:41 am

        Hi Cate, thanks for your feedback! You can repost this article to Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn by clicking one of the icons below the author’s name. There is also a button there to print it as well.

    • Kimberly Henty | September 12, 2018 at 11:52 pm

      Excellent advice!

      • Hannah Sullivan | September 13, 2018 at 7:39 am

        Thank you!

    • Ed Haley | September 12, 2018 at 9:17 pm

      Excellent article on horrible bosses

      • Hannah Sullivan | September 13, 2018 at 7:39 am

        We’re glad you liked it, Ed! Thanks for the feedback.

    • Benjamin Arteaga | September 12, 2018 at 8:11 pm

      I used to be effective communicator, but as I get older. I don’t communicate enough about the important issues .

      • Hannah Sullivan | September 13, 2018 at 7:39 am

        Thanks for your feedback, Benjamin!

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