The Boss’s Guide to the Boss from Hell

I recently came across an article from the Wall Street Journal, “How to Spot the Boss from Hell,” about the pitfalls of prospective employees not screening their potential bosses carefully enough. It’s easy to forget, as employers, that a job interview goes both ways; while you’re trying to evaluate an applicant’s qualifications and work ethic, he or she is also evaluating you and your company. How many quality employees might be turned off by an arrogant interviewer or witnessing a belittling encounter between manager and staff? It would be useful for bosses to read this article from the inside out, and think about how they come across to potential employees.

The article discusses a woman who interviewed at a tech start-up. The boss was a friend of a friend, so she ignored the red-flags: lofty promises, self-aggrandizement, and profane language. Soon she found herself with a “Boss from Hell,” one of the leading causes of worker discontent. Although she was an asset to the company, she left after several months.

First, do you know how your managers come across when they interview?  Are they turning away quality employees with their behavior? Many employees get promoted to managerial positions without going through any HR training regarding communication or managing people, and they model themselves after their similarly untrained bosses. Even if they have an agreeable public image, what are they like away from such scrutiny? The article also mentions a woman interviewing for a paralegal job who noticed that although the boss was charming, the secretary never made eye contact with him and seemed cowed. Knowing how your interviewers come across and making sure they trained in people skills is essential if you want to attract good employees.

Second, what is their online presence? Employers run Internet searches on applicants, and applicants run Internet searches on employers. You should know as much as prospective employees do about the managers who work for you and about your own online presence. Is the first link in the Google search your manager’s arrest for public indecency? Is his Twitter account filled with racist jokes? Will an advanced search on LinkedIn turn up former employees who will give good references, or flee in terror from his name?

Third, if the boss is someone whose personality chases people away or has a terrible online presence, do something about it!  Does this manager need some training or coaching on people skills? It may be worth an investment if this is someone who is valuable to your organization. If you’ve tried the training/coaching approach and they still chase off good employees, ask yourself if you really need someone like that in your company. Is she or he THAT valuable?  What do they bring in terms of revenue, customer relationships, reputation, research dollars, being the son of the president… If you can’t figure out their value, then they may need to go.  If they do have value, consider the options: you could restructure so this person becomes more of an individual contributor and have someone else manage people, or up the intensity of the HR training. There are some good offsite intensive programs, for example, that are a bit like weekend summer camp for adults learning not to be jerks.

This article reminded me of how important it is for bosses to put time and attention into how they treat their employees, even before they become employees. You could be missing out on the greatest resource your company has due to poor interview skills. Think about your interview style, get some training, and avoid being a “Boss from Hell.”