Are Your Employees Making You a Bad Boss?

Your staff can make or break your success as a manager. Here’s how to make sure you don’t fall into the ‘dark side’ of leadership.
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According to new research, the behavior of your employees plays a substantial role in shaping what kind of boss you are. (Photo: fizkes/Shutterstock)

Before you became your own boss, you probably had a few bosses to answer to – bosses who might have exhibited traits that you vowed you’d never display as a manager yourself.

So why do you find yourself, in the present day, clenching your teeth every time you walk into your business, anticipating some kind of argument, disappointment or mess to clean up?

Related: Are You a Jerk Boss?

Sure, we’re all responsible for our own behavior. But according to new research, the behavior of your employees also plays a substantial role in shaping what kind of boss you are.

Identifying ‘nightmare traits’

Professor Susanne Braun of Durham University, who co-edited the research, says it’s time to rethink the view that leaders are omnipotent and solely to blame for negative outcomes in businesses.

Instead, Braun – along with her colleagues, Professor Ronit Kark of Bar-Ilan University in Israel and Professor Barbara Wisse of the University of Groningen in the Netherlands – looked at the “nightmare traits” that comprise the core of dark leadership. The big ones? Dishonesty, disagreeableness and carelessness.

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“There is a growing awareness that the positive side of leadership and followership should be complemented by a focus on the darker side.” – Professor Barbara Wisse, University of Groningen

When those traits are exhibited by a leader who is also high in extroversion and low in emotionality, serious negative consequences can occur, including absenteeism, turnover, stress and poor performance.

“In the wake of various scandals involving misbehavior of leaders and rank-and-file employees, more attention has been given to the dark aspects of leadership,” said Wisse. “There is a growing awareness that the positive side of leadership and followership should be complemented by a focus on the darker side.”

Buffers to negative leadership

But there is a light at the end of this dark leadership cycle, and it starts with self-esteem. The researchers found that when employees had higher self-esteem, their managers acted less self-servingly.

Conversely, narcissistic leaders were rated as more abusive by employees with low self-esteem. This, in turn, was linked to lower employee performance and eventual burnout.

One line of their research found, for example, that employees who feel abused by leaders have a higher urgency to leave the organization than employees who witness embezzlement and exploitation. Another study in the team’s research revealed that strict tyrannical leadership can lead to employee work-family conflict, which can affect employees’ emotional exhaustion. This can be exacerbated if the employee suffers from anxiety.

Related: The One-Word Secret to Becoming an Inspiring Leader

Prevent ‘dark sides’

So how to turn those dark sides light? The researchers said it starts with learning what drives leaders and followers towards dark-side behaviors – and pointing them toward potential remedies.

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“Perceived accountability, organizational transparency, and values such as trust, respect and support can offset some of the negative effects a few individuals may have on the overall organization.” – Professor Ronit Kark, Bar-Ilan (Israel) University

“A good start could be a positive organizational culture that buffers against negative leadership,” Kark said.

And, there’s always the tried-and-true preventative method of not hiring so-called “dark-side” employees in the first place.

“Diligence is required in early hiring and selection stages, when candidates with dark-side traits may seek to take control of the process,” Kark said. “Structured interviews, work samples, and focus on actions and feelings can help to spot inconsistencies. Checking the facts through information from previous employers is a must.”

But watch your own behavior, too

If an employee exhibits traits we might identify as Machiavellian – i.e. they use all possible means to achieve desired ends, such as hiding knowledge or using emotional manipulation – it can have disastrous impacts on morale and the success of the business. But, the researchers say, this negative behavior can be effectively reduced by ethical leadership: leaders demonstrating appropriate conduct through actions and interpersonal relationships.

“Perceived accountability, organizational transparency, and values such as trust, respect and support can offset some of the negative effects a few individuals may have on the overall organization,” Kark said.

Related: How to Support Employees Going Through a Divorce

 

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