Confessions of a Rotten Boss

Learning the Lessons of Great Leadership......The Hard Way

“I did then what I knew how to do.  Now that I know better, I do better.”

Maya Angelou

By Teresa Lowry

Research tells us one of the top reasons people leave the workplace is they don’t like their boss. Your leader is the most influential person in the organization to you and the people on your team. People don’t usually leave their job for more money. They leave when the boss is disengaged and disconnected. They leave because they have a rotten boss.

My Aegis Learning colleague Polly Walker recently wrote a great article entitled “7 Deadly Signs of a Rotten Boss”. This prompted me to reflect on my early days as a boss. Having been promoted due to technical expertise and not emotional intelligence I certainly had my share of cringe worthy moments. Some of my rotten boss behaviors are listed below. I take comfort now in Maya Angelou’s words “I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better I do better.”


There I was in the big corner office adorned with floor to ceiling windows with an administrative assistant acting as guardian at the gate. My door to her adjacent space was open. I could say I had an open-door policy and tell people if they wanted to see me they could come to my office. The onus was on the members of my team. If they had a question or wanted to see me, they knew where to find me.

Fact: Leadership requires us to make frequent, personal contact with team members a priority. Get out of the office and walk around your organization.


No need to attend social events or be social. This is work. Serious business. I’ll donate money for your parties, sign birthday and retirement cards, maybe send an email to acknowledge your milestone but don’t expect me to attend your parties and socialize because I am busy working. I am a stoic, private person with no desire to tell the people who work for me anything about me or my private life. Nor do I need to know about your personal life. Any need to socialize should be addressed outside of work.

Fact: Leadership requires relationship depth with team members. Successful organizations work hard and have fun. Create an environment where social interaction is valued and encouraged.


What is all the fuss about giving praise and positive feedback to people for doing a job they are getting paid to do? You get a paycheck, benefits, your job is stable. What more do you need? Feedback is provided in your yearly evaluation. If you don’t hear from me it means you are doing a good job.

Fact: Pay provided to team members compensates for the lowest minimum requirement of performance and behavior. Leaders can unlock discretionary effort through relationship depth and consistent positive feedback. When delivering positive feedback be direct and insure your tone is upbeat and positive.


A rotten boss expects you to accept and tolerate moods swings. Team members should not expect predictability. With great responsibility and the weight of the organization on my shoulders I am entitled to be sullen, serious and unapproachable depending on my emotional set point each day. Besides, this keeps people guessing and on their toes. I don’t want them to become too complacent or comfortable. Managing by fear is a good thing and promotes respect.

Fact: Successful leaders have good self-awareness and self-management. Emotional intelligence is far more predictive of workplace success than intellectual capacity. Consistency in behavior and approach is key in providing your team with a leader who is easy to follow. Solicit feedback from team members by asking “What am I projecting?”

One of the reasons I know what we teach at Aegis Learning works is because I learned the hard way what does not work. The rotten boss behaviors described above resulted in disengaged team members and low morale. Thankfully, you dear reader, now know better and can avoid ever being a rotten boss. Lead Well my friends.

Teresa Lowry is a passionate advocate for learning, growth and generating real organizational change.

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