Forrest Gump famously quipped about the unpredictability of life when he said, "Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get."
That metaphor of life certainly applies to the unpredictability of bosses as well. When you accept a new position, you don't know what fate has in store working for you new boss. What kind of leadership was modeled for him or her? Is he or she new to the role? Does he or she understand what it takes to manage people from different generations and cultures, or with different personalities?
Under a servant-leader, it may be the greatest experience ever. Under a controlling micro-manager -- the most stressful experience ever. It could go either way.
But whomever is calling the shots, no boss is perfect; incivility and unprofessional behavior is bound to happen at one point or another -- the type of stuff that makes HR folks cringe.
For most bosses, some unprofessional behavior is excusable. But three strikes, and you're out. Here are five that will tell you whether they should even be in a leadership role, period.
1. They are not fully present in conversation.
Mastering communication skills is clearly and undeniably a prerequisite before your feet are firmly planted in Leadership Land. Bosses who uphold to professionalism will minimize digital distractions, engage the listener in two-way conversation, and actively listen to the other person.
The opposite is a boss who doesn't understand the effects of his unprofessional listening habits. Here's a quick test (honesty is the best policy):
- How often do you find yourself trying hard to avoid the bad habit of interrupting others while they are speaking?
- Do you find yourself tempted to jump in and finish someone else's sentence?
You see, effective listening is being content to listen to the entire thought of someone rather than waiting impatiently for your chance to respond. This is being totally present in conversation. It shows that you're both interested and curious about the other person's story.
2. They have terrible body language.
Then there's the type of communication we aren't even aware of at times -- our body language -- which can come across as very unprofessional. Ever been around a person who appears to be somewhat emotionally engaged from the neck up, but whose total physical presence is checked out?
I interviewed an actual psychologist about it. Donna Van Natten, author of Image Scrimmage and who is also affectionately-known as "The Body Language Dr.," told me that being aware of your whole entire body really counts.
She says that people do pick up cues from the position of the entire person standing before them, including leg and feet positions -- your stance.
Van Natten told me, "We know that the feet tell us where the mind wants to go. Someone who is authentically engaged and present in the situation involves their whole body in the conversation. They get closer, they face you, and they bring their bodies and feet toward you to demonstrate 'I'm fully here.'"
3. They are not prepared to deal with tough conversations.
Raise your hand--who likes to discipline an employee? Didn't think so. Even worse is a boss who has to face that prospect without doing his due diligence to understand the situation from all sides. Totally unprofessional.
The most professional bosses employ a face-to-face discussion to deal with low performers. And they have a game-plan that's well-thought out in advance. They will analyze the problem first to get clarity by asking questions like:
- Does the employee understand what the problem is?
- Does the employee really understand the expected level of performance?
- Does the employee fully understand what will happen if performance standards are not met?
- Do I, as the manager, have all the facts? Who, what, where, when, why, and how?
4. They show lack of accountability.
Unprofessional bosses don't exercise responsibility and own up to "their stuff" when "their stuff" is at fault. Remember the old saying, "For every finger you point, there are three pointing back at you?"
Unprofessional bosses are critical, can't admit to their own mistakes, are never wrong, and will blame other people (typically their subordinates) when something goes wrong, even if it's not based on reality.
They are simply not accountable for their own actions. They are more concerned with preserving their reputation and saving face.
5. They barricade themselves behind the safety of their own offices.
A CEO I reported to back in my corporate days suffered from the unprofessional syndrome of the "invisible executive."
He dwelled in the safety and comfort of his office most of the 50-plus hours he put in per week. It was safe there because, at the time, turnover had reached an astounding 60 percent. His open-door policy was reserved strictly for his scrambling executive team.
One of my early meetings with him to discuss developing culture as a long-term strategy to counter attrition centered around making his role more visible--literally--to his people. I told him that this tactic was an attempt to strengthen his image and reputation, and to improve the cardiac-level employee-engagement numbers with his own reports.
He wanted no part in it, naturally, because he saw this as being exposed, rather than as a courageous manner to build bridges and connect with his employees as valued stakeholders.
His loss, your gain. I've since published that strategy for any leader seeking more visibility--a very professional and authentic thing to do. The lesson remains: Authenticity is a leadership strength that will win over your followers.
What unprofessional management behaviors would you add to this list? Comment below.