Article main image
Mar 7, 2022

There’s an age-old saying that people don’t leave organizations, they leave bosses. In my 20-plus years as a human resources professional, I can tell you with absolute certainty that this is the case.

I began my career in human resources as an after-school job in high school. It was fun, I learned a lot, and it launched me into an awesome career. However, it left me totally unprepared for the real world of horrible, awful, asshole bosses.

Let me introduce you to the management hierarchy in the human resources world.

First, we have leaders. True leaders are people who put their teams before themselves. They give credit where credit is due. They provide timely feedback and most of all, they genuinely give a shit. From my HR experience, when an employee reports to a leader who honestly and genuinely cares about them as a person and as an employee, it makes all the difference in the world. Trust and loyalty are born. These are the people that we call Kickass Leaders. They are the people that employees flock to and want to work for. The truth is people rarely leave their leaders.

Next we have managers. Managers are those who sometimes get a little lost. They may try to do the things capable leaders do: they provide feedback, and they want to do what’s right for the team. But unlike leaders, they may be out for themselves. They may not trust their team, and they might even pick and choose who they care about on the team. These managers often want to do better, and most of them are doing the work it takes to move up and become great leaders. Once they truly understand that they manage processes and lead people, things start to improve and get better.

Finally, we have bosses. Bosses are at the bottom of the pile. These are the people who take credit for the ideas of others. They openly mistreat people. They don’t trust their teams, and their teams don’t trust them. These bosses may not even realize how bad things are because they lack the necessary self- awareness to understand how their behavior impacts others. They only care about themselves and, most times, they truly do not give a single shit about their team.

Those are the bad bosses. In fact just in case anyone might still be living in the 90’s (and thinks bad means good), these bad bosses should be given their proper name: asshole bosses.

The fact is that more often than you’d believe, I stumble across a manager who just doesn’t get it. These are people:

  • Who think fear or intimidation is the best way to get things done.
  • Who think it’s their way or the highway.
  • Who think getting to know their employees is the highest level of 

Well let me tell you: those people are not leaders. They are not managers. They are bosses. 
And most of them are asshole bosses.

Employees know bad bosses when they see them. Do you?

The truth is employees ‘know’ when the manager supposedly “leading them” has zero interest in learning who they are as people.

Consequently, employees don’t see the point of talking to their manager about anything.

In a healthy work environment, employees see managers as people who eliminate negative behaviors; as people who help to coach and people manage people who act badly or perform poorly. In a healthy work environment, good employees are celebrated for doing well. They are made to feel safe when a manager enters the room. Much of this comes from seeing leaders who actually walk the walk.

 Asshole bosses are the opposite of this. For HRDs wanting to identify and help remedy their presence, they should consider the following tips:

1) Good bosses have to show they are vulnerable:

This increases the likelihood of an employee coming to a manager during a personal upheaval. On the flip side, if these bosses are themselves in the midst of a difficult situation, like a death in the family or another crisis, they need to be vulnerable and let their team know they’re going through a rough time.

2) Good bosses have to recognize the warning signs of an employee who is struggling:

If they build a good team relationship, it will be easier to detect problems early on. If bosses don’t know the signs, they need to be able to ask for help so they can acquire that skill immediately. That’s where having a supportive HR team around them is invaluable.

3) Good bosses don’t pry or act as the office therapist:

Bosses need to care without pushing and asking uncomfortable questions. Since they hold more power, employees may tell them more than they’re comfortable with, so good bosses need to set boundaries.

4) Good bosses listen first:

Like really They need to use eye contact. They need to use open body language. Then, they need to ask questions like: “How can we support you?” or “What can we do, if anything, to help you?” (and follow through on it).

5) Good bosses consider people’s workloads and what adjustments can be made:

The best bosses step up to help out. They don’t divulge any confidential information about an employee.

Give staff what they want – otherwise they’ll walk

Remember, when bosses do actually care, people know that. Conversely, if your employees feel undervalued or unimportant, how could they trust that their boss will ever put in a good word for them?

Remember too, that as inconvenient and time-consuming as job searches are today, an unhappy employee will still choose job hunting over putting up with a boss who just doesn’t care.

The fact is, what worked in the past to attract and retain employees just doesn’t work anymore. People demand flexibility, equity, and respect.

It shouldn’t be hard to give people those things, yet some organizations are still struggling. Giving employees the best experience possible means that people need to take precedence over profits.

When companies focus on people first, they seem to thrive. The successful leader of the future is collaborative, innovative, strategic, authentic, accountable, inclusive, self-aware, open-minded, flexible, empathetic, and humble.

In the 20 years since I been in HR I’ve witnessed plenty of great middle managers, and plenty of asshole bosses. The choice of who you have in your organization is entirely yours. HR professionals should know what it takes to make
kick ass leaders, but they also know that that it is a lot of work and it
doesn’t just happen overnight.

But if your organization has asshole
bosses though, you’re starting at a deficit. Moving the needle even a little bit might be a major accomplishment, but don’t stop there. Push yourself, especially if no one else is pushing you. The world needs more kick ass leaders because there’s already an abundance of asshole bosses.