Why your boss is so bad at his job

If you are a manager, you have likely been paying close attention to the factors behind the Great Resignation: No sense of purpose, low wages, lack of childcare, inflexible schedules. All of those play a part in the record numbers of people who have quit their jobs in the last six months. But one of the driving motivations for employees leaving their jobs has always been their bosses. The old adage is now perhaps more true than ever: You don’t quit a job, you quit a manager.

So what is it about bosses that drives employees to quit? You can take a glimpse into our collective angst by googling “My boss is..” and autocomplete will give you the following: toxic, incompetent, gaslighting me, a mircomanger, passive aggressive, harassing me, bullying me, causing me anxiety.

How did we get here? Are so many bosses really that bad? How do people end up in leadership positions if they are such bad managers? Did the pandemic make things worse?

On the latest episode of The New Way We Work, I set out to find out how the people who end up in leadership positions often possess the traits least-suited to manage and lead people. I spoke to Dr. Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic who is the chief innovation officer at Manpower Group; a professor of business psychology at University College London and Columbia University; a frequent contributor to the Harvard Business Review and Fast Company; and the author of several books including Why Do So Many Incompetent Men Become Leaders? (And How to Fix it).

Chamorro-Premuzic wrote a popular article for Fast Company in 2019 titled “Men are almost 40% more likely to be narcissists. Science explains why they often become leaders.” According to his research, the traits associated with narcissism (charisma, over-confidence, entitlement, etc) are found more often in men (due likely in part to the way boys are raised in much of the world), and they are also the characteristics that we associate with leaders.

He points to the idea that when many people are making the choice of who to vote for, they are not led by data on achievement or qualifications, but on misguided beliefs about what a leader should look and act like. “We don’t really select or elect leaders on the basis of their talent on the basis of their potential, which explains the near universal difference between the leaders we need and the leaders we actually get,” he says.

Beyond choosing the person you’d like to get a beer with, over the person who has the best skills, another way the wrong people end up in leadership positions is overconfidence. “We assume that there is a connection between putting yourself up for something and being good at something, which is a fundamental flaw. There has never been a strong correlation between nominating yourself and actually being good at it,” Chamorro-Premuzic explains.

He points out that while bosses haven’t gotten worse in the last few years, the pandemic put stress on everyone and turned bad bosses into terrible ones and made mediocre bosses into bad ones. It’s a hopeful proposition for companies with good managers, as their employees are likely to have become even more loyal over this trying time. But for the rest, the imperative is even stronger to move away from our old intuition on the characteristics of a good leader and lean instead into a more data-driven approach.

Listen to the episode to hear more about the impact of narcissists on the world of politics and business, as well ideas for how to make changes in your workplace.