7 Signs Your Team Thinks You’re a Bad Boss

bad bossSo you lead. And you’re doing your best.

But the real question is—what does your team think of your leadership?

How do you know that you’re not the boss everyone goes home complaining about at the end of the day?

I hold three university degrees and am trained as both a lawyer and a pastor.

During all my training, we didn’t spend a single hour on how to be a good boss or properly run an organization.

I was trained to practice law, but nobody showed me how to lead a law firm. I was trained to preach and study theology, but nobody taught me how to lead a church, let alone a staff or thousands of people.

So I had to learn the hard way.

All oh which raises the eerie question: How do you know whether you’re leading well?

After all, the strength required to be a leader can sometimes push you up against the hard edges of your personality.

And a lack of self-awareness can leave you scratching your head as to why people leave.

These days, the price of a disengaged team is really high: gifted people simply resign to work somewhere else or start their own thing. And even when people don’t leave, a disengaged, demotivated team produces a fraction of what an engaged team gives at work.

Here are seven signs your team thinks you’re a bad boss.

1. Your Team Feels Like They Work For You, Not With You

Bad bosses treat their team as though people work for them, not with them.

Contrast that with what the best bosses do. The best bosses think of themselves as working for the people around them.

Great leaders prefer to serve rather than be served.

If you keep thinking people work for you, few people will want to work for you.

Bad bosses treat their team as though people work for them, not with them. Great leaders prefer to serve rather than be served. Click To Tweet

2. They Don’t Feel Thanked

Poor leaders rarely say thank you. After all, why would you say thank you when people are just doing their jobs?

Good bosses take the time to tap someone on the shoulder and tell them they noticed the difference that team member made today.

Look, I get it. People don’t always understand the sacrifice you make in leadership for them.

But maybe they’ll appreciate you more if you appreciate them more.

Take the time to look the employee who worked late to get the project done in the eye and say thank you.

Great bosses often take the time to handwrite a thank you note.

They high five people.


look team members in the eye and tell them how much they appreciate them.

put their arm around people (appropriately) and say thanks.

Great leaders realize nobody has to work for them. Which is why people do.

Great leaders realize nobody HAS to work for them. Which is why people do. Click To Tweet

3. Your Team Thinks You’re Being Demeaning, Not Just Demanding

I’ve always had high standards as a boss. It’s hard to make progress if you don’t.

It’s one thing to have high standards (great leaders have high standards), but bad bosses communicate those standards in a way that demeans people.

You can be demanding without being demeaning.

Here’s how. Focus on what you want for people, not just what you want from people. I promise you, your team will feel the difference.

You can be demanding without being demeaning. Focus on what you want for people, not just what you want from people. Click To Tweet

4.  They Sense It’s All About You

Hey, there’s no doubt your leadership gift probably brings something to the organization or church in which you serve—maybe even a lot.

Leaders, after all, make things happen.

If you want to be a terrible boss, make the organization about you.

Make sure you’re front and center all the time. Think about how grateful people should be to have you.

Be incredulous at why more people don’t thank you for your leadership. Imagine that you should be paid more.

Just think of yourself as undervalued and indispensable.

It’s easy to get there as a leader.

But if you want to be a boss people love to work with, stop the pity party, take the focus off yourself, and put the spotlight back on the mission and on the team.

If you want to be a terrible boss, make the organization about you. Click To Tweet

5. All the Perks Flow Your Way

Leadership does have perks.

Maybe you know some people other folks would love to connect with.

Maybe you get the nicer office or have a slightly bigger budget than others. Or people send you gift cards once in a while because you’re the boss man.

One of the values in my company these days is my personal fave: Err on the side of generosity.

It’s a value we try to embody not just for our customers, but it’s one I try to extend toward the team.

Whatever you lead, make sure you’re not the sole beneficiary of the organization’s success.

Pay your team a living wage.

Send flowers or gifts when good or sad things happen.

Remember personal milestones (birthdays, anniversaries, etc).

Buy them a macchiato just for fun (assuming they like macchiatos, of course).

Give them time with a leader they admire who’s in town for a visit.

Be generous.

Being generous toward your team is a great way to get them to be generous toward others, and toward the mission.

Being generous toward your team is a great way to get them to be generous toward others, and toward the mission. Click To Tweet

6. They Get the Blame, You Get the Credit

If you’re a bad boss, there are two surefire ways to anger your team.

First, take all the credit for anything good that happens in your organization.

Make sure you mention how it was your idea and whatever you do, don’t mention your team or how hard they worked on the project.

Second, when things go off the rails, wash your hands of it. Look surprised and then appear concerned.

Blame something else. Blame someone else—anything else.

No…as hard as it is to accept, it’s the leader’s job to assume responsibility for anything that goes wrong in the organization.

If you’re the leader, you’re responsible. That doesn’t mean it’s your fault, but it does mean it’s your responsibility.

You’ll also discover this one thing though as you assume responsibility: If you have your team’s back, they tend to also have yours.

Leaders, if you have your team's back, they tend to also have yours Click To Tweet

7. They’re Tired of You Playing the Martyr

It’s easy to pull out the martyr card as a leader.

Nobody has it as hard as you do, do they?

Nobody is as misunderstood.

I mean, who puts in as many hours for a thankless job? And who really understands you?

Nobody. Of course.

It’s so easy to tell everyone how hard you work, how lonely leadership is and how you haven’t taken a vacation in X years.

Don’t. Just don’t.

