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Why are there so many bad bosses?

Years ago I wrote a story for BusinessWeek about a group of people who served as the secret therapist-consiglieris to ceos across the country: ceo coaches.

It was during the process of reporting this story that I had the great fortune to meet a woman named Annie McKee (pictured above), founder of Teleos Leadership Institute, who had done groundbreaking work at big companies like Unilever.

In a field rife with charlatans, I could tell Annie was the real thing the minute I met her in her Philadelphia office. Annie, along with co-authors Daniel Goleman and Richard Boyatzis, was behind all the work in emotional intelligence that ultimately resulted in the series of books by the same name.

Her most recent book, Becoming a Resonant Leader, is a must-read for anyone who wants to understand the phenomenon of Barack Obama.

Here she is ladies and gentleman, Annie McKee:

“Last time I checked, people don’t get up in the morning rubbing their hands in glee about how they’re going to hurt the people who depend on them at work. Research shows that if you create a vibrant, resonant environment, people thrive and give their best.

It’s common sense.

So why are there so many bad managers and destructive leaders in our organizations? What do they do and how do they affect us?

I polled a few friends over the last hour and got the following stories. Take a look and then tell me yours.

“My toxic boss was the senior manager of an appliance goods company in charge of retail outlet stores. It was so rough, that by the time I left, I could barely even look at the guy. The way he spoke to me and the other team members was disrespectful and at times even hateful. Verbal abuse was almost constant – we heard it all the time, so did other employees and even customers. He was so unkind to people and seemed to thrive on attacking us for the most trivial and imagined errors. He had absolutely no awareness of how he was seen by others. My response: I basically decided to give customers discounts just to spite him because I felt like the fact that they came in the store and had to deal with him—well, they deserved a break!”

“I worked for the executive director of a not-for-profit. This person was so terrified of failing that he micromanaged and bullied me and others to produce what he thought was needed. As time went on, the bullying moved from basic nasty comments to regular cursing to physical violence and sexual harassment. Essentially, my creativity disappeared, I was anxious all the time, I couldn’t think about much else except how to get away from him. Eventually I did, and it wasn’t a day too soon!”

“My boss was a Senior Manager in a global insurance company; she spent her days yelling and barking orders, with no people skills whatsoever. People who were scared did the work; people who knew better and don’t blindly comply, did nothing. To make matters worse, when the “smart” ones didn’t comply, there’d be no consequences. It ended up being the same people doing the work and the others worried about themselves, making their money and leaving for the day…not putting in any extra team effort.

Working for a manager who orders you around made me feel like I didn’t want to do anything for her.”

“I joined a large North American engineering firm. The company had just been taken over, and one of the key managers was responsible for the integration and making sure we all got along. He was also my boss. It became evident that he clearly favored one group over the other. I was a member of the other group, and it was miserable. He was clearly able to turn it on and off at will and if you were in the out group it got pretty depressing. We’d see him smile, shake hands, make jokes with the others and then know that when it came to us, it was going to be Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Throughout the day, managers would come and congregate and talk about how horrible this guy was. Needless to say, we didn’t always get a lot done.”

Most of us have stories like this – toxic bosses who create dissonance and leave people demoralized, demotivated, battered and depressed. Not exactly the kind of employees who want to give their all. In fact, when faced with bosses like this, most of us leave one way or another: we don’t share the best of ourselves, we don’t use our talents. Maybe we quit. And if we can’t do that, we “leave” psychologically. In other words, we show up at work in body, but leave our hearts and our minds at home.

Do you have a story abut a toxic boss? The worst boss you’ve ever had? Disguise a few details and tell me about this person and how he or she affected you.

Over the next few days and weeks, let’s take a look at what toxic bosses do, how they affect us, how we can cope with them, and how we can avoid becoming toxic ourselves.

I look forward to hearing from you!”

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