Bosses have unique power in the world. Their ability to uplift or destroy invades every aspect of your working life, and can even bleed into your private life. The best bosses know how to harness this power for good, challenging where they must and encouraging where they can. Good bosses empower their employees and help them achieve their best.

But bad bosses are unable or unwilling to use their power for good. Bad bosses know only negative encouragement and the pressure of fear. Often this leads to an office with unmotivated, underperforming, unhappy workers who neither want nor are able to produce their best work or bring the company to new heights. Bad bosses can lead to irreparable harm to their companies. Here's how to recognize the really terrible ones:

1. They shoot down employee ideas.

Bad bosses are never open to new ideas. Things must be done the way they've always been done, no matter how inefficient, because that way works. This attitude is actually one of fear. The bad boss is afraid to take any risk that might improve the process too much, either out of fear of things going wrong, or out of fear that he will become irrelevant. Good bosses encourage their employees to think outside the box and come to them with new ideas. They're willing to give alternative processes a shot and are always looking for ways to make the company better.

2. They avoid the hard conversations.

Maintaining a safe and comfortable office environment is everyone's job, of course. But when it comes down to it, only the boss can fire a warning shot or make the final call on someone's bad behavior. It is his responsibility to acknowledge an underperformer or a culture-killer, whether he recognizes one himself or other colleagues bring it to his attention. And then the boss has the responsibility to act. Leaving these situations unresolved makes for coworkers who are resentful and angry. It can even lead to more underperformance, as others realize what they may be able to get away with without consequences. It brings down morale for everyone.

3. They're focused only on the bottom line.

This shortsighted attitude can bring disaster on a company. Employees simply cannot maintain the pace or stand the pressure, and they burn out. Those employees either quit, leading to a critical depletion of institutional knowledge, or they start underperforming, which can make other employees angry or want to do the same. Good bosses understand that happy employees produce the best work and maintain the best customer relationships.

4. They treat employees like replaceable commodities.

Not all employees are created equal, but that doesn't mean they should be discarded at the first sign of struggle. Bad bosses don't recognize unique talents and don't acknowledge culture champions. Maybe one employee is difficult to work with, but has one skill so critical to office function that production would collapse without him. This doesn't mean he shouldn't be fired, but it does mean the boss better have an idea of how to replace that critical functionality quickly. Or maybe another employee isn't the top salesperson on the team, but he is great with people, teaches new hires the computer system no one else wants to tackle, and is the only person in the division who gets along with the accounting team. A bad boss would immediately dismiss him for underperformance on sales alone. A great boss would shift his role to highlight his skills.

5. They always know best.

Bad bosses have closed ears and shut eyes. They're not open to suggestions, and they will follow through on their own plans even in the face of overwhelming evidence that it's not working. Their need to assert authority and carve out their place is greater than their desire for a happy, functional office.

Published on: Dec 21, 2017