Study: Traits of bad bosses usually clear


    Clint O. Longenecker.

  • Clint O. Longenecker.
    Clint O. Longenecker.

    Do you work for a bad boss? If you're not sure, then you probably don't.

    A University of Toledo professor of management has analyzed years of seminar data from workers describing their worst bosses, and it turns out some pretty obvious and consistent traits separate the merely difficult bosses from the truly awful supervisors.

    "When people were asked to chronicle their worst boss, they either cited lack of character or competency," said Clint Longenecker, a professor of leadership and organizational excellence in the university's college of business and innovation. "When we teach leadership, we now focus on character and competency. The list of bad traits leans very heavily towards character issues."

    Mr. Longenecker, who has conducted leadership seminars for nearly 12 years, said he always has asked participants to think of their worst boss and then write a description of him or her. "About a year and a half ago I decided to take those answers and analyze them," he said. His findings were published in a recent issue of Industrial Management, a publication of the Institute of Industrial Engineers.

    The findings ended up being what Mr. Longenecker describes as the "dirty dozen" — the 12 most frequent traits of a bad boss.

    Heading the list: a boss who is arrogant, prideful, inflexible, and always right. No. 2: a boss who is unprincipled, untrustworthy, who misrepresents the truth and lies.

    "What's particularly interesting is to get people talking about their worst boss. It quickly turns into a ‘Can you top this' sort of thing," Mr. Longenecker said. "It is somewhat unbelievable that any organization would allow people to function like this, if these encounters are in fact true."

    However, recognizing a bad boss ends up being just part of the problem. The other half, Mr. Longenecker said, is deciding what to do about it.

    "If your boss is doing something unethical, you have to get out of there immediately," he said. "But if your boss is someone who is bad and you're in an environment where jobs are very scarce, you have to brush up on your coping skills."

    Most workers will reach a "tipping point" at which they make a conscious effort to seek employment elsewhere, Mr. Longenecker said. "The good thing is it's easier to find a job when you have a job."

    Other workers, he said, make a decision to stick it out, and a bad boss can have a very negative effect on those workers both professionally and personally.

    "A bad boss can make them bitter, anxious, and really provide them with a disproportionate amount of stress in their life," Mr. Longenecker said.

    That deteriorating relationship also may make it difficult for a bad boss to get the desired results from their workers.

    Mr. Longenecker said that he was approached at a recent seminar in Dallas by a participant who recognized some of the traits in himself.

    "He said, ‘Well, I'll be honest with you. I think I'm a bad boss. My vice president made me come here. I've always been successful and always gotten results.'

    "I asked him, ‘What's changed?'

    "And he said, ‘I think people don't want to work with me anymore,'?" Mr. Longenecker said.

    "I like to talk about something called ‘emotional intelligence,'?" the management professor said.

    The concept, he said, is about a person having the ability to empathize with others and be self-aware of his or her own strengths and weaknesses.

    "What you'll find with most bad bosses is a lack of ability to connect with other people," he said.

    "If you're working for one, understand how it affects you," Mr. Longenecker said. "And if you're working for one and realize it's affecting you badly, get out of there quickly."

    Contact Jon Chavez at: or 419-724-6128.