Halloween Special: 3 Signs That You’re a Scary Boss


We’ve all heard horror stories about scary bosses and the fallout from their behaviour. The old adage that people don’t leave organisations they leave bad managers is true – it’s the number one reason why people move on to new pastures. When leadership is toxic it demotivates employees, costing business time, money and an exodus of talent. But how do you know if you’re a scary boss? Here are three signs that you might be causing your staff nightmares this halloween.

1. Lack of Engagement

The latest Gallup research suggests that approximately 70% of employees are disengaged. That’s a chilling figure if you’re the one leading them. Bekker, Demerouti, & Sanz-Vergel, 2014, experts in employee burnout define engagement as ‘a positive, fulfilling work-related state of mind that is characterised as vigor, dedication and absorption. The kind of state that you’d expect to see employees in if they were in ‘flow’ or working at optimum performance. That’s what we’re all aiming for but it’s hard to get into flow or any other state of engagement with someone breathing down your neck. The old command and control style of leadership is widely recognised as defunct and out of date, it’s not something you need to resurrect, not even at Halloween. It’s worth investing in engagement by;

  • Allowing your staff to use their strengths
  • Increasing their level of autonomy and decision making
  • Listening to their ideas – and allowing them to implement some of them

Still not convinced? Even if you’re old school when it comes to leadership and believe in the stick rather than the carrot, it’s worth remembering this. The higher an employees level of engagement, the higher their financial returns (Bakker, 2011).

2. Zero Trust

If your people can’t trust you, you’re on a hiding to nowhere. If your staff don’t trust you and they’re frightened of how you’ll react you’ll stunt innovation creating a dysfunctional culture of blame instead. If you recognise a lack of openness or unwillingness of people to come to you with issues or ideas, building trust should be number one on your Halloween ‘To Do’ list. Gretchen Pisano states that trust is founded on these four traits.

  1. Common ground. This is about similar values and objectives. They know what you stand for and believe in the same vision.
  2. Predictability. They know that you mean what you say and will behave in a way that they predict. You have consistency and can be relied on to to the right thing and do things right as Warren Bennis famously espoused as a trait of decent leaders we want to follow.
  3. Consideration. You will think about them, their needs, their role and position in the company before you act. In short, you’ve got their back.
  4. Forewarning. You will tell them if something is going to happen that will affect them – positively or negatively.

Remember, trust is important and key as a leader. Nobody likes things that suddenly go ‘bump!’ in the night…..

3. You Blame your Employees for Failing

Let’s be honest, nobody enjoys failing, but the truth is, we all make mistakes. When you operate a blame culture as a leader it’s hard for your employees to learn from failure (they’re always too busy looking for someone else to pin it on). You’re not alone if you find it tough to tolerate mistakes, it’s a rare organisation that truly embraces failure as a way of learning, but it’s the only way to improve future performance. Failure isn’t always a bad thing, sometimes it improves systems, teams and overall performance. How can you shift your organisational culture to one that examines and learns from errors?

  • Make it safe to admit (and report) failure
  • Think about creating a checklist to identify causes and solutions. Atul Gawande’s ‘The Checklist Manifesto’ is a thorough guide to the ‘checklist’ and details how it has been embraced successfully by the World Health Organisation (WHO) significantly reducing the rate of error during surgery.
  • Think like Toyota. The Toyota Production System harnesses continual learning by learning from small mistakes and building that learning into their production processes and systems. Toyota even have a rope for employees to pull when they spot a mistake, initiating a process of diagnostics and problem solving.
  • Build a culture of learning. Positive psychologist Martin Seligman’s research recognises that individuals and organisations learn by failure. Some of them even build it into induction procedures, allowing new employees to fail (in a safe way) as part of their learning. Failure builds resilience and resilient employees are more engaged which takes us right back to where we started on our spooky journey.

So if you recognise yourself as something of a spooky boss make a committment to incorporate some of these techniques into your leadership style. Surprise your employees this Halloween by putting these strategies into practice, placing your broomstick to one side and watching as you strengthen your team and their performance.


About Zen and the art of living in Paris

It's been on my bucket list for the last 20 years and this year is the one that I finally get to live in Paris. I'll be living, writing and just 'being' by carving out my own corner of zen in Monmartre. I've been visiting Rue Ordener for as long as I can remember. Like all great gurus, they choose you, you don't choose them. Rue Ordener found me, I didn't go looking.
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