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Inept Bosses Can Kill Your Career

Doing your due diligence regarding your potential/existing reporting manager is critical to the success of your career.

As an executive coach, I have heard numerous horror stories about inept managers and how they have destroyed careers. These stories would make Miranda Priestly (the boss in The Devil Wears Prada) seem like an angel in a bedtime story for kindergartners.  Executives, particularly women, fail to realize that having a bad manager can ruin their future by either destroying their self-esteem or undervaluing their skills and competencies to any organization.  Unfortunately, the damage does not stop at the current job; it travels with you like a pouch on a kangaroo.

Women in particular tend to focus on loyalty instead of the ROI from their manager. They fail to realize that a job is only a financial deal. How long would you have kept Enron or Tyco shares once you realized that things were amiss?  I have often quoted a line from an old French song to many of my clients—“You’ve got to learn to get up from the table when dessert is no longer being served.”

Another important quote to think about when evaluating a manager’s capabilities is “They are only as good as their last good deed.” You cannot continue crediting a manager whose last good action is no longer effective or serving, you well.  Gold standard leadership has to be continuous, supportive and current. If not, you owe it to yourself to depart for higher ground as soon as possible, if not sooner!

The tragedy is we often do not recognize the signs of poor managers because of the following: their behavior is slow to manifest; it can be a case of you don’t know what you don’t know; you may be so inundated with work that you do not have time to analyze or realize the problematic situation you are in; or you may be faced with a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

To help you realize that it is time for you to “get up from the table,” I have put together a guide that includes the major identifiers of a poor manager:

1.     Manager is unsupportive of your needs to keep current with your field                 

A major aspect in your marketability is your current knowledge of the latest industry information and tools. If you are not knowledgeable, you can become professionally extinct.           

2.      Your promotion is overdue

“Ask yourself two difficult questions—“What is your value to your manager and to the company?” and “How has your value been communicated to the decision makers of the organization?” The reality is that any company worth its weight would not risk losing what they have determined as being a valued contributor.

3.     Manager takes credit for your contributions

This is not the same as making your manager look good.  The difference is however, difficult to determine. Let’s start with your gut feeling, a sensation often foolishly ignored. If you feel that you are being “corporately abused©”, then you probably are being “brain-robbed©.” If you are not sure, record how often your manager takes credit for your contributions versus how often she/he gives you credit.

4.     Abusive Style of Manager

Surprisingly, abuse by a manager or leader is often very difficult to recognize. This is because of several factors that influence us and allow us to think that their behavior is acceptable.  These factors are: office policy which requires workplace respect for managers and colleagues; Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs; and a lack of clarity associated with determining management abuse. Perhaps the more obvious abusive behaviors such as yelling, ridiculing, name-calling, terrorizing employees by withholding information, or threatening them with job loss and pay cuts are easier to recognize.  However, after you reach the upper ranks of an organization it is generally not that obvious.

Abuses can be rationalized as business needs, when in fact they are part of an extensive list of abusive behaviors designed to force you to leave a company or to reduce your self-esteem.

5.    Short-term, shortsighted vision of a manager

The risk to your future is that without a challenge eventually you can start to feel useless and literally stop contributing. This wreaks havoc on one’s ability to succeed; it is often the beginning of a downward spiral that moves at a rapid speed and becomes difficult to stop without professional help.

6.     Dictorial leadership by manager

This occurs when management creates unnecessary workplace fear. Fear can become paralyzing—creating atrophied brainpower. The effects on your career are frightening. Your ability to contribute to another organization can become non-existent and your ability to sell your talent to another organization can be lost.

7.      A manager with a passive-agressive personality (AKA wolf in sheep's clothing) defines a passive-aggressive personality as someone “displaying behavior characterized by expression of negative feelings, resentment, and aggression in an unassertive way (as through procrastination, stubbornness, and unwillingness to communicate).” Consider John M.’s response to “What is a sign that you have a bad manager?” His answer was “When your manager asks you to do something, then proceeds to tell you exactly how to do it, follows you around while you are doing it, and then tells you he would have not done it the way you did.” 

8.      Ambiguity and Interrole conflict

How can you identify your contributions as an asset if you are not sure what you solved, what role you played, and what the results were?

In 2008, BBC News reported: “Inconsiderate bosses not only make work stressful, they may also increase the risk of heart disease for their employees, experts believe.  A Swedish team found a strong link between poor leadership and the risk of serious heart disease and heart attacks among more than 3,000 employed men. And the effect may be cumulative - the risk increased, the longer an employee worked for the same company.” This study is published in Occupational and Environmental Medicine. 

Feel free to comment to share some of your experiences that led you to realize that you had to get up from the table because dessert was no longer being served.


In this day in age bad economy, what would you do when you cannot just leave the company?

This is an excellent question. I would never recommend that someone leave their company without a backup plan/opportunity.
If you send me your email address I will send you an article that I wrote about how to do this:

How long should one stay once a bad boss is identified?

How can you successfully present findings regarding inept management when it is more than one level deep? Also, working in local government, it seems that nepotism and, "The good old boy" system are in full affect... where does one turn to make a sense of ownership within the workplace one of common value?


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