- Dr. Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic is a psychologist who uses science and tech to help organisations predict human performance.
- He says that many people these days seem disenchanted with the idea of traditional employment, mostly because it may require putting up with a bad boss.
- You can tell if you have a bad boss by asking yourself five simple questions, including whether or not he or she knows you well and has an accurate picture of your potential and your strengths and weaknesses.
We tend to see leadership as a glamorous and desirable career destination, but the crude reality is that most leaders have pretty dismal effects on their teams and organisations. Consider that 70% of employees are not engaged at work, yet it’s their boss’s main task to engage and inspire them, helping them leave aside their selfish interests to work as a collective unit with others. Instead, managers are the number one reason why people quit jobs. As the old saying goes, people join companies, but quit their bosses.
As I highlight in my latest book, passive job seeking, self-employment, and entrepreneurship rates have been on the rise even in places where macro-economic conditions are strong and there is no shortage of career opportunities for people. For instance, in the us there are now 6 million job seekers for 7 million job openings, and yet people appear to be disenchanted with the idea of traditional employment, mostly because it may require putting up with a bad boss. To be sure, there are many competent leaders out there, but academic estimates suggest that the baseline for incompetent leadership is at least 65% (note this figure is based on analysing mostly public or large companies), and, even more shockingly, there appears to be a strong negative correlation between the money we spend or waste on leadership development interventions and the confidence people have in their leaders. An obvious question this sad state of affairs evokes is how one can work out if his or her boss is incompetent. Clearly, it is always tempting to blame our manager for our unfavorable work experiences, yet it may also be the case that the problem is us rather than them, with recent research indicating that all aspects of job satisfaction are influenced as much by employees’ own personalities and values as by the actual (objective) working circumstances they are in. The way we experience our boss is no exception. Here’s a quick 5-point checklist to work out what your manager’s probable level of competence might be.
1. He or she is generally liked, or at least well-regarded, by his or her direct reports
This would be consistent with the mainstream scientific view that upward feedback (feedback from those who work for the manager) are the best single measure of a manager’s performance. Conversely, how managers are seen by their own managers is mostly a measure of politics, likability, or managing “up.” If the answer is no, the probability that your boss is incompetent increases dramatically.
2. His or her team tends to achieve strong results compared to similar/competing teams (internally and externally)
Note this may happen even if the answer to question one is no, though generally speaking, both points are positively intertwined: People perform better when they like their boss, and they like their boss more when they perform better. Thus if the answer is no, then your boss is probably not that competent.
3. He or she frequently provides you with constructive and critical developmental feedback to improve your performance
And does he or she do it for others in your team, too? If the answer is no, then chances are your boss is less than competent, as one of the fundamental tasks of any manager is to improve their team members’ performance by providing accurate and helpful feedback on their potential and performance.
4. He or she knows you well and has an accurate picture of your potential, including your strengths and weaknesses
No bosses can do their jobs well unless they are fully aware of what their team members can and can’t do, which is a necessary precondition to assigning each employee to tasks and roles where their skills and personality are best deployed. After all, talent is by and large personality in the right place. If you think your boss doesn’t know you, then he or she is less likely to be competent.
5. He or she seems truly coachable and continues to improve to the point of getting better on the job all the time
Just like your employability depends on your own ability (and willingness) to continue to develop key career skills and learn things that broaden your career potential, your boss should also be finding ways to get better. This means not just displaying the necessary humility and curiosity to learn – including from his/her own employees and customers – but also finding ways to keep their dark side or undesirable tendencies in check. In short, does your boss show self-awareness and the drive to get better, irrespective of whether that actually advances his or her own career? If the answer is no, then your boss has limited potential.
Dr. Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic
is an international authority in psychological profiling, talent management, leadership development, and people analytics. He is the Chief Talent Scientist at Manpower Group, co-founder of Deeper Signals and Metaprofiling, and Professor of Business Psychology at both University College London, and Columbia University. He has previously held academic positions at New York University and the London School of Economics, and lectured at Harvard Business School, Stanford Business School, London Business School, Johns Hopkins, IMD, and INSEAD, as well as being the CEO at Hogan Assessment Systems. Dr. Tomas has published 9 books and over 130 scientific papers (h index 58), making him one of the most prolific social scientists of his generation.
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