It’s time to eliminate the Boss persona and Boss-like behavior from our politics, businesses, and organizations in 2021. Based on managing teams and enterprises around the world, I understand that this change is much easier said than done. However, employees must stop making excuses for a boss’s toxic behaviors for teams to succeed.
While being a Boss is still something many people aspire to be in their career, it’s important to discuss the dynamics and three ways employees can take action to inspire a shift towards servant leadership.
The argument for moving away from the “boss” archetype stems from the fact that the more ego-driven and selfish a manager acts, the more disengaged employees become. And ultimately, customers suffer if employees feel disrespected or harassed by their boss. Instead of tolerating toxic leadership behaviors, servant leaders should become the new normal. Servant leaders bring humility, will, and empathy to day-to-day interactions with their teams.
One of the largest barriers to revolutionizing leadership is the realization that many employees themselves overlook their managers behaving poorly at work. Despite all of the “speak up” training seminars and hotlines that most enterprises have put in place, few changes happen, and turnover increases when direct reports are silent. To preserve a team, both the managers and the employees need to open lines of communication.
Managers really need to encourage feedback without punishing subordinates. And employees need to feel safe to speak up about behaviors that oppress, disengage, or worse - motivate them to start accepting calls from recruiters.
It is truly a catch-22 situation. Employees need assurances from managers that they can feel really comfortable talking to them about their concerns. In order to shift to servant leadership, managers need to prove that they have the maturity to deal with feedback from a subordinate. Employees shouldn't have to “toughen up”, as is the norm in so many organizations. Instead, each team member should feel safe, secure, and valued by their companies.
To build a better workplace, employees may need to step up to shift the status quo. We are living in the age of employee empowerment. As such, employees have a ton of choices for where to work and share their talents.
Instead of accepting a boss’ bad behavior, employees should recognize their power and insist that their manager evolves their styles, language, and approach. Their voices matter and can shift toxic leadership to a culture of trust.
Some behaviors are truly inexcusable at work (harassment, fraud, racism, sexism, ageism, incompetence, etc.), but other toxic behaviors get overlooked way too easily (blaming, shaming, foul language, neglect, dumping.)
Managers who blame others versus taking responsibility for failures and rebounding from them can lower employee morale and engagement levels just as badly as harassment.
Similar to the natural response to the #metoo movement, change wasn't about coaching or counseling of the offenders, it was about firing them. It's time to recognize that most Boss-like behavior cannot be trained away, it must be eliminated.
When an employee excuses their bosses’ bad behavior two things happen: 1) the boss never improves and 2) the employee continues to suffer. Rather than continue to agonize every day, it's time for employees to speak up. And if they are not comfortable addressing their concerns on their own, the employee should go to Human Resources or others until the problem is resolved.
With that in mind, here are three proactive actions employees can and should do when encountering toxic bosses at work instead of looking the other way:
1. Address bad behavior in real-time by sharing feelings and impact: Pull your manager aside shortly after the negative incident, and tell them what they did, how it made you feel and how it impacted your work. You might say, “When you did this…it made me feel…., and I could not get any work done.” Ask them to refrain from such behavior in the future. And don't allow them to flip the script by saying that you are the problem, not them. This approach is the most effective way to assist your manager in positive change for both of you. This direct dialogue can also be risky if your boss is not open to feedback, so consider other options below if needed.
2. Talk to human resources and ask for an intervention: If you feel strongly that your manager will not be open to your feedback, consider scheduling a one-on-one meeting with the appropriate person in Human Resources. Explain the situation, and ask for an intervention. Remember, you are not asking for this meeting so they can give you advice, you are requesting help in scheduling a meeting with your manager and HR so you can give timely and helpful feedback. If you decide that the situation doesn't warrant such a serious escalation, return to step 1!
3. Use the employee hotline anonymously for extreme situations: If you don't believe that going to HR can help, consult your company intranet and find the employee hotline. These resources allow you to anonymously report bad behaviors and request an investigation. This action will most certainly result in your manager receiving a reprimand if there is inappropriate behavior, which does two things: 1) it puts them on notice and 2) brings awareness to your bosses’ boss that there may be a problem that needs to be addressed. However, this approach can also take the longest to impact change. It could be months before the investigation finishes and may increase your anxiety level while waiting for the outcome.
While these proactive actions may be too daring for some employees, it is truly amazing that many continually make excuses for people who get paid a lot more than employees! The HOW matters in management as much as what is being achieved.
Employees need to stop making excuses for toxic leaders and instead take action to encourage change. We shouldn't need unions to influence managers to do the right things and build a trusting environment for their people. It's high time that everyone treats negative behavior as a disruptor and addresses it versus ignore the elephant in the room.
And with Gen X (currently 41-56), Gen Y (35-40), and Gen Z (6-24) now demanding a workplace where feedback is heard, bosses will need to shift to servant leadership or find another job.
What are your thoughts on eliminating Boss behaviors from our companies?
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