Leadership is often an act of desperation. You are desperate to lead people, to solve problems, to push a company forward. In this desperate act, there's often a tendency to rely on old ways of thinking--your personality, upbringing, and even your mental condition sometimes rise to the surface and are exacerbated by the circumstances. Struggle a little with anger? In the stress of managing people, you might become even angrier. Tend to worry about personal finances at home? If you're dealing with much larger sums at work, you might have mini-meltdowns about money.
And, honestly, that's OK. If you are leading a company, it's important to know how your education, background, tendencies, and personality ticks will all become challenges for you as you lead--they will all raise their ugly heads, one head at a time.
Yet, the really horrible bosses, the ones who are hated by everyone, the ones we all despise intensely, go to another level of extreme. Their heads are really ugly. Personal problems and personality disorders compound even further in the workplace. Here's how.
1. They always get angry to compensate for a lack of know-how
Anger is not an effective management tool, but few of us are immune to it. It's just another emotion, like joy or sorrow. In some cases, getting angry about something is OK, if it shows your employees that you care about something enough to get a little worked up.
The really horrible bosses? They use anger to compensate for a lack of knowledge, when they feel they are losing control of the situation, as a sad-sack motivational technique, and when they want to get their way. Anger is not a reaction to a given situation; it's a tool horrible bosses use because they don't know about all of the other tools, like setting achievable milestones or giving employees the freedom to explore new ideas. A horrible boss always uses anger because it's the fastest, easiest, dumbest technique.
2. They won't let their staff take the credit
A good boss knows when to dole out praise. Part of the human condition is that we all need encouragement, and we also tend to like people more when they give it to us. When you name the No. 1 quality of a good boss, it's probably that he or she is encouraging.
Horrible bosses never give out praise; they only criticize. And there's a root cause. If you praise someone at work, it means you are admitting the employee did a good job--and you didn't. Let's say it's a big customer acquisition for the company, and Sue deserves most of the credit. If the boss withholds that praise, it's because he or she doesn't want to acknowledge the company needs Sue or that she is an asset. A horrible boss carries the weight of the world on his shoulders--by himself and without any help. A good boss knows it is a team effort and will easily share the load and the glory.
3. They are constantly nitpicking about money
What is it about a horrible boss when it comes to finances in a startup? They rail and vent about expenses constantly, warn you about going over budget, whine when a customer pulls out of a contract--it's all about the green stuff. But here's the problem. Life is short.
There are many other rewards in business besides making money (really--there is!). Ask anyone who has invented something really amazing about what gave him or her lasting satisfaction and it will probably not have anything to do with a bank account. The person will say something about helping people, or achieving notoriety, or even just making a lasting mark on the world. Sure, he or she might be driving a BMW at the time, but the best leaders and managers in business know that true happiness and joy comes from relationships, innovative thinking, tackling big-picture issues, and resolving problems.
Horrible bosses? They are pretty shallow. And immature. And testy about the balance sheet. They are driven to succeed at all costs, and they will see you as merely a means to an end, a way to rake in more cash even if it means yelling, cursing, getting angry, throwing a big fit, and even firing you on a whim. Stand in the way of their financial success and they will kick you under a bus so fast you won't see the wheel rims.