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Are bad bosses fixable?

Research by Gallup has shown that companies choose the wrong talent for manager 82% of the time, although managers account for 70% of the variance in employee engagement scores, and only 30% of US employees are actually engaged in their work. So, there’s quite a bit of room to improve. Organizations don’t have the ability to replace all the bad eggs, though, which would be costly in training and recruitment. So, how can we go about fixing, or at least improving, the “bad bosses?”

  • Selection and fit matter: the right kind of boss matters in an organization or department, and analytics can help you pinpoint fit. Does the boss need to operate in a fast-paced, entrepreneurial department, or do rules and processes need to be followed with precision? If a manager is standing on his or her head to do the work, there is probably a better person for the job and reassignment should be considered.
  • Develop positive relationships between senior management, HR and front-line managers: managers with positive relationships will be more apt to receive feedback and suggestions. Company meetings, networking events and one-on-one meetings can foster these relationships and communications.
  • Train on delegation: one of the major sources of bad bosses is promoting individual contributors who continue to do the same work. It may seem obvious, but organizations that don’t explicitly train new managers on delegation strategies may have micromanager bosses with frustrated employees. Role-playing exercises may help develop these delegation and time-management skills.
  • Encourage communications and expectation setting from managers to reports: reports may not understand that they can ignore late-night e-mails from their bosses, unless the manager communicates that, for instance. If employees understand their expectations (and those are realistic), they’ll be more engaged and less likely to burn out.
  • Foster soft skills: a numbers-focused or highly introverted manager might be too reluctant to connect with employees, but showing managers how closed-door this can impede productivity and encouraging “management by walking around” helps build those communication channels. Other development such as coaching or training that builds confidence and communication strategies will facilitate the development of soft skills.
  • Assign managers to new teams where they weren’t members before, in order to diminish playing “favorites” and old habits. This, when done diplomatically, can help decrease dysfunction and bring fresh ideas to teams.


You won’t get perfect managers overnight, but these steps can help organizations improve the quality of bosses and thus increase employee engagement. On occasion, you might need to remove a mismatch from the organization, but more often than not, with a little work and encouragement, bad bosses are fixable!


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