A bonehead boss. If there’s anything you can count on when you’re an up-and-coming professional, it’s that you’ll have one. Apparently, it’s a rite of passage for any competent, highly skilled go-getter who is destined for greatness in her field.

bonehead bossesThe antics of bonehead managers make us strive to be outstanding at what we do. For regardless of the ineptitude of these people and/or the absolute inappropriateness of the act, we still learn something:  How NOT to treat people when we are managers AND that some people didn’t listen to their mammas when growing up.

Through these sometimes painfully hysterical situations and despite their absurdity, we keep pressing on, letting our angst out at happy hour and we do the best job we can – even if a bonehead boss gets the credit.

But what is really scary is not all of these ineffective managers started out this way. Many were just like us, climbing up the ladder and doing everything possible to be the best in their field.

Somewhere down the line though, the leap to the dark side was taken and the once-receptive, responsive and affective manager turned into the pig-headed fool we all make fun of around the water cooler.

Is there hope for the not-yet-transformed bonehead boss? Sure. If you can see a glimpse of the gleam of accomplishment and innovation in his eye then there’s still a chance to reverse the deplorable change — for the others, though? Maybe they’ll be the first to go in the zombie apocalypse …

Here’s what to look for:

Signs A Once Cool Boss Might Be Turning Into a Bonehead:

Everyday conversation is replaced with catch phrases. It starts slowly. Kind of like a baby learning a few words here and there. The manager starts out with saying things like ‘synergy’ and ‘out of the box’ then takes this gigantic leap into the dime-a-dozen business clichés like ‘hit it out the park’ and ‘laser focused.’

But by the time the inflicted can stream together a sentence like ‘The ROI associated with our data-driven plan is a complete paradigm shift but it is win-win if our team can simply wrap their heads around it,’ hope is lost. So act quickly and be careful not to catch the catch-phrase bug (we recommend ear plugs. Also, get some more insight into insidious business clichés here. )

New Ideas Are No Longer Welcome. One of the things that are prevalent in up-and-coming business people is their wish to try new things and to be on the cutting edge in their field. The downfall of many managers is, once they reach the level of management that somewhat overwhelms them, innovation takes a back seat to meeting deadlines and numbers.

The conscientious manager is willing to listen to new ideas about old process even while the old process is being used to meet deadlines. While it is difficult to do, the best way to bring a good-manager-turning-bonehead back to the real game is to get with him one-on-one and lay out the pros and cons and how the processes can work together to accomplish current goals and prepare for future ones.

Once a manager has gotten to this stage, it is difficult to pull them back but if you can show him how the outcome reflects on his position and ask for his leadership, there is indeed hope and a strong team-building relationship will form.

He Knows What You’re Going to Say Before You Say It. And we don’t mean this in the cute way couples complete each other’s sentences. This is an affliction that literally causes a boss to start thinking about their reply to you before you’ve even gotten your thoughts out of your mouth. It’s the perceived one-step-ahead-but-I-am-really-clueless syndrome and it is deadly to morale, productivity and to communication.

Nothing breaks down processes more than a manager who doesn’t listen and therefore can’t communicate affectively to his team. When a person is already thinking of reasons you can’t do something before you’ve given the ideas there is no way he is fully comprehending the idea.

This particular problem requires intervention immediately. If team morale breaks down, then department culture is also at risk. This offending manager should be pulled aside by whomever has the most clout within the team and spoken to in a non-confrontational setting and spoken to in a way that is nonthreatening and with good intention. It can be done and a manager who is worthy of redemption will certainly understand and adapt.

On the Outside Looking In. It’s a given that managers and team members don’t hang out together all the time. There is always some division between management and grunts. However, when this line is so thick that the manager doesn’t pitch in during projects or ask of himself what he asks of his people (i.e., he goes home when the staff pulls an all-nighter) then arrogance has indeed taken over.

Most likely if a manager is already exhibiting this symptom, it’s not the only sign. At this stage, he’s probably long gone. But those of us who have a healthy dose of optimism could take it upon ourselves to give this manager a gentle reminder that those who lead by example are respected. If that doesn’t take, then bring on the zombies.

He Is a Corporately Licensed Bus Driver … and the bus is empty because his entire team is under it.

A bonehead boss take all the credit but deflect and sell out when it comes to adversity. Some of the most amazing managers out there will sit at a table with their bosses, take a load of heat and when asked who the culprit was will say ‘it’s my team, it’s my responsibility and I’ll deal with the individuals involved.’ A name is never mentioned.

But when it is praise, it is exactly the opposite. Praise is given where praise is due. ‘Emma and David on my team both worked extremely hard on this project. I couldn’t be more proud of everyone’s effort.’

As a team member, if you notice your boss starting down this path, call him on it immediately. Because it becomes easier and easier to take credit and deflect trouble the longer you do it.


So whether you have a bonehead boss in the making or possibly are a bonehead boss now shaken sane by the words of this column, take to heart how important it is for there to be a good company culture and a healthy team atmosphere. (And should you choose to print this out and place it anonymously in the chair of your bonehead boss, that would be great!)

Our bosses hold our future in their hands – but it’s our words that make their boneheaded acts live in infamy.

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