To some extent, all of us have had the privileged experience of having a good boss, one who leaves a firm imprint on both our memories and our CVs. Many of us have also experienced the opposite –working “under” someone awful. Of course, any experience can be learnt from if you work hard enough and think positively; but having a good boss can definitely help you develop your professional career in all its aspects, and also improve your life at home.

Bad bosses don’t just affect the lives of those they wield power over. They can also destroy the profitability of a business, its culture, the working environment, and the private lives of those who stoically and resignedly put up with them throughout their working lives.

Half of all bosses would be fired! According to a Gallup Institute survey of 1,000,000 employees from all over the world, the main reason most people leave their jobs are their bosses. This is no joke when you consider that, in an online survey of 1,118 employees in different organisations, 50% of participants said they would like to fire their bosses if they could; 23% think that managers should undergo training and courses to improve the way they do their jobs or simply to really understand what they’re doing. And even more interestingly, 30% of the subjects considered that their bosses ought to see a psychologist as soon as possible and be put through calm, caring therapy.

Off to the psychologist for over a 3rd of Spanish bosses! Data in Spain is very similar. According to interesting research carried out by the University of Alcalá de Henares, half of all Spaniards consider that their bosses are not really capacitated for managing others, and 36% say they seriously doubt their mental health and think they need to be seen by a psychologist.

So why do over a third of employees have doubts about their superiors’ mental health? Perhaps one part of the answer is to be found in the results published in 2003 by consultancy firm Otto Walters, in an interesting report titled “The 18 most irritating forms of behaviour in Spanish bosses.” The report was based on an interview with 750 workers who named their bosses’ worst types of behaviour, from most to least important.

The most prevalent bad trait is “lack of respect” shown in bad manners, rudeness, out of place remarks, shouting publicly at employees, and similar behaviour (50% of employees). “Arrogance” and offshoots of it like narcissism, senseless stubbornness, vanity or haughtiness (37%). Thirdly, 30% of those interviewed give equal weight to “lack of ability to listen” and “incompetence” owing to lack of training or disorganisation. Next in line come other forms of bad behaviour such as lack of support, lack of implication, not setting a good example, lack of bravery, lack of trust, taking the credit for others’ work, inability to set aims, etc. All these factors end up leading to brain drain and the sapping of teams’ creativity and motivation. It’s a serious problem –different studies conclude that teams led by bad bosses are 50% less productive and make 44% less profit than correctly led teams.

Practical advice. This obviously depends on each case, independently of how open to dialogue our bosses are. Experts propose different solutions, from talking to your boss if it’s about problems that occasionally arise, and respectfully explaining how you’re feeling in and experiencing your situation if you are sure that he or she is not acting in bad faith, to going to see a lawyer specialising in labour law and explaining the history of what you’ve been going through in cases of real moral harassment.

Dr. Robert D. Hare, Professor in Psychology with the University of Vancouver, who is considered a world expert in psychopathology, claims that about 1% of all people are psychopaths; when such individuals get into power, they can wreak havoc in peoples’ lives as they lack any kind of sensitivity towards others. They are extremely manipulative and easily work their way into places where they can rapidly climb the ladder of power and act with complete impunity until someone puts a stop to them.

The good news is that… Luckily, half of all people in Spain and worldwide think they have acceptable, good or very good bosses –well-trained people who know how to do their job and treat the people they manage well.

The debate on the importance of having a good boss has become more relevant today than ever. Highly-considered professor Henry Mintzberg, wrote a necessary book which has been warmly received in different countries. Titled “Managers not MBAs”, it says that neither heroes nor technocrats are useful in positions of power. What we really need are human beings, balanced individuals, people committed to their team members, clients, suppliers, and society. This kind of new leader knows that his or her aim is to bring greater cohesion to any organisation, with purpose and shared work.

Whatever the case, it seems clear that there’s a long way to go from the human animal to the self-realised human. This path to awareness spares no effort and is not afraid of any kind of learning process, of discovery, the need to let go, or the need to acquire certain habits or attitudes… It’s not in our best interests, then, to confuse the alpha male who simply climbs compulsively, following his instincts, vanity or resentment -or the technocrat who can only see people as objects- with the leader who has cultivated a set of skills inside him or herself and can help inspire, motivate and act to provide a sense of direction and meaning to others. As Antoine de Saint Exupéry said, “Managing people is no easy task; pushing them, however, is very easy.”

Álex Rovira

Alex Rovira