10 Signs You Have a Bad Boss

Watch out for these warning signs.

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Alison Green
Everyone likes to complain about their boss now and then, but here are 10 signs that you have a truly bad boss, the kind worth getting away from. And if you’re a manager and recognize yourself in any of the below, it’s time to immediately send yourself to manager rehab!

[See 15 Ways Good Bosses Keep Their Best Employees.]

1. Yelling. Managers who yell actually diminish their own authority because they look out of control. After all, a manager confident in her own authority doesn’t need to yell because she has far more effective tools available to her. Don’t yell, and don’t work for yellers.

2. Fuzzy expectations. If your manager doesn’t communicate clear, concrete goals for your work, and convey to you what success in your position would look like, she’s falling down on one of her most important jobs. A good test: If you and your manager were both asked what’s most important for you to achieve this year, would your answers match?

3. Unreliability. She says she’ll review your report by Tuesday, but it doesn’t happen. She promises to join you for your important meeting but doesn’t make it. She says she’ll forward you a client’s contact info, but it never arrives. You need to be able to rely on your manager to do what she says she’s going to do, just as she needs to rely on you for the same.

4. Unwillingness to make decisions. This often takes the form of managers neglecting to address performance problems or not firing low performers. But it surfaces in other ways too, like not taking responsibility for moving work forward or punting in favor of trying to reach consensus.

5. Unreasonable demands. Holding staffers to a high standard is a good thing. But insisting that people work over the weekend to complete a project that isn’t time-sensitive, or demanding that an employee do the truly impossible, is the mark of a tyrant.

6. Indirectness. When a manager sugarcoats to the point that her message is missed, or presents requirements as mere suggestions, staffers end up confused about expectations, and the manager ends up frustrated that her “suggestions” weren’t acted upon.

7. Ruling by fear. Managers who rule through rigid control, negativity, and a climate of anxiety and fear don’t trust that they can get things done any other way. Of course, it backfires in the end because fearful employees won’t bring up new ideas for fear of being attacked and won’t be honest about problems. Moreover, very few great people with options are going to want to work for a fear-based manager.

[See 10 Signs Your Boss Just Isn't that Into You.]

8. Defensiveness. Managers who respond defensively when their decisions are questioned end up quashing dissent and making employees less likely to suggest new and different ways of doing things. Managers who are secure in their authority aren’t threatened by dissent, and they recognize that others’ ideas are sometimes better than their own.

9. Drama. A good manager minimizes drama, rather than causing it. If everything is a crisis around your manager, she’s probably what’s at the center of the problem.

10. Fear of conflict. If your manager avoids conflict and tough conversations, chances are high that employees don’t hear much feedback and problems don’t get addressed.

Alison Green writes the popular Ask a Manager blog where she dispenses advice on career, job search, and management issues. She's also the author of Managing to Change the World: The Nonprofit Leader's Guide to Getting Results and former chief of staff of a successful nonprofit organization, where she oversaw day-to-day staff management, hiring, firing, and employee development. She now teaches other managers how to manage for results.