Are you your own worst boss?

Are you your own worst boss?

To be a good boss often means taking a good look at yourself.


I recently attended two panels on work and leadership. In both cases, the discussion veered in a more negative than positive direction. We talked about mistakes that leaders make and the devastating outcomes of poor leadership. After one panel, a fellow Twitter user posed a smart question: “I sincerely want to know just how common ‘leadership by fear’ still is nowadays? I believe that leaders strive for good.”

He was right. Most people want to do their work well, and the best leaders do just that – but the media tends to focus on stories of bad leadership. The horror stories are also pervasive because poor leadership is connected with very negative outcomes, including increased absenteeism, poor productivity, and health problems.

It therefore makes a lot of sense for organisations to tackle poor leadership. And many do. According to one estimate, leadership training is a 366-billion-dollar global industry.

What kind of self-leader are you?

But what actually is poor leadership? According to one research there are four main styles: Tyrannical leaders value the organisation’s goals over the wellbeing of employees; derailed leaders in turn value neither the wellbeing of others nor the organisation’s goals and actively sabotage both; supportive-disloyal leaders don’t value the organisation’s goals but do value the wellbeing of employees; and laissez faire leaders simply avoid their responsibilities.

These days, however, with people working on increasingly complex problems, it is rare for the manager to always be the one with the best knowledge. This has kindled interest in flat, managerless organisational models and self-organising teams. As autonomy increases, each employee is increasingly becoming their own leader.

So what kind of self-leader are you?  Are you a tyrant towards yourself, always putting work goals above your wellbeing? Do you belittle yourself, pointing out every mistake you make, never allowing yourself to celebrate success? Or do you simply give up, either in the derailed manner where you deliberately neglect your health and tolerate poor quality, or in the laissez faire style where you just mentally check out?

Most of us have temporarily experienced some aspects of destructive self-leadership. Looking in the mirror and asking why we sometimes are horrible bosses to ourselves hopefully also reveals that poor leadership is often not intentional but can emerge as a consequence of other problems. All people make mistakes. Noticing when and why this happens is the foundation for learning. Coupling this with empathy towards yourself and others, and believing that most individuals strive to work well, can be fuel for change.


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