Having a difficult boss is quite often the reason we are given for why some people are looking for a new job.  A manager with poor people skills can easily make a workplace unbearable. 

Some bosses do it without realising it, while others openly manipulate their employees and use them as instruments for their own success.  Regardless of their methods, bad bosses are bad for your well-being, slow down your career progress and can create unnecessary stress. I’ve worked with over 600 management teams all over the world and have found that toxic bosses exist across all sectors.  Public bodies, charities, companies small and large all have their share of managers with poor people skills.

The teams I have worked with worked with often use the same words to describe the bad managers they have worked for.  They include:

•  Self-oriented 

•  Stubborn 

•  Overly demanding 

•  Impulsive 

•  Micro-managing

•  Bullying

In my experience many bosses aren’t surprised by the words used to describe them.  A recent CIM study found that 64% of managers admit that they need to work on their management skills.  When asked where they focus their efforts, managers overwhelmingly say, “Bringing in the numbers”; yet when they are fired, it is often due to their poor people skills.

Avoid working for bad managers

Whilst you might not be able to change your old boss, there are some questions you can ask at interview to ensure you are not about to end up working for the same character with a different name. 

1.  How long has your present team been in place?

You want to find out if there is a high turnover of staff and if possible, why.  If the interviewer avoids being specific it might be a sign that there is more conflict than is healthy. 

2.  How would your team describe your management style?

Difficult bosses will often use this question to tell you about their attitude to managing people.  If the answer is all about their own opinion and ignores the bit about what their team think, it can be a sign that they are overly self-centred. 

3.  Who are your favourite authors on leadership?

Check out what, if any, management books you can see in the interviewer’s office.  Managers who don’t read about leadership may never have been properly trained or potentially think that the know it all.  If their favourite book is “Leadership Secrets of Attila the Hun” or “Management and Machiavelli” – be warned!

4.  How would you describe the team culture?

Make sure their reply genuinely makes you a good fit for the organisation. If it makes you feel uncomfortable at interview it will be ten times worse if you join a culture you end up hating. 

5.  How does the appraisal system work here?

If you get a roll of the eyes and a reply that suggests proper feedback is just a paperwork or HR exercise, the manager might not provide the support you need to make progress. If they say that they will make sure you and everybody else will know if are not doing well – take that as a big red flag.

6.  How does the team celebrate success?

Look out for hints about attitudes to work-life balance, culture and rewards other than the usual pay and benefits. “Success will keep me off your back” or lack of a fluent answer might suggest a boss who likes to take all the praise. 

Body language and tone

Non-verbal clues often say more than words so be aware of the interviewer’s body language when you ask a questions.  Do they pause just a bit too long; do they seem uncomfortable or irritated at being asked perfectly reasonable questions?

Know what you want

Every one of those 600+ teams I’ve worked with not only knew about bad bosses, but could also describe the sort of boss that they loved to work with.  Make sure you are clear about what you want in a boss, think about the qualities you have admired in good managers that you have worked for (or would like to work for).  

Finally, ask around about the organisations reputation as an employer.  Do some subtle research personally and on social media. Check out sites such as Glass Door where previous employees leave their views and LinkedIn where you can view the profile of your interviewer.  Do they make comments or write posts that give you clues as to what they really think?

A good employer will never be concerned about being scrutinised and after all, it’s your life.  The better informed you are the easier it is to make the right decision.

If you would like to know more about how to avoid toxic bosses or asking questions at interview, call 01453 755330 or email tricia.hay@first-base.co.uk