What are the worst ways to be seen by a boss?

by Sam on April 6, 2010

One-Minute Answer:  You may remember a while back reading the answers to “How can I best build credibility with my boss?” That counsel pointed to what supervisors, executives, and boards of directors look for in their direct reports.


You might be equally interested to know what upsets the people you report to. Since the behaviors that bosses find troubling aren’t simply opposites of the earlier advice, you may not readily guess what they are.


You would think that most bosses are forthcoming with their feedback on what annoys them. Not so! The famed Edwards Deming—father of the total quality movement—hypothesized that 80% of American managers have little idea of how they are seen by their bosses.


So I’ll take the bull by the horns and give you a list of the most frequent character and behavior traits that managers tell me bug them. Then it’ll be up to you to do an insightful self-assessment.


Bulletin! The information that follows is equally instrumental for bosses who seek to modify the problematic behavior of those in their employ.



Five-Minute Answer:  Here’s some bad news: there are twenty distinctive followers that pain bosses. Here’s the good news: this is an opportunity to find out if you are a source of such pain and to take steps to remove it without having to remove yourself.


In each case the troublesome employee has a name, utters a typical comment, and reveals expected behavior. Take one of two suggested tacks: (1) find yourself and vow to change or (2) give the list to your boss for direct feedback. On each one ask for a green light (not at all you), yellow light (sometimes you), or red light (!!!!!). The second approach may be scary, but it’s the one most likely to move you into the best light.


20 Disturbing Direct Reports



Typical Comment

Expected Behavior


“No problem—I’ll get on it right away!”

Seldom keeps promises; volunteers for tasks rarely completed; agrees to deadlines not met

Deaf Ear

“I don’t remember you saying that.”

Pays little attention to directions; listens selectively; believes what he has to say is what’s important


“Let me explain why that won’t work.”

Always sees the downside; fears risk; pushes back on proposed actions even when not asked


“I did everything expected of me.”

Can’t express regret; shirks responsibility for outcomes or how those outcomes affect others

Empire Builder

“That function needs to be in my area.”

Looking to build preeminence and importance by increasing the scope of her responsibilities


“…and that reminds me to say this…”

Talks too much; circumvents issues; takes too long to get to the point; bloviates


“We tried that before.”

Clings to earlier times; fiercely defends tradition; resists change; blames past events for inaction


“Why must I be the one to change?”

Fails either to submit to authority or get a new job—two good choices; may sabotage higher ups


“Yes, but here’s another way to…”

Takes advantage of every opportunity to have the last word and demonstrate how smart he is


“What’s in it for me?”

Operates from a sense of entitlement; takes more than she gives; convinced she deserves better

Sharp Tongue

“You have a lot to learn.”

Adds two cents every time; passes judgment; makes destructive comments; needlessly sarcastic


“I’m the hardest worker in the office.”

Not carrying his share of the load; disappears when work intensifies; takes lots of time off

Short Fuse

“I’ve had it!”

Speaks in anger; emotionally disruptive; gets highly defensive at feedback; blows up


“I was the one who made that happen.”

Takes credit even when not due; is absent humility; baths in praise; needs to be the star of the show


“I’m only doing what’s best.”

Feels justified in her attempts to bring others down; may scheme to take over someone’s job


“Boss, we’re so lucky to have you.”

Praises higher ups effusively; won’t bring bad news; waits for boss to commit so he can agree


“It could have been much better.”

Predictably gripes, grouses, and complains; speaks in negative terms even about positive outcomes


“Let’s not take needless chances.”

Plays close to the vest; takes the sure path; risk averse; failure preventer, not success-insurer


“I assumed you didn’t need to know that.”

Fails to keep others informed; oblivious to the needs others have for accurate and timely updates


“Nobody’s perfect.”

Not living up to her potential; not striving to get better; doesn’t realize that “good enough” never is


Enough Said:  To see your drama clearly is to be liberated from it.”  ~Ken S. Keyes, Jr.


Now What?  If seeing isn’t sufficient for liberation, and I can help you pull yourself out of one of these roles, or help a direct report of yours do the same, give me a call.


Next Week:  Do you struggle the way many people do with the question of life’s purpose? If so you’ll appreciate the answers to, “Why am I here?”

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