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What Kind of Boss Are You?

If you think most employees consider the stereotypical “screamer” as the boss they would most like to fire, you are wrong.

Using 360-degree evaluation results, Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman analyzed the behavior of 30,000 managers as seen through the eyes of 300,000 of their peers, direct reports, and bosses . . . and the top three shortcomings identified had nothing to do with having a volatile temperament. Instead, respondents tended to consider “bad bosses” as those characterized by mediocrity and passivity. It seems employees want to do well, and they want bosses who can inspire them to stretch and do excellent work. In short, they want bosses who can lead.

Zenger and Folkman’s Top Three Shortcomings

  1. Failure to inspire, owing to a lack of energy and enthusiasm. Again and again failed leaders were described by colleagues as unenthusiastic and passive. This was the most noticeable of all poor leader failings.
  2. Acceptance of mediocre performance in place of excellent results. The poorest leaders did not set stretch goals, inadvertently encouraging mediocre performance by letting people coast along doing less work, less well than their counterparts working for better managers.
  3. A lack of clear vision and direction. Poor leaders have a murky view of the future, don’t know precisely what direction to take, and are (not surprisingly) unwilling to communicate about the future, leaving their subordinates with no clear path forward.

(For the complete list, read “Are You Sure You’re Not a Bad Boss?” by Zenger and Folkman, published August 16, 2012 in the Harvard Business Review.)

So what are the perceptions of your colleagues? What kind of a boss are you to them?

These top three flaws offer a good place to start self-reflecting on your own leadership qualities, but to get at the heart of the matter anonymous 360-degree feedback assessments often provide the best information. Additionally, as we discussed in a previous blog, having the courage to ask colleagues for candid feedback about your leadership blind spots is a great way to increase awareness and accelerate change.

When you solicit feedback, either via a 360 or directly, listen to the responses without becoming defensive, and ask questions designed to get clear information. Good questions include:

  • What should I do differently as a leader?
  • What should I do more of, less of, or keep the same?
  • What leadership behaviors might I improve to strengthen our team?
  • What is the impact of that behavior on you, on others?
  • Could you give me an example of how/when I do that? Examples are powerful.

Let co-workers know you are working on your own personal and professional growth and want feedback about the way you come off, the way you communicate, the way you deal with difficult situations. This requires an ability to be open and to appreciate the information that is shared, whether it’s what you want to hear or not.

Review and reflect on the information you receive. Candid feedback is likely to illuminate a behavior or two to improve.

That’s when the real work begins.

Based on the feedback you get, develop an action plan to make the changes you want to make. Select a co-worker or two who will observe you in the ways you want to change. Choose people you trust who will be honest and straightforward as you try to improve your leadership. Ask them for weekly feedback until they consistently see the desired change in you.

Lasting leadership development is a lifelong process that relies on continual feedback from others. It can be extremely helpful to ask direct reports routinely and sincerely, “How can I be a better boss?” Their feedback, and what actions you take as a result, will not only make you a better leader, but will make your team a higher performing unit—and be sure to say “thank you” for all replies. Feedback is priceless!


To succeed as a leader, you need to get your people “all in.” Contact us today to explore how we can work together to grow your leadership talent. 614.319.3863 or
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