The 10 most common company-killing Terribly Toxic Traits of bad managers

Date: February 29, 2024
Author: Kristin Zhivago

After working with hundreds of companies and their leaders, I can confidently say that the number-one killer of revenue growth is a bad top boss. Bad boss characteristics demoralize, disenfranchise, discourage, and demean the best people working in the company. 

They make a mockery of all that the good people are trying to do. Their best efforts are disrespected or dismissed, and the fine example they try to set for others is obliterated by the poor example set by the bad manager. 

It’s important here to define a jerk. A jerk is a person who makes life harder for others. Which is why it is so difficult to deal successfully with a jerk. They don’t want things to get better. They don’t want situations to be resolved. They thrive on chaos and drama. 

Alternatively, a kind person endeavors to make life easier for others. They look for resolution, safety, and peace. 

When the top boss is a jerk, the company becomes two companies.

Company #1 is where the good people are still doing the best they can while grumbling with others in the company about how difficult their boss is making it for them. They could take it out on the customers, but they are too nice for that, so they suffer while they look around for a better job. In fact, they are searching for a better boss. 

Company #2 exists exclusively in the boss’ own mind, where everything is just fine. This delusional view is abetted by the not-so-good people, who fawn over the bad boss. They say only what is expected or safe. 

These bad managers will never find out how bad they really are until it is all too late. And even then, they will never think that they were the cause of all the trouble.  

The reason bad bosses get away with all this terrible behavior is because they are the boss. Those who work for them—the hard workers and the not-hard workers—are afraid to call out the bad manager on these behaviors because they are sure they will be sorry they did, and they could be fired. 

And the bad bosses don’t want to hear the truth. They are definitely not thirsty horses

Overall, there are two types of bad managers: the insecure bad managers, and the over-confident, harming-on-purpose bad managers.

The Terribly Toxic Traits of Bad Managers

The Insecure Bad Manager.

This one might surprise you because normally, we feel sorry for people who are insecure. But someone who is insecure and not nice about it can be a real jerk. Their insecurity plays out in these terribly toxic traits:

1. Bragging instead of listening. Insecure people need to prove to others that they are worthy people because they don’t actually believe that about themselves. So they spend (waste) other people’s time by telling stories about all they’ve accomplished and how great they are in certain areas. They don’t have the time or patience to listen to others because they’re so busy talking. 

If you were to ask people what disturbs them the most about their work, the answer would be “Not being heard.” Treating someone as if they are irrelevant is the beginning of the end. Bad bosses treat both employees and customers as people who must be tolerated. 

2. Being habitually late. If someone is insecure but not a jerk, they will be late simply because they’re trying so hard to please everyone and be perfect. So they fuss over tiny things before they leave, and that makes them late. 

The more dramatic jerk, insecure or not, will want to be late so that they can make a theatrical entrance and blame something or someone else for their tardiness. This proves how busy and important they are compared to others because all of those critical demands made it “simply impossible” for them to get there on time. This behavior is designed to make them feel more important at everyone else’s expense. 

3. Being jealous. Barry works for Erik. Barry is better at some things than Erik is, and Erik is jealous. Instead of praising Barry for the wonderful job he’s doing, Erik demeans Barry publicly and privately at every opportunity. Barry won’t put up with this for long. When Barry leaves, everyone will know why. If Barry is in a top position, the company will begin to unravel quickly because the best people will also leave. All that will be left are people who don’t care about the customers and doing a good job. 

4. Shooting down good ideas. Insecure people don’t like it when others appear smarter than they are. They need to be the smartest person in the room. Ideas from employees, customers, and even friends and consultants are seen as criticism and are either passively ignored or aggressively shot down—usually in front of others. 

Whoever came up with the good idea won’t keep trying for long. They, too, will be looking around for a better job, one where the boss is not insecure (and a bully) and enthusiastically welcomes good ideas, regardless of the source. 

These good managers look at each idea on its own merit, asking questions and thinking through—with the person who came up with the idea—how viable the idea is and if and how the idea could be implemented. 

5. Too proud of former glory to learn something new. Diane had a successful career as a salesperson and then started her own company. 

Now she’s a manager. Being a successful salesperson and being a successful manager are radically different. Diane is too wrapped up in her former success to be bothered with learning how to manage.

