Previously published on Forbes.com.
Another day, another struggle convincing yourself to pull it together, show up for work and do everything you can to avoid the fallout from your toxic boss. There’s not much relief at the end of the day either since you can’t help but dissect every sniping remark or condescending sigh. And you just know your friends and loved ones are probably sick of hearing about it.
Having a toxic boss can make your life miserable—and not just at work. New research has found that, in addition to damaging your morale while you’re in the office, bad bosses affect your physical health, raising your risk for heart disease and how your whole family relates to one another.
As one woman on a panel of senior women leaders at Microsoft said, the toxic boss is the “anti-role model.”
Bad bosses may be bad news, but there’s a silver lining—there’s a lot you can learn from their anti-role model behavior. You might even consider it a master class in what not to do.
Here are five lessons you can learn from your toxic boss:
1. Putting people down makes people duck for cover. Toxic bosses often show contempt towards people. One of their telltale signs is using sarcasm to make fun of people or to belittle their efforts. They also seem to see their peers and direct reports as intrusions into important work they have to get done. Impatient and dismissive, they’ll demand, “What do you need now?” Toxic bosses don’t give people enough information about a task or its relevance to other projects, assuming they don’t need to know or aren’t smart enough to understand the bigger picture.
What can you learn from this bad behavior? Look for the good in people. See the value a person brings to their work, the skills they contribute and the unique perspective they offer. This is called appreciation. When you give people sufficient information about why a particular task or project matters and provide the context and detail to enable your team to do its best work, they’ll give you their all in return.
2. No one is impressed by a temper tantrum. Bosses who lose their cool create an environment of fear at work. I worked for a boss years ago who seemed to dislike me. We didn’t get along at all. Just seeing his car in the parking lot as I drove into work made my stomach turn. One day, he and I got into an argument over a client deliverable. I was sure I was right and so was he. He called me into his office, and I took the seat across from him with his imposing desk between us. The conversation escalated and before I knew it, he was standing up, leaning towards me and red-faced shouting at me. Then he pounded his fist angrily on the desk just inches from me. I was terrified and froze. I left his office and went to the washroom and cried. Several weeks later, I left that job.
Throwing a temper tantrum might work for four-year-olds who want to get their way, but not for a manager.
When the pressure’s on, it can be easy to lose your cool, but part of being a good manager is digging deep and finding some self-control to manage your own behavior. If you feel anger or aggression rising inside of you, take a deep breath. Calm yourself down. Give yourself some time to think before you make things worse. Daniel Goleman, the voice of Emotional Intelligence at work, calls this self-regulation. Then you can come back to the conversation with something much more productive than a temper tantrum.
3. Micromanaging wastes everyone’s time (and talent). Most of us have worked for that boss who always thinks their way is the only way to do things. Even though you were supposedly hired for your expertise and skills, they hover over you, monitor your every move and insist you do things their way. Toxic bosses seem to think that their way is the best way to do things. So they then expect their direct reports to do what they do, and they get all up in their business about the details.
Micromanaging communicates that you don’t trust people to think and take reasonable action on their own. Or that you are smarter than they are, which leaves people wondering why you hired them in the first place.
You hired talented people for a reason. Let them take initiative and find a way to complete a task or a project that works for them and delivers the result you have both agreed to. Your challenge upfront is to think through and clearly communicate your standards and expectations for completion. Clarity and communication are key to giving people room to breathe and work independently.
4. Being a “ball-hog” demotivates smart people. Susan had worked for weeks on a new management development program that concluded with a project presentation to demonstrate the skills the managers had gained. In a meeting to present the idea, her boss talked about it as if he had single-handedly come up with the idea and fully developed the program. Classic toxic boss behavior.
Toxic bosses don’t acknowledge the hard work an employee has put in, which can make that employee feel as if all of their hard work was for nothing. This is especially true when the boss takes a team member’s idea and pitches it as his or her own.
This is easy behavior to avoid. All you have to do is give credit where credit is due. Pass the ball to your teammate every now and then. Notice the work that others have done, pay attention and offer your appreciation—then talk about the contribution with others in the organization. Lift others up, rather than yourself. It will turn out for you, I promise. You will have a team of high performers who want to do more.
5. Getting nutty about the little stuff makes people nutty. Sam found herself working for a new manager who was just a few years older than her. This new manager seemed to need to assert her authority and remind Sam who was boss. She started cracking down on Sam about showing up to work a few minutes late. She got nutty about an 8:00 a.m. start time for the workday, monitoring mornings closely, tracking the days when Sam was even a minute past 8:00. Sam’s anxiety rose and her performance fell. Her boss thought she was being defiant and insubordinate. You can probably guess the rest of this story.
Bad bosses get hyper-focused on small things and overlook the bigger picture. Take the time to find out what’s going on in an employee’s world, ask questions, and listen. Ask yourself if this small thing really matters that much. Don’t assume you understand why someone is doing something—ask and find out. This keeps you connected to your employees in important ways and builds trust for the bigger stuff you need to work on together.
Toxic bosses don’t care about the impact they have on others, because how others feel isn’t something that’s even on their radar. Don’t be that boss. Look for the good, keep your cool, respect what your people bring to the table, give credit where it's due and concentrate on the things that really matter. You'll be amazed at what your team members can do when they're able to spend their time focused on delivering great results rather than on ducking your next destructive outburst.