Nobody likes a boss who works all night and all weekend, sending emails and texts at all hours of the day and night because nobody-works-as-hard-as-you.

If you’re going to work a Saturday, do your team a favor and set the email to send on Monday at 8 a.m. That way they won’t know you worked on the weekend (again).

Do yourself an even bigger favor: Take a day off yourself. 🙂

You might enjoy the break.

Nobody likes a boss who works all night and all weekend, sending emails and texts at all hours of the day and night because nobody-works-as-hard-as-you. Click To Tweet

What Do You Think?

What other characteristics of bad bosses have you seen?

How is this battle at work in your life?

Scroll down and leave a comment!

7 Signs Your Team Thinks You’re a Bad Boss


  1. Dan on February 24, 2020 at 8:36 am

    Good thoughts Carey. As small business owners we feel our first responsibility to our staff not our customers. While coaching and training and even correction happens from time to time ensuring our staff know they are valued and loved. Recently we were on vacation over Valentines Day and had flowers & cards sent to each staff that day. Small, thoughtful gestures go a long way.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on February 24, 2020 at 10:17 pm

      Yes they do!

  2. Jeremy on January 30, 2020 at 7:20 am

    So helpful. Thank you. A great checklist for how healthy my current leadership is and something I can come back to periodically for a checkup.

  3. Steve KIng on January 29, 2020 at 9:15 pm

    What do I think? I think that you write insightful and helpful articles! This one included. Fantastic and thank you.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on February 3, 2020 at 3:59 pm

      Thank you!

  4. Stephanie McClellan on January 29, 2020 at 10:00 am

    I really appreciate this message and see where I fall into a couple of pitfalls that make leadership a competition instead of communion. As for thanking your team, I also like to be sure my team overhear me complimenting them and thanking them when speaking to others. It’s a “got your back” thing, but also builds up their confidence as you recognize their gifts and spread that knowledge beyond their ears only. I know how much I have appreciated seeing the secretary at my church write a compliment about me in an email thread that she has forwarded on for details later. If I appreciate it and it makes me smile when I need a boost, I should remember how much it means to my team to be appreciated in public.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on January 29, 2020 at 5:14 pm

      That’s a great plan. I think most people feel discouraged on most days, and any time we pass along a sincere compliment it really helps!

  5. Wayne Keller on January 29, 2020 at 8:41 am

    Carey, The promo video for your H.I.W. course reveals that you are teaching to manage issues imbedded in the more modern age cohorts as you refer to. The pronouns I and me are at the heart of what you seem to be trying to address when you say that engagement studies reveal “lack of opportunity” (for me) and “am I being heard” (does anyone care with I think). The underlying threat in not addressing these (lets be honest) potentially narcissistic overtones is that “they will go off and start their own thing”. I’m trying to wrap my Boomer/Xer cusp mind around this leadership ethos. Closest imagery comes from memory when my career IBM’er father would tell of the “think tanks” that “Big Blue” had in the 70’s where the dress code was non existent (Cali casual mostly), hours were flexible, salaries were high and their genius ideas were the desired product. Everyone else wore shirts and ties and wingtip shoes or worked the manufacturing and warehousing roles. My own experience in manufacturing for a very brief time with them supported the top down management culture. Question: do we really believe that we can arrive at sustainable employee engagement and accordingly, satisfaction through pacification? Given the myriad needs and personality profiles of individuals has your think tank really arrived at a universal satisfaction for all generations to thrive, early adopter and autonomous types to stay; or do we ultimately want to produce idea chambers? Someone has to do the implementation, production and persevering in the daily vacuum of advancement. Are we addressing achievement hypoxia with innovation euphoria? Is the workplace really going to be like facebook and everyman’s entrepreneurship emporium? Will we all be paid for our genius in this endgame? I hope so but I’m still thinking and praying about all this in light of the kingdom. Keep writing, I’ll keep reading

    • Carey Nieuwhof on January 29, 2020 at 5:19 pm

      Thanks Wayne. You ask some great questions. I hope I understand them, but I would say that whether we like that reality or not, it’s here. So you have to figure out how to respond to a changing culture. I’ve shared this message with hundreds of young leaders who tell me “you get it”. When I share it with older leaders (over 50), they struggle with it. And a growing number of older leaders are losing the best talent because of a lack of flexibility. I just spent two days at a University with 10K students enrolled (almost all of them under 23). One massive career ambition: entrepreneurs. They want to start their own non-profit, church or business. Not everyone, but demographically, a much higher percentage than previously. So it’s coming, it’s here, and the strategies I’m writing about have helped me (and many others) attract and keep some incredible talent. The goal, as I say in the High Impact Workplace, is not to get them to work for me, but to rally around a much bigger mission. Hope that helps.

  6. Mark on January 29, 2020 at 8:17 am

    Others are
    1) Your team compares their work rules and discovers that they all have different ones that may even go against HR policy and even law.
    2) They would really like benign neglect. This is a term I coined which is neither help nor harm in one’s career. Bad bosses actively harm people’s careers by berating them to higher management levels, denying continuing education opportunities, and ensuring that they cannot get credit for work done. Benign neglect is where the people aren’t actively harmed.
    3) Your team discovers that you have been deceiving your superiors about how great things are in your group and starts trying to get word (via backchannels and off the record) to upper management about the real situation without getting themselves punished or fired.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on January 29, 2020 at 5:20 pm

      So true. Thanks Mark.

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