Bad bosses have always existed in the workplace.
But there are traits of bad bosses that are unexpected and more insidious, according to Kevin Legg, the founder of Sage, a company that helps design and develop training curriculums at work.
The traits in question: undermanaging, over-talking and faux friendliness.
"All these traits not only seem harmless, but even desired by many employees," said Legg, who has 20 years of experience in corporate professional learning.
"After all, who wouldn't want a boss who likes to leave you to your own devices? What's wrong with a leader who acts more like a mate than a boss? A leader who talks a bit too much during meetings can be a bit irritating for sure, but … there are worse traits a boss can have, right?"
But these traits can often have negative implications for team cohesion, morale, respect and efficiency, Legg added, especially during "periods of high stress."
"When difficult decisions need to be made, the overly friendly boss will lack the credibility to make those decisions," he explained.
"The undermanager will experience decision paralysis, making a bad situation even worse. The over-talker will suddenly find his or her instructions fall on deaf ears [because] employees stopped listening a long time ago."
Employees hate micromanaging but for Legg, undermanaging is the more common vice.
"To make matters worse, bad bosses are continually making a virtue out of undermanagement … [by saying, for example] 'My people can come to me if they need me – my door is open,'" he added.
That's what the "lazy boss who lacks the courage or work ethic to really coach and lead" would say, according to Legg.
Without an active manager, work suffers as junior staff self-direct without guidance — "dysfunction" will also take hold as team members attempt to guess how to engage the boss for feedback and direction.
"In the medium term, there is resentment at annual reviews when folks are passed over for promotions because they never lived up to a standard they were never shown," Legg cautioned.
"In the long run ... they leave for greener pastures where they can develop."
A "personal bugbear" of Legg's, the boss who talks too much typically has an "inflated opinion" of themselves and believes they are the smartest person in the room, he said.
"They love the sweet melody of their own voice," Legg added. "They believe they must constantly give their employees a diatribe, and will convene team meetings with that as the core feature."
What's dangerous about such behavior is that it'll perpetuate a culture where people stop speaking up "as a reflex."
"Employees will anticipate a highly diluted, overlong talk when a timely insight would do," Legg said.
"The issue here is that employees stop taking their boss seriously. This means that the truly valuable bits of advice or experience get thrown out with the rest of the verbosity."
Having an overly friendly boss can be more harmful than it seems, Legg suggested.
"Bosses do this when they lack the tool set to navigate the relationship asymmetries between them and their employees," he said.
"They use the shallow – and ineffective – tactic of behaving and speaking like they and their staff are just peer-level buddies hanging out at the office."
Not drawing clear boundaries can leave staff feeling confused as a friend should not be dictating workload, promotions, or writing references.
"Some employees may embrace friendliness and start thinking they are 'mates,' which will make difficult decisions and requests harder [for bosses]," Legg added.
What's worse is when employees end up "trading friendship" for professional outcomes they need, and bosses make decisions based on favors instead of merit.
"Once this begins, there is virtually no way back to a professional baseline," said Legg.
Thankfully, employees with bosses that exhibit these undesirable traits can learn valuable lessons that they can apply in the future — should they become managers.
"A first-hand account of what not to do can be just as important as knowing what to do," said Legg.
"As a leader, once you've seen the antithesis modeled, you'll be quicker to recognize yourself rambling during a meeting, so you'll segue to let others talk and provide opinions. You'll detect the first appeal of playing at peers with your staff, and opt for a cordial yet professional relationship with your team."
If you ever hear yourself saying "my door's always open," you can be more involved in your team's professional development and hold regular, structured feedback meetings, Legg added.
"Having these models in the back of your mind as you progress through your leadership journey can steer you right, especially combined with habits learned from better leaders."