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Despicable dozen: UT researcher IDs most common traits of bad bosses

Are you a bad boss? Maybe even a horrible boss? The good news is that if you are, you’re probably too arrogant to know it.

Dr. Clinton Longenecker has researched the top “despicable dozen” characteristics of really bad bosses, and arrogance tops the list. The research recently was published in the journal Industrial Management.

The full “despicable dozen” and the percent of respondents who mentioned the troublesome traits were:

1. Arrogant, prideful, inflexible and always right — 73 percent
2. Unprincipled, untrustworthy, misrepresent the truth and lie — 66 percent
3. Fail to create clear performance expectations — 58 percent
4. Not letting employees know where they stand — 54 percent
5. Horrible communication skills and practices — 52 percent
6. Erratic and unpredictable behavior and moods — 51 percent
7. Take all credit and avoid blame — 47 percent
8. Everything is a crisis — 42 percent
9. They don’t develop their people or help them get ahead — 39 percent
10. Do not solve problems or improve processes — 33 percent
11. Technically incompetent and lack talent — 31 percent
12. Lack wisdom and decision-making skill — 27 percent

Longenecker, UT professor of management and an expert in organizational development and executive leadership, said nothing undermines your credibility as a boss as quickly as throwing modesty to the wind and basking in your own greatness.

“People with arrogant bosses minimize and avoid contact and as a result, the regular and candid communication needed for any organization to improve and succeed doesn’t take place,” Longenecker said. “Stay humble. Arrogance kills working relationships and careers and it can be a real barrier to high performance.”

And the worst bosses also are viewed as being at the wrong end of the integrity, acing in ways untrustworthy and unprincipled.

So if you work for a bad boss, what should you do? Longenecker acknowledged, particularly in a difficult economy, that simply polishing up your resumé isn’t always feasible.

“Consider developing a realistic exit strategy that takes into account the pros and cons of your current situation,” he said. Work to understand how your boss is hampering your performance and take proactive steps to minimize your boss’ influence — and make it a priority to not emulate your boss.

Longenecker also spoke directly to organizations and the leaders who employ bad bosses.

“If you have bad bosses working for you, it reflects poorly on you,” Longenecker said, citing short-term and long-term damage to the organization and, ultimately, to the career of the manager overseeing truly bad bosses.

Longenecker was quick to point out there is a difference between a boss struggling to find his or her footing in a new role and a boss who is doing little to improve his or her leadership skills.

To develop the “despicable dozen” characteristics, Longenecker sampled 187 seasoned business leaders from cross sections of U.S. manufacturing and service enterprises. Men comprised 72 percent of respondents and women 28 percent, all with an average age of 43 and more than 14 years of managerial experience. Participants were asked to “identify and chronicle the behaviors of the worst boss that they had ever worked for during their career.”

Media Coverage
The Blade (April 3, 2012)
WNWO (April 4, 2012)


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