What Makes a Bosshole

Do You Have a Bosshole in Your Organization?

As you wrap up the year and catch your breath…are you still marveling at the talent wars we have all been engaged in? And once you do get someone in the door, keeping your top employees from moving on to another company is almost as tricky. If so, you should consider an unpleasant thought: Your organization may be employing a bosshole.

It’s a fact that this type of manager gets operational results. Yet, in getting results, he or she may be taking down the organization in the process. These managers visibly gain ground in the organization, while simultaneously creating a path of destruction. They destroy morale, derail the efforts of others, and may ultimately destroy the company’s culture. We like to call these managers “abrasive leaders,” “competent jerks” or “bossholes.”

What Makes a Bosshole a Bosshole?
If you have one in your organization, they may not even be self-aware enough to know how they show up to their team. According to Laura Crawshaw, Ph.D., researcher, coach, and author of Taming the Abrasive Manager, “One of the characteristic aspects of abrasive leaders is they do not perceive themselves to be abrasive,” she explains. “They tend to be blind to their behavior, or think that it is necessary, that the only way to deal with employees is to be aggressive.” Essentially, these are the “red flag” behaviors that might be exhibited by a bosshole:

  • Quick to anger and will utilize retribution with peers and direct reports.
  • Superficially charming and makes a good first impression, but you soon see the personality and character flaws.
  • Will manage up and attempt to create a good impression on their own boss or board members.
  • Treats others with disrespect or publicly devalues others as being inferior or lacking.
  • Seems to be highly dependent upon recognition from others.
  • Constantly assesses for those who are a threat or will make him or her look bad.
  • The word “I” dominates conversations. This person is oblivious to the frequency of self-references he or she uses.
  • Takes little interest in you or others or in your life history, background, or accomplishments.
  • They don’t seem guilty of errors or wrongdoing and do not apologize for their actions.
  • Seeks to be the center of attention in meetings and will insinuate he or she is the smartest person in the room.
  • Preoccupied with success or power to the point of alienating others.

Unfortunately, these types of behaviors rarely remain contained at the manager level. As in any culture, the behavior at the top can trickle down throughout the entire organization. People might rationalize the behavior and say, “We are getting results, so what’s the problem? I know people can’t stand her, but she delivers!” So, what is the problem? For starters, these individuals often maximize their own results at the expense of others. This manager is focused on operational metrics but forgets that results cannot always be immediately quantified in terms of sales dollars, increased contracts, or great audits. Are operational measures important? Absolutely! Are they complete? Not at all!

This type of manager’s long-term impact can devastate an organization. Unfortunately, many have risen through the ranks because of their ability to hit the numbers…their behavior is reinforced with each promotion or additional assignment.  When I work with teams in organizations, I sometimes see specific “symptoms” in the rank-and-file employees that might indicate that there is a bosshole on the team. These include:

• People are afraid to challenge the leader or take risks
• Complaints regarding the individual’s interactions with coworkers
• Requests to transfer out of the leader’s department
• Attrition of valued employees
• Decreased morale and motivation
• The company gets a bad reputation from various stakeholders
• There may be increased litigation costs in the company

Everyone in the organization knows the damage these managers can cause, however the organization puts up with their behavior for the sake of bottom-line results. But are the results from these managers really the results a company wants?

The Ripple Effect
Unfortunately, the impact these bossholes have on the culture of the organization can be devastating. Certain people in the organization may have worked for years to build up the culture, only to have it destroyed by one or two people in the company.  These are the behaviors that employees report when working for a boss hole:

  • 48% intentionally decreased work effort and quality
  • 47% intentionally decreased time at work
  • 80% lost work time worrying about the behavior
  • 66% said their performance declined
  • 78% said their commitment to the organization declined

When looking at these percentages, it is obvious the impact that bossholes have on an organization.  However, the research indicates that their “Impact” may not match their “Intent”.

Myths and Truths about Bossholes
Contrary to popular misconceptions, bossholes are not necessarily awful people.  They may buy into their idea of success and not be aware of the damage they are doing to the constituents they serve.  Research by Lynne Harrison from Black Tusk Leadership states the following is true about these abrasive leaders:

  • They often lack awareness of the real impact of their abrasive behavior.
  • Their intention is to “do what it takes” to get the job done.
  • They are defending against the threat of being perceived as incompetent or possibly failing.
  • Often intense and driven, they are accustomed to being successful.
  • They became leaders because they were individual solid contributors not because they were great leaders.
  • They work in an environment that places high value on results regardless of how achieved.
  • Sometimes the culture actually encourages abrasive leadership behavior.
  • The organization is typically facing a high level of competition.
  • The leaders did not receive any vital feedback from the organization requiring they change their behaviors.

Bossholes are especially sensitive to anything that challenges their position, success, self-perception, authority, or need to please. Therefore, they tend to overreact.  From experience, they have learned to survive by deploying unacceptable behaviors and will defend against any threats to how they are accustomed to achieving success.  Again, we want to emphasize that they may be shocked to find out that they are hurting the people around them.

Taming Bossholes 
In order to stop the destruction that occurs in organizations due to bossholes, people at the top have to take action.  They have to realize that while these individuals do get results, they are not the results that build a strong culture or typically align with company values. These are critical to being successful in taming your bosshole:

  • Describe clearly the impact of their behavior on other employees.
  • Declare their behavior is inconsistent with organizational values and will not be tolerated.
  • Offer help and be actively involved in holding them accountable.
  • Look at the organizational practices that may be contributing to the problem.
  • Assess whether the leader, in fact, really is ready to change.
  • Hire an outside coach or mentor for leadership development.

In summary, we have all either worked for a bosshole in the past or know a “living and breathing” one in our organization today.  It is essential to understand that the current culture may unintentionally encourage such abrasive behaviors.  But, the truth is that none of us has to continue to subject the people we are entrusted with in our organizations to these bossholes.  Any company with a relevant core purpose (that goes beyond making money) and truly lives by its core values will not allow a bosshole to continue to wreak havoc on the culture.

Shark Tank has been in the news lately…Mark Cuban plans to leave after 16 seasons. The following is a relevant, yet vintage, video about Mr. Wonderful on the ABC television show “Shark Tank” – a behind-the-scenes look at a self-proclaimed bosshole.