During my career I have worked with many colleagues who have inspired and motivated me, some who made me laugh and many who made me proud of them, but I have also had a few of them who drove me crazy. Some were managers (see “There is nothing worse than a nervous boss” posted August 15th, 2011) and some were my own staff members and direct reports.

Author: ThisIsRobsLife; via Wikimedia Commons

Here are some of the characteristics that made me tear out my hair and that can drive your boss crazy:

Don’t meet commitments

Whether these were to do with commitments like bringing a large contract to completion due at a quarter end, reports to be submitted by a particular date, or just a commitment to carry out some action item, people who were always ready to commit but rarely delivered on time and in quality were frustrating. In many cases their late deliverables impacted the work of others who were dependant on them, and this would invariably scatter timelines to the wind. If you make a commitment, then drive to deliver, otherwise let someone else who can, do so.

Tell him not to worry

I had one country MD who was always telling me not to worry about him, but to focus on others who he felt were less experienced than him. With days to go to the end of a quarter, when he would only be sitting on about 50% of his most recent forecast, he would still be telling me not to worry because everything would be all right. It occasionally was, but I quickly realised that the only way that I could get to a lack of worry about his operation was if he was physically not there to worry me at all. Your boss is paid to worry about the business but you just need to make sure that you are not the one that is making him do so.

Author: Vincerama at de.wikipedia; via Wikimedia Commons

Cover up mistakes and bad news

Covering up mistakes just makes them harder to resolve as time passes. The same is true for delivering bad news, as it will rarely get better through neglect. The sooner after it happens that a problem can be highlighted and addressed, the easier it is to resolve. Covering up mistakes, or delaying bad news, is no different to lying and therefore totally unacceptable in any business context.I always told people that they would not be fired for making an honest mistake, but only if they quickly made it known to the right people who could help with its resolution and that they learned from it.

Be negative all the time

I find it hard enough to cope with people who have been told that they should always be positive and optimistic about everything no matter what, but I find it even harder to live with people who are always negative about everything and everyone around them. People who will always focus on what can go wrong and why things haven’t worked before and can’t work in the future, are incredibly frustrating, and are a destroyer of the mirth and joy that comes from a great job in a great company. It is good business sense to identify barriers to progress, and having a devil’s advocate in the team provides balance, but perpetual “nay-sayers” need to be weeded out.

Author: Jean.julius; via Wikimedia Commons

Have all the answers

It is wonderful to have smart people in the team but people who believe that they always have the right answers get in the way of building creativity in a team, as they stifle input from others. (see “Is it fanatics or fools who are the problem” posted April 23rd, 2012). A great team needs people who encourage debate and dissension, and draw out ideas from those around them. Those that believe that they themselves are always right get in the way of long term sustainable success.

Sacrifice the outcome for the process

I have always believed that “doing the right thing trumps doing the thing right”, particularly when it comes to servicing a customer’s needs. I have never understood, for example, why Air France will not let you get on an earlier connecting flight when you have a restricted ticket, if the flight is not full anyway, and it really makes no difference to the airline whether you take up a seat on this flight or the next. It is just that mindless staff, who have not been empowered to make any decision beyond when they take a loo break, stick to the rules, when bending them would make the airline not only more human but would also engender more loyalty in their customers, while not costing them anything extra. Empower your people so they can focus on doing great things, sometimes even despite what is written in the policies and procedures manual.

Spring surprises on him

As a manager, I hated last minute surprises. I always preferred to know well ahead of time if, for example, a country operation was looking like not meeting its forecast, as this could at least give us an opportunity to try and do something to remedy the situation. Waiting till the eleventh hour to surprise your boss, when it is too late to do anything, other than get angry, is not a smart position in which to put yourself.I was once taken in to a customer meeting which had been presented to me as a friendly “meet and greet” with their CEO. It actually turned out to be a “bash the supplier” session where I was berated about our lack of commitment to their success, about which it later transpired our account exec had been pre-warned, but was too scared to report. All I could do was listen intently, nod wisely and commit to doing something about remedying the situation, and then give the sales exec a decent boot where the sun doesn’t shine when we got away from the tirade of abuse.

Play politics

I have always hated company politicians even more that I have hated people who struggled in their role, as at least you could try and do something about strugglers with some developmental activities, whereas those that love the Machiavellian intrigues are hard to change. Politicians will always be the ones who are ready to listen and spread rumours and are always the ones who can cloud “bad-mouthing” of others in the cloak of concern for the well-being of the team. The only way to handle those that love the political game is to make them go and play their games somewhere else, preferably in a competitor.

I understand that one’s primary focus should be on doing your job really well, but it doesn’t hurt your career to ensure that your boss doesn’t see you and your area of responsibility as being an area of concern, as “There is nothing worse than a nervous boss, particularly if you are the one that is making him nervous.”



  1. ianmhodge says:

    Les, I had to check off each “issue” to make sure I wasn’t one of your culprits. Admission: I may have once missed a quarter…..

  2. litam01 says:

    The Political Animal one hit home … no room for “party politics” in a well-run successful team … The problem is in large IT organisations there are so many that you can’t do anything about!

    • leshayman says:

      litam01 …. I believe that “Politics is the last refuge of a scoundrel”.
      (Rather than “patriotism” as in the original quote by Samuel Johnson).

  3. Adriana says:

    Mr. Hayman, you make the business world seem reasonable.
    … but it’s probably just a critical mass of leaders like you needed to keep it reasonable 🙂

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