This blog post is co-written by Mike Morrow-Fox and Maureen as a companion to the VoiceAmerica recording on Bad Bosses.

Bill comes into the office. He is swamped by the sheer volume of work he needs to accomplish –  preparing for a high-visibility client meeting, meeting with his executive leadership, and consolidating information to create his monthly reports. On top of this, he has seven highly competent direct reports. He’s grateful that his team is so effective, because it means he doesn’t need to spend much time with them. He really likes his team and wishes he could do more mentoring, but for now, he needs to keep his head down and get his work done. As we read in the article, his approach is actually ineffective because he is not actively engaging them.

In a January 2016 article published in the Gallup Business Journal, ‘Gallup has been tracking employee engagement in the U.S. since 2000. Though there have been some slight ebbs and flows, less than one-third of U.S. employees have been engaged in their jobs and workplaces during these 15 years. According to Gallup Daily tracking, 32% of employees in the U.S. are engaged — meaning they are involved in, enthusiastic about and committed to their work and workplace. Worldwide, only 13% of employees working for an organization are engaged.’

Bosses play a major role in employee engagement and disengagement. Engaged bosses drive engagement, while disengaged bosses drive disengagement and, even, active disruption.

Let’s start with a definition. What is the difference between a leader and a boss? Leaders set the cultural tone and strategic vision; bosses are the employee’s conduit to the larger organization.

We understand that there are some obvious characteristics that would make anyone a bad boss, like throwing temper tantrums and micromanaging. We’re going to talk about subtler differences.

‘If your manager ignores you, there is 40% chance that you will be actively disengaged or filled with hostility about your job. If your manager is at least paying attention, the chances of your being actively disengaged go down to 22%. But if your manager is primarily focusing on your strengths, the chance of your being actively disengaged is just 1%, or 1 in 100.’

The number one action great bosses take is regularly taking time to engage with their employees and focusing on employee strengths during these interactions. Great bosses also have regular conversations about employee development, again focusing on employee strengths much more than deficiencies. Going back to Bill in the opening story, if he had allocated time each week to talk to employees, discussing their projects and building on their strengths to help them continue to thrive, he would likely have dramatically improved their engagement. It seems rather easy, yet it is not common.

Most of us have had bad boss experiences and found a way to cope until we changed jobs or the bad boss rotated out. The question we pose is, what cost do you personally incur if you happen to be less involved than your employees need you to be, or if you are primarily focused on correcting and giving guidance rather than balancing guidance to improve performance with helping employees improve their strengths?

To become a more innovative leader, please consider our online leader development program. For additional tools, we recommend taking leadership assessments, using the Innovative Leadership Fieldbook and Innovative Leaders Guide to Transforming Organizations, and adding coaching to our online innovative leadership program. We also offer several workshops to help you build these skills.

Rath,T.,& Harter, J. (2010, July). Composite of several submissions. Servant Leadership Focus Newsletter, Volume 4, Issue 7.

Mann, Annamarie, and Harter, Jim. (2016, January). Business Journal.

Photo credits: caveman by lorri37

About the authors:
Maureen Metcalf is the Founder and CEO of Metcalf & Associates. She is an executive advisor, a speaker, coach, and the author of an award-winning book series focused on innovating how you lead. She is also on the faculty of universities in the US and Germany.

Mike Morrow-Fox, MBA, has over 20 years of experience in leading technology and human resources operations for health care, education, banking, and nonprofit organizations, as well as several years of university teaching. His bachelor’s degree focused on Industrial Psychology and Employee Counseling and his MBA focus was on Organizational Leadership. He is currently completing his Doctorate in Educational Leadership. He is a contributor and thought partner for several of the innovative leadership books.