You might be working for a delusional boss.
Chad struggled to see how others saw him. He stubbornly clung to the mistaken assumption his direct reports shared his every opinion. If they disagreed with him, he would threaten them. He was a bully especially towards those who didn’t share his views.
Ego was one of his drivers. Whenever he could he would boast how he got the job because of his experience and previous results. Except…. he had no academic qualifications other than a high school diploma. It was all bravado. He got promoted by climbing over others and achieving short term results.
Because he was surrounded by many others with better credentials, he looked to undermine them as a way of keeping on top. His behavior and management style was a constant source of tension and conflict which in reality grows like a cancer. His management style was killing his results.
Senior management noticed good people under Chads’ management were leaving and they wanted to understand why. It wasn’t until senior management ran a 360-degree evaluation they learned what his peers and direct reports really thought about him.
Real life horrible bosses
Sherri Dalphonse, a reporter from the Washingtonian conducted a survey of 13,500 employees about the worst bosses they ever worked for. Here are some of the responses that stood out.
“He made anyone late to a meeting stand in the corner for the entire time, and he had others who said anything particularly ‘stupid’ stand on their chair or the table.”
“A guy at my old company used to make his employees ask before they could use the restroom—and he would time them. If they were gone longer than five minutes, he would add the time up at the end of the week and make them use vacation time.”
“A boss did not allow an employee off for funeral leave when his father passed away. The boss’s quote: ‘We need you now. What difference does it make to him?’
“A manager told an employee that he didn’t think he was truly committed to his employer because he had missed a lot of time over the previous six months. This conversation happened the first week this employee returned to work after winning his fight with cancer.”
You might think of these bosses as being delusional, malicious jerks, sociopaths or even narcissists. This may or not be true. What is true, is that in each case, the boss was completely unaware of their behavior and how others saw them, or they did know about their behavior, they were unaware of how it affected their employees and chose to ignore it.
People don’t leave companies, they leave managers!
The Delusional Boss
Take the boss who doesn’t pick up on social cues and ignores others in a social setting. Perhaps you work for a boss who is oblivious of how miserable their job in making them and how they take it out on their family. Or the boss who is completely unaware of how their employees see them.
Not all bosses who are unaware of their behavior and the impact it has on their employees are created equal. Some are so unaware that their behavior is seen as innocuous and can be somewhat amusing – for example, a boss who is ditzy and funny yet totally ineffective. Others sap your energy and try your patience and still others are a never-ending source of stress and worry.
Some, even when they do become aware of their impact on employees, will choose to ignore it – they are simply delusional.
Types of Unaware Bosses
The three types of unaware bosses are as follows:
- Those who are unaware, not open to feedback or change therefore are a lost cause. You can’t change them.
- Those who are aware of their behavior and the effect it has on employees, but simply don’t care. It’s a case of “My way or the highway.”
- Those who are aware, not open to change initially but could be turned around.
Handling the Delusional Boss
Challenging the delusional boss can be risky for they are the least receptive to feedback. If they hear feedback that suggests they aren’t who they think they are, not only are they likely to feel incompetent, according to psychologist William Swan, they can suffer the anarchy that occurs when their very existence is threatened.
Not everyone wants to change or has the capacity to change. Here’s an example.
Imagine you were white water rafting and accidentally fell into the water. Your natural reaction would be to fight back, flailing and kicking trying to get back into the raft. Alternatively, you cling to a rock trying after trying to swim to shore. Those very strategies are more likely to kill you than save you. If you don’t fight the current, you stand a greater chance of floating safely downstream.
It’s the same with managing your delusional boss, fighting back won’t help. Either go with the flow or leave, they will not change.
Handling the aware don’t care boss
An aware, don’t care boss, will make statements like; “Yes I yelled at them – they deserved it for messing up the sale!” “I know I’m pushy, isn’t that how you get ahead?” “Yelling is the only way to get things around here.”
“I once had a boss who proudly stated, “I just don’t understand why people don’t do what they’re told.” (ex military!)
If you work for a boss who demonstrates these unsavory characteristics, again you won’t change them as they are aware of their behavior, and believe it is the only way that produces results. They view bullying, narcissistic and selfish behavior as a positive. They believe they are right, superior to their direct reports and fail to understand the part they play in any relationships that break down.
If you don’t like heat – get out of the fire.
Handling the boss who is open to change.
The good thing about this type of unaware boss, once they receive feedback, they genuinely want to change and improve. This takes courage and your support is imperative to their success as they look to change their habits. You can support them by acknowledging their change in behavior. For instance, “I really liked how you handled that meeting and allowed others to voice their opinions without interruption or recriminations.”
On a final note
Research tells us there is a positive correlation to stress and unawareness. The more stress you are under, the more likely you are to be unrealistic about your abilities, characteristics and behaviors. Self-awareness is a Catch -22. Those who need to become more self-aware are usually the least likely to know they need it.
Open yourself to your blind spots, and you will become a more effective leader.
In a Nutshell
- Delusional bosses are often unaware of their behavior.
- They are the least likely to accept feedback and change.
- Delusional bosses can also be a sociopath, narcissist or malicious jerk, although not always.
- People leave managers not companies.
- Delusional bosses often won’t pick up on social cues.
- They are oblivious to how their employees see them.
- They are the least likely to undertake 360-degree feedback.
- Some, even if they are aware of how their behavior affects employees choose to ignore it.
- Some delusional bosses are aware of their behavior and don’t care.
- Challenging the delusional boss can be risky.
- Some are open to change others are not.
- You can’t change the boss who is delusional or doesn’t care.
- For delusional bosses to change, they need to want to change.