5 Little Things Bosses Shouldn’t Do

Tiny pebbles cause painful blisters

Credit: DarkBird on Shutterstock

I went to Army Basic Training and Marine Boot Camp. Perhaps I’m a glutton for punishment because I enjoyed almost every minute of both. But there was one particular case in Army Basic Training that I didn’t enjoy. This event destroyed morale faster than I’ve ever seen morale destroyed.

The Drill Sergeant made us shave our heads three days before graduation because his girlfriend broke up with him.

Now you may say “who cares…don’t all soldiers have short hair anyway?” Yes, but the initial de-individualizing aspect of a full head shave happens right away at Boot Camp. As a Marine Recruit or soldier progresses through training, so does their hair.

It sounds odd but being allowed to have some hair by the end of Boot Camp is a symbol of coming-of-age as a real soldier or Marine because they look like one now with that sharp high-and-tight cut.

Anyway, the three other platoons were sporting cuts with some hair on top.

Our Drill Sergeant basically said we sucked the entire basic training so we were getting a full head shave. We knew that wasn’t why. He didn’t care.

He let his personal problems affect both his professionalism and our morale.

It was just a haircut, I know, but I’m writing about it 25 years later, right?

Most leaders know the big mistakes to avoid to remain effective.

But what about the small, seemingly insignificant ones that are worse than they seem at the time — the ones that grow into resentment and lack of respect for that leader down the road?

Here are 5 of them.

1. They Take Home to Work

I opened with this example, but it’s so true. Employees can’t control what happens to you after work or in your home. When an arbitrary uncontrolled factor like that affects their well-being it can devastate morale.

Everyone has issues. You may come into work angry, frustrated, or upset but just like you shouldn’t take work home, you shouldn’t take home to work.

Employees are human too, of course, so they understand that everyone has problems, but when you turn any of your personal problems into problems for them, they’ll resent you.

This just boils down to professionalism. A good leader doesn’t let personal issues in any way negatively affect their team.

Just like you shouldn’t take work home, you shouldn’t take home to work.

2. They Balance Poorly on the Friend/Boss Tightrope

One of my favorite Michael Scott lines from The Office:

“Do I need to be liked? Absolutely not. I like to be liked. I enjoy being liked. I have to be liked. But it’s not like this compulsive need to be liked…like my need to be praised.”

Bosses, especially newly promoted ones, often have a tough time balancing on the friend/boss tightrope. And many bosses will put being liked over being respected — which is a mistake.

In most cases, it’s best for both the employee and the new boss to respect that new line and err on the side of professionalism. Reduce fraternization to increase professionalism.

This doesn’t mean in any way a boss/employee can’t be friendly, but each should honor the role of the other.

The biggest faux pas here is when a leader goes back and forth between “ok, listen to me now” and “we are friends, right?” roles. It can make for a confusing and unproductive relationship especially if the employee has a hard time respecting the boss’s role. It can also be unfair to other employees who have to remain professional only.

3. They Avoid Addressing Little Problems

In one of the multitudes of Boot Camp hikes/forced marches, or “humps” as they called them, the Drill Instructor told us “check your gear. If anything is bothering you even a little bit now it will be driving you insane by mile 10.”

That little pebble in your boot isn’t a big deal now, but if you don’t take it out it will lead to a huge painful blister down the road.

This is a metaphor for any problem.

If a boss doesn’t tend to the weeds in their work garden, the weeds will someday take over.

A good boss will spot, then eliminate small problems before they have a chance to take root and grow into big ones.

4. They Make Someone Prove They’re Trustworthy

Many new bosses come in with the attitude that it’s up to the people they lead to prove to the boss that they’re trustworthy.

This is wrong in two ways.

First, a boss should assume everyone on their team is trustworthy until they prove otherwise.

People have worked hard to build their reputations. Having to prove it again to some snot-nosed new boss is a surefire way to start off on the wrong foot. Assume your people are good right off the bat.

Secondly, it’s up to you, boss, to prove to them that they can trust you. It’s an honor to lead people. These people need to know they’re in good hands.

Your job every day is to take care of them with competence and care to show them they’re in good hands with you.

5. They Guilt People Into Tipping the Work/Life Scale

There used to be this thing that happened at work where on the day before a holiday one boss would email the whole company and say “our office will be closing 2 hours early today.” This was seen as a “thank you” reward to hard workers so they could start their holiday with family a little early.

Invariably, another boss would “reply all” to the entire company and say “We stay at work until the job is done…we’ll be here until 5 today as usual.”

Now, much of that may have been in jest. But it sure pissed off the people working until 5, especially since they had their work done. They just had a boss trying to look like they worked harder — a boss who didn’t care about their work/personal life balance.

Our CEO saw this weed of a problem early and nipped these emails in the bud (see step 3 above).

But it leads me to my point.

No boss should ever guilt an employee who wants to take earned time off or gets time off for solid performance. Even if they’re joking. If an employee is off, a good boss does their best to not bother them. A good boss knows that an employee’s quality time off leads to quality time on.

Never guilt anyone for taking earned time off. Work hard, play hard, and never make-work just to look busy.

An employee’s quality time off leads to quality time on.

While none of these will likely send employees running to the doors, they can cause resentment, lack of respect, and overall be a detriment to your leadership efforts. This, in turn, makes your team less effective and less happy.

To recap 5 little mistakes to avoid:

  1. Just like you shouldn’t take work home, you shouldn’t take home to work.
  2. Remain professional and learn to balance on the friend/boss tightrope.
  3. Address little problems right away so they don’t grow into big ones.
  4. Trust your people first until they prove otherwise — and prove your trustworthiness to them.
  5. Don’t guilt anyone for not burning the midnight oil. Some things are more important than work.

And for God’s sake, don’t make your employees shave their heads just because you got dumped.

Family Man. Top Writer in Leadership. MBA Strategy and Management. Marine Corps Veteran. Winemaker. emaxklein@icloud.com

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