She gets bored with the creation and supervision of the company’s infrastructure. The whole concept of building scalable systems and processes is distasteful to her. 

She believes that all success comes from saying just the right thing at the right moment rather than building a structure and systems that make it easier for others to do their work. So that part of the company is weak and ineffective, frustrating everyone who works at the company. 

In the meantime, Diane continues to rest on her “I brought in $3 million a quarter at my previous company, single-handedly!” laurels. Her company will never fulfill its full potential. 

The over-confident, harming-on-purpose bad manager.

The traits I listed above are more reactive than proactive. The insecure jerk has a negative self-image and doesn’t want that negative image to be discovered or confirmed by other people. 

Which is really strange when you think about it. The insecure person isn’t protecting something positive and valuable but something negative and self-damaging. It’s one of the most perplexing paradoxes in human behavior. 

But there is another type of jerk, one who thinks well of himself or herself, one who is proud of their superiority over others, and one who intentionally makes life harder for others. 

Of course, a person can be both insecure and willfully mean. Each person will fall somewhere on the spectrum. 

If you are in a position where you simply can’t leave your current job, you will be best served by figuring out where your boss falls on the spectrum. Knowing this will make it easier for you to minimize the damage the person is doing to you and those who work with you. 

Those who harm on purpose tend to behave in these negative ways:

6. Being dishonest. Not only will this jerk tell outright lies, but will encourage others to lie as well. I’ve seen many people leave companies because their boss was insisting that they lie to the government, partners, customers, and other workers. It’s gotten so bad over the last ten years or so that it’s actually getting difficult to find bosses and companies who value the truth and are truly “transparent,” which is a word that makes me cringe because many who brag about their transparency are, in truth, just the opposite. 

There is another form of dishonesty that is one of the main tools that jerks use to make things harder for others. They will purposefully withhold information in the process of giving instructions. When the worker comes back to the boss with the project completed as instructed, the boss says, “Oh! You left out [this very important part]!” The boss never admits that she failed to say it and may even insist that she did say it. 

7. Being mean. I mention this above, but this type of manager gets a big kick out of making people uncomfortable in meetings. I’ve seen managers make their workers cry in particularly tough meetings. They yell, they complain, and they ridicule . . . all to make others feel inferior to them. They spread rumors about employees, and they take advantage of and continuously point out their workers’ weaknesses. They are bullies, in other words.

You see a lot of this behavior in popular shows (they’re really sophisticated soap operas) about business, to the point where anyone looking to join the business world would think that this is how all bosses behave. 

There is a managerial dictum that says you should praise in public and correct in private; the jerk boss does just the opposite. 

8. Do as I say, not as I do. A jerk will insist that you follow certain rules, rules that he or she does not follow. The first time an employee sees this behavior in action, his or her respect for that boss will be completely destroyed, never to be regained, no matter how much the boss flatters the employee or tries to get back into that person’s good graces.

9. Micromanage. When you hire good people, who do a good job, they don’t need much management at all. They need you to be a good boss, ready to help them when they need it, but otherwise, they will do their best in all situations and make very few mistakes. When they do make those mistakes, they admit it and learn from it, and will do their best to avoid making that mistake in the future.

The last thing a boss should do is micromanage these great employees. It only slows them down, distracts them, and demoralizes them. 

The more insecure the boss, especially the type who is deathly afraid of looking bad, the more the jerk boss will nitpick at the smallest details. These bosses give their workers time-wasting and company-killing assignments, and, of course, they force their best workers to start looking for another job. 

10. Being greedy. If a boss is only in business “for the money,” and “being rich” is the main goal, the jerk boss will always decide in his or her own favor, to the detriment of the company and its customers, workers, and partners. The company will never earn the reputation of being a “caring” company. The bad reviews will outnumber the good ones, and the company will never realize its full potential. The jerk will basically be driving good customers and workers away. 

These ten traits are the most egregious behaviors. 

They make a mockery of what companies can become: A force for good in the world. A safe place for nice people to work. A productive, society-enriching environment that leads to delighted workers and customers. 

So much is lost when the ego—passively or aggressively—is the driving force. 

My best advice to anyone working for a jerk is to find a company where the boss is not a jerk but someone who is honest and caring. 

My best advice to someone who read this article and said, “Hmmmm. I do that.” is to start working hard on yourself because your behavior is killing your company, in spite of all your efforts to grow your revenue. 

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