Workzone: Bettering bad bosses


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Managers working for underperforming companies often instinctively try to make fixes by shaking up the workforce.

The effort usually isn't successful, however, because typically it's the manager who's most responsible for the poor performance, says Kathleen Brush, a veteran corporate management consultant based in Seattle.

"Most bosses unwittingly exhibit bad leader behaviors daily that cause their businesses to suffer" by demotivating and demoralizing the staff, she says.

Managers should fight the temptation to search for scapegoats and instead look in the mirror for the needed changes, she says.

Ms. Brush identified four increasingly prevalent and demotivating "bad boss" behaviors that managers should eliminate:

• Acting unethically. From the boss who takes his wife out to dinner on the company expense account, to padding mileage reports, to failing to take responsibility for mistakes, unethical behavior is a powerful demotivator.

"When a boss breaks or fudges the rules ... he or she loses employees' respect. Without respect, a boss cannot lead," Ms. Brush says.

In addition, because the boss is the role model, acting unethically gives employees permission to do the same.

• Being unfair. Some leaders confuse fairness and equality, Ms. Brush says. "I talked to a manager who gave all his employees the same pay raise because he wanted to be fair," she says. "He then seemed mystified that the productivity of his best employees declined to that of an average worker."

• Becoming a buddy. Friendships with employees neutralize the boss's authority and power, Ms. Brush says. They can cloud the boss's objectivity and hinder the ability to correct behaviors, which can be demoralizing for other staffers. "Be friendly to employees, but do not cross the line that muddies the relationship between boss and friend," she says.

• Being disorganized. A disorganized boss might scream, "I need this in 15 minutes," even though he or she could have and should have assigned the task much earlier.

"All employees are similar in one respect. They all feel good about achieving something, about moving the ball forward," Ms. Brush says. "But that only happens when you have a leader who is organized and showing them the way to move forward."

Ms. Brush says it's difficult for bosses to recognize their own bad behaviors.

"The first step in learning how to motivate employees is to learn how to stop demotivating them."


Patricia Sabatini: psabatini@post-gazette.com or 412-263-3066.

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