Horrible bosses: An iron rod will get you nowhere

Too many bosses want to maintain an image of perfection – but admitting you don’t know everything is a strength

If you’re in charge, remember to muck in and listen to your staff.

Few office workers are without a scare story about an awful boss, either past or present. These may include the absurd (employees being asked to iron their bosses’ newspapers), the bizarre (babysit a Tamagochi), or even the violent (throwing the wastepaper bin at the wall). But most leadership shortcomings are more subtle than that – and it’s rare that anyone would be an awful boss on purpose. Yet how many bad leaders are aware that their management approach feels more like a reign of terror?
Poor management is an endemic business problem. This is largely because leadership skills aren’t innate: they are learned. People are often promoted because they are good at their job, but this doesn’t mean that they know how to lead a team. But a bad boss is bad for business – unhappy workers can be unproductive and costly to replace.
So test yourself against these three areas, and don’t be afraid to ask for help to improve your skills.


It’s human nature to feel a huge sense of accomplishment when you start climbing the corporate ladder. But this becomes unhealthy when you start to think about the ladder as a “hierarchy,” with those at the bottom “serving” those at the top. Bad bosses were often treated badly themselves, and feel the need to repay the next generation, so that they can “learn the ropes”.
Break the cycle and lead by example. You’ll win the admiration of workers by showing you respect what they do. Be happy to muck in, coach them through their tasks, and constructively show them how to improve.


After a promotion, people feel the need to maintain an image of perfection. They believe that failure to do so shows weakness. But when it comes to your team, the opposite is true. Fallibility and the ability to admit when you are wrong is a strength. Employees respect and relate better to the leaders who aren’t know-it-alls: everyone has strengths and areas for improvement.


TV shows and bad experiences lead many people to think that the best way to get others to do what they want is to use the stick, not the carrot. In the real world, however, an abrasive boss who leads with an iron rod doesn’t get results. They instill fear – and lower productivity.
Good interpersonal skills are a key attribute for a leader. They can always be improved, through improving listening skills and offering positive reinforcement. A good leader is a coach: they support their team and root for group success. They understand that working collectively as a team can yield the best results. They challenge and stretch those who need it, and they hand-hold those who need support.
Lisette Howlett is head of the sales, management and leadership training organisation Sandler Training, in London.

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