How to create a “Bosshole-free” zone

Bad managers exist in our organizations. We must find them, remove them from the Bosshole Zone and equip them with tools to help grow and develop their people.

At the risk of shocking people with the term “Bosshole,” I want to assure you that no managers were injured in the pursuit of creating “Bosshole-Free Zones” in organizations. The term itself is one that we’ve used for years to describe a manager lacking the essential traits and tools required to be an excellent leader and “developer of people.”

This article will focus on managers elevated to a role that oversees others within the organization. A person placed in a management or supervisory position of others automatically assumes a unique and meaningful role. They are, after all, placed in charge of other human beings and their professional – and personal – welfare.

Spotting a Bosshole

In 2016, the Stanford Business School Advisory Council stated that “self-awareness” was the most important competency associated with effective leadership. It’s remarkable how many Bossholes believe they are acutely self-aware and the issues they face originate with others. To become an effective developer of people, managers must get to know themselves thoroughly.

Another telltale sign of a Bosshole is the failure to establish trust and psychological safety with their direct reports. In the words of Paul Santagata, Head of Industry at Google, “There is no team without trust.” The manager must take the lead on establishing a climate where people can speak their minds, challenge the status quo and think more broadly and creatively to find solutions to the challenges the team may face.

In Patrick Lencioni’s “The Advantage,” he stipulates that the leader must “go first.” This is especially true when it comes to being vulnerable and admitting to mistakes. Bossholes haven’t the first clue on how to do this nor would they ever put themselves in a position that could make them seem “less than” what they believe a manager should be.

It’s said that “feedback is the oxygen of engagement,” however Bossholes have a bad habit of sucking the oxygen out of a room. They prefer to give feedback rather than receive it, and sometimes that doesn’t even happen.

A 2018 People Management study from The Predictive Index found that a manager’s rating — favorable or unfavorable — was directly related to the amount of feedback provided to the employee. It would stand to reason that managers who provided too much or zero feedback were rated lowest, whereas the managers who found a solid balance of feedback frequency scored almost twice as high. Additionally, the study found that one of the most critical attributes of a “great” manager is their ability to listen.

Bossholes generally do not seek feedback from others, least of all their direct reports. This is another sign that a manager is in the Bosshole Zone and can indicate their emotional intelligence, or lack thereof.

We also measure two other variables to reveal potential Bosshole Zones: engagement and organizational health. It’s important to find “hot spots” relative to low engagement specific to teams and managers. This isn’t an indictment on the manager but rather a means to look at objective data and identify areas where attention needs to be paid.

It’s also imperative to diagnose an organization’s vulnerabilities when it comes to business and strategy execution. Managers and supervisors are instrumental in the engagement (or disengagement) of employees. This often translates into sub-optimized performance and business execution gaps. Rather than guessing where the problems may exist, pinpoint those areas, then determine if you have managers living and working in the Bosshole Zone.

Bosshole intervention

Bad managers exist in our organizations and it is up to us to find them and get them out of the Bosshole Zone. Between engagement data, an organizational health scan and feedback from leaders, peers and direct reports, it’s hard for a Bosshole to refute the evidence before them.

Bear in mind that we are not trying to trap or torture these managers, but rather get them out of the Bosshole Zone so they can grow and develop their people. This enables them to find fulfillment in their own work.

The first two steps to creating a Bosshole-Free Zone in your workplace are closely related and need to be in place simultaneously to be effective. First, ask the people you are considering for management if they even have a desire to do it. Becoming a manager is different than being a successful individual contributor and there is no correlation between individual success and the capacity to grow and develop others.

Enlightened organizations fully understand this and make it a priority to assess manager suitability and engage in open dialogue as to whether a person wishes to take on the responsibility of developing others. In my work training and developing managers I have come across many managers who didn’t want the role and responsibility of overseeing other people. They would have preferred to stay in their individual contributor role, but the only way for advancement in their organization was through the management ranks.

Organizations must establish two clear and distinct pathways for career development. Individual contributors should have ample opportunity to grow and build their expertise as solo players.  For example, if I am a financial analyst with my company and prefer working individually on projects, I should know that there is a pathway that permits me to grow in my expertise, advance to high levels within my discipline (or migrate to other areas of individual contribution), and be compensated more handsomely because of my growth. The path for individual contribution should be wide and well defined for growth and advancement as opposed to forcing people into management or supervisory roles that do not interest them.

The other is the narrow pathway into management and the threshold for stepping on this path is higher. Management of other humans needs to be held to a higher standard and viewed as a broadening of one’s capabilities and capacity to grow and develop people. This is where a solid and dynamic leadership/management development program is needed. It is also where the diagnostics mentioned earlier provide the objective data to make sure managers are optimized and aligned with the team they are overseeing and aware of the work the team needs to do.

When you bring these ideas together, you keep managers from straying into the Bosshole Zone.  The right kind of engagement data, health scan information, and team feedback will help the manager stay focused on the elements that matter most — developing the people on their team and preparing the next wave of leaders for the organization.

Based on Miami University’s Farmer School of Business MiniMBA Program, the importance of data to drive organizational performance cannot be overlooked. The program stipulated that the ability to get data quickly creates speed and agility. This is important for three main reasons:

  • Every business is a technology business
  • Analytics are the key enablers to competition
  • Data are the foundation to creating speed and agility in your organization

In the context of people, if managers have valid and reliable data about themselves, each member of their team, and what that team is designed to do, they will have a distinctly competitive edge compared to managers without reliable data. The same data used to build greater self-awareness with managers and get them out of the Bosshole Zone should be used to equip them to guide, grow and develop each person on the team.