There are bad bosses everywhere.
You could be working for one. You may know one. You may have dealt with one in the past. Indeed, you may actually be one.
If any of the above ring truth for you, hope isn’t lost.
Michelle Gibbings is a workplace expert who’s led a multifaceted career across the corporate sphere. She was also once a self-described ‘bad boss’.
But now, with the benefit of hindsight, Michelle’s used her own considerable experience– gained across a 20-year career –to pen an entire book on the subject of bad bosses and ways to shift the dial if you’re the culprit.
‘Bad Boss: What to do if you work for one, manage one or are one’, acknowledges that bad bosses are a universal problem. They are making people miserable and workplaces less enjoyable and productive than they could be.
As Michelle says: “People don’t approach me for coaching or mentoring help because they’re finding the work too hard. They come to me and say I am struggling with the relationships at work.”
The good news is that change is possible, but it does require some work and some background on what might just be going wrong.
Michelle learnt (through 360 feedback) more about her style of leadership than she could have ever imagined. She discovered that she moved too fast, which was creating problems in her team.
She took the news on board and decided to do something constructive: she spent her own time and money on development.
Having always sought adventure in her career, Michelle embraced this new opportunity for change and transformation. A born learner, she was happy to be challenged and open to a new approach. “My motto was that if it doesn’t work out, I’ll find something new,” she says.
Of course, the thought of self-transformation will terrify many leaders, and this is part of the problem. Being adaptive is key to success, especially when you consider the future of work.
Though resolute, Michelle says confidence is something she works at on a daily basis. She’s gradually overcoming the feeling of nausea that used to wash over her in corporate meetings.
“I realised that if I couldn’t overcome this, I would never progress,” she says.
But as part of her self-growth, she learnt to appreciate that fear of speaking up is ok and nerves can be a good thing if harnessed correctly. Her simple tip for others in the same boat? Breath.
“I breath, I slow down. I shift that energy,” she says.
It’s a tip that doesn’t just work to build confidence, but also for managing other people.
How to be a good leader?
You will find a lot of information on how to be a good “big picture” leader: to have vision, to give direction, to iterate and come up with new idea and move and pivot businesses.
But what can often get lost in this advice is the importance of good leaders valuing and respecting others – particularly junior colleagues.
“Often as leaders we want to think it’s all about the big picture, but it’s the small things that matter,” Michelle says.
It’s about positive interactions with people daily and showing them they’re worthy of your time and focus.
She says leaders must recognise just how much communication matters and suggest building in regular patterns of communication behaviour – like regular, short team meetings and check ins.
“Don’t ever cancel a one on one. It’s often the first thing that gets pushed, postponed, or cancelled by leaders. Cancelling tells that team member that they are last on the order of priority. Don’t do it.”
“Turn up to meetings and turn up on time. Don’t cancel unless it’s urgent. Remember that everyone ultimately wants to feel respected and valued.”
“You need to know the line you won’t cross,” says Michelle. “When you cross that line and you’ve sold your soul, sold your integrity, that’s so hard to recover from.”
And once you’ve even inched a little over that line, given yourself away, it becomes easier to do it again…and again. Before you know it, you’ve moved well beyond the line.
Michelle advocates for people to take 360 surveys – and there are a variety of tools online to gain a better assessment of the situation. It helps leaders bridge the gap between how they think they lead, and how other people actually experience it.
Employers, rethink the pathways to management
Some people are simply not built for management and have no desire to rebuild themselves in order to support and lead teams.
Often, the problem is how organisations place value on people doing good technical work – they progress such individuals by giving them people to manage.
But technical brilliance doesn’t automatically make you brilliant at managing people – and in many cases people don’t want to take on the burden of a team anyway.
As such, Michelle says organisations need to introduce dual pathways of progression. One pathway involves leadership and management, and you get support and training for such responsibilities accordingly. The other pathway allows people to progress according to their technical skills and abilities in the work and job they are doing.
Of course, it’s one thing to be armed with this knowledge. From there, leaders have to be willing to listen to the feedback and to, where necessary, consider adjustments to their behaviour.
“There is the awareness piece, and the idea that you have to want to change,” says Michelle. “No one can force you to change.”
Leading in the future
We’ve faced a lot of change in 2020, but we’re due for a lot more, especially as we consider how automation will further enter the workforce.
Leadership must evolve with the times, so what will be important?
Michelle believes we can’t forget the soft skills. “At the end of the day, a robot can’t give you hug,” she says.
“The ability to critically analyse, to think, to process information– all that will be really important,” she says.
“The soft skills will be the differentiator. Anything that is a process, well that can be automated. The things that can’t get automated are how you think, the creativity, the connection you have with other people.”
Michelle’s latest book is published by Wiley. It’s available in good stores and at Booktopia here.