How Tough Bosses Hurt Companies


No, we are not talking about your classic “bad boss” berating and humiliating employees, having temper tantrums and otherwise being a classic bad boss. We are talking about bosses who are just tough bosses and are hard as nails. Traditionally companies think of tough bosses as achievers and easy-going bosses as losers. But we may have gotten it all wrong.

I was watching a tv show where they put a group of subjects to a series of tests. They were to do a common intelligence test – place different shaped pegs into different shaped holes under a 60 second time limit. The results were mixed with some completing the task in the allotted time and some with one or two pegs left when time expired.

Then they tried it another way. They had someone over their shoulder rushing them, providing some negative comments – for example: “You’re never going to do it in time”, “Come on! Come on! Get with it!” The result: none of the test subjects finished the test in time.

Then they tried it another way. The person looking over the shoulder was totally positive. “I know you can do it!” “You’re doing great!” “You’ve got this beat!” The result: every single test subject finished in time, some with time to spare.

This certainly raised my eyebrows. The attitude of this over looker increased their natural ability when he was totally positive and decreased their abilities when he was negative. I instantly made the connection with business management.

Business leaders seem to love the tough supervisor. They see the tough guy (or gal) as “tough but effective.” They are the “can do” person who gets things done. The type A personality is the one with leadership, with drive, with charisma. And most likely, we have been dead wrong all along.

Let’s take a look at Google. It’s the company that, year after year, is rated the number one company to work for. Employees have tons of leeway. They decorate their own work spaces as they wish, even with toys. They are allowed to take breaks whenever they please and Google provides things like pool tables and video games for them. Of course they have deadlines and target goals – and seem to always meet them. Their supervisors are known for being positive and encouraging – more like cheerleaders than supervisors. Of course, according to traditional management practices, Google should have gone bankrupt decades ago and not be one of the largest and still fastest-growing companies around.

I can already hear the supervisors and managers out there saying “That wouldn’t work here. Our people just try to avoid working.”

Is that because of all the negative stress and energy while working? Is break time an escape from psychological torture? When work is full of positive energy and positive feedback people naturally put more effort and thought into the work and think of it as “theirs”. They are not constantly thinking of break time or the end of the day and escaping from the unpleasantness – they are thinking of achieving goals and receiving even more positive feedback and energy.

Providing pressure and unrealistic goals can have disastrous effects. Take a look at the Wells Fargo fiasco.

A classic example of a tough boss causing the office to self-destruct can be seen in the movie Glengarry Glen Ross. Coffee should be for everyone all the time.

Inc Magazine listed 9 things that motivate people even more than money:


and number 1 was praise. Praising an employee in front of other employees is a tremendous motivator. So you can imagine what berating an employee in front of others would do.

The Inc article suggests an even more subversive idea – get rid of supervisors! The true team approach makes everyone equal and encourages strong contributors to assist and mentor those who may be challenged.

Team meetings are always a great thing if done properly, and shooting yourself in the foot if done badly. A great team meeting provides information about everything that’s currently going on and what to expect in the week ahead. The best team meetings I have attended includes shout-outs for jobs well done and small gifts. When the meeting is done, everyone is fired up and raring to go.

I have also been to a few horrible meetings where the entire meeting is the airing of the supervisor’s grievances, accusations, blame, and threats. Those meetings break up with everyone feeling drained and tired and wanting to go home. Only the supervisor feels any better – which is not a very good thing for the company.

There is much to say for the “rah-rah boss” – a boss who is like a cheerleader heaping praise and motivation to the staff. And there is little to be said for the tough boss who only grudgingly gives out praise in small measured doses. And as we can see from the team concept at exceptional companies – there is a lot to say for not having any supervisor at all!

Company attitudes are often hard to change, but positive change is worth the effort. If you are a supervisor or manager – rethink your strategy. Is keeping silent when things are going well the right strategy? Is taking a marginal worker to task the right way to handle the situation, or are you just insuring more of the same?

Keep an open mind



Blogger, thinker, troublemaker.

One thought on “How Tough Bosses Hurt Companies

  • October 12, 2016 at 4:12 am

    I’m not much on the business side, but I know in education that if teachers provide positive feedback, encouragement to students, they complete assignments on time. I see the result of an A personality (well really she is a AAA personality) and I see students ignoring her because she repeats the same thing over and over and doing most of the work, rather than the students taking charge of their own learning.

    So, the question is, are our future business managers learning “bad” A personality traits?

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