Characteristics of a Good Boss vs. Bad Boss

Introduction and Thesis

According to a 2012 survey conduced by Right Management of North American workers, “Eighty-six percent of the employees polled said they plan to actively look for a new position in 2013” (Right Management 2012). In business, a well-defined hierarchy places virtually every individual accountable to another person within the organization. Unfortunately, this troubling statistic is evidence that bosses and their subordinates rarely maintain a synergetic working relationship. Take for example the story of a hard-working woman from Minnesota who was caring her ill son in the hospital. As her son was on the brink of death with heart problems, her grandmother and grandfather passed away unexpectedly. Showing no empathy for the situation, her boss reprimanded her for attending too many funerals within a short period of time (Single Working Parent 2012).  Although the characteristics that make a boss good or bad are subjective, there are many specific traits that the majority of people consider either positive or negative. The differences between good bosses and bad bosses are striking, and they can be identified with a simple examination of human nature.

Good Boss Characteristics

A good boss has the ability to demonstrate several key characteristics that employees will consider positive. First, in order to be a good boss the individual must become established as a good leader (Ciulla 2005). People expect their leader to work for the group’s collective best interests and help them solve certain problems. In the workplace, this often comes down to the leader helping their coworkers make their career more enriching. For example, a good boss will ask their subordinate how they can support them to make their career more rewarding. Providing reassurance of support allows the boss and employee to progress towards a common goal. In large groups, this will trait will create a team dynamic that will help all employees develop symbiotic working relationships.

Another consistently positive trait shown by good bosses is trustworthiness. When employees are convinced that their boss is open, honest and transparent, they are much more likely to trust their decisions.  This is can be achieved by following through on promises, providing open lines of communication, and speaking of fellow co-workers in a positive way. These behaviors command respect and followers will often reflect the behaviors of a trusted leader. If the boss if forced to make an unpopular decision, the employees are will still retain a positive opinion of the person if a trusting relationship has been established (Brown 2012).  When a boss is able to demonstrate these traits in a live business setting, the results will be far more impressive than their bad boss counterpart.

Bad Boss Characteristics

The traits of a bad boss are far reaching and employees cite numerous unique reasons for harboring a negative opinion of their superiors. Naturally, most humans would prefer to make their own decisions in the workplace. However, few employees have this level of freedom and it creates an abrasive relationship between bosses and subordinates from the beginning. A bad boss can easily exacerbate this natural perception by acting in a way that is arrogant or condescending (Ciulla 2005). Failing to admit mistakes or disregarding the opinions of subordinates will produce a relationship that lacks trust. When a boss makes decisions that do not reflect the entire group, usually due to poor communication, employees will quickly view their boss an enemy.  In extreme cases, bad bosses may use fear tactics to get their way. Threats of disciplinary action and termination are common tactics used by bosses who lack confidence in their domain.

On the other side of equation, the characteristic of apathy is closely tied to bad bosses. A boss who does not care about their career is likely going though the motions just to collect a paycheck. This type of boss will also fail to provide constructive criticism to their subordinates. This can be a frustrating situation for employees who are eager to advance within an organization because an apathetic boss can be a considerable roadblock. Even if the boss is friendly and non-abrasive, employees will maintain a negative perception due to the lack of professional guidance and weak leadership. Bosses who display any combination of these traits will be hard pressed to win the hearts and minds of their followers.

Good Boss Versus Bad Boss

The divergence between good bosses and bad bosses comes down to compassion. A good boss is able to show compassion in many different forms by creating trusting relationships and acting in a selfless way. For example, the good boss will make a genuine effort to compliment and appreciate the work of team members. This type of boss will find that employees respect the effort put forth to make their careers more rewarding. Careers are not always enriched by monetary gain and a good boss will recognize opportunities to provide positive reinforcement through communication (Brown 2012). On the other hand, the bad boss fails to show compassion by making selfish decisions that do not reflect the opinions of the fellow employees. Whether intentional or not, failing to find ways to appreciate employees is a sign of apathy and/or arrogance in a boss.

The story of the single mother in Minnesota is an excellent example of how compassion, or lack thereof, can affect an employee’s perception of their boss. Rather than seek out ways to support this troubled mother during her difficult family issues, the boss chose to focus explicitly on company policy. The approach to the situation immediately showed the employee that the boss had little care for her personal problems. An alternative approach to this problem could have focused on finding a solution that would have benefited both the employee and the boss. Simply changing the approach to the problem could have improved the level of trust between the employee and her boss. In this case, the characteristic of compassion was the most important factor in determining if the boss was good or bad.


When considered in the context of basic human nature, there are many significant differences in the behaviors exhibited by good bosses and bad bosses. Ultimately, the evaluation of a boss’s performance is a subjective task that is based on the individual’s unique personal preferences. However, the traits evaluated above show a consistent correlation between specific behaviors and the subordinate’s perception of their boss. These traits are closely related to the basic psychological profile of humans, which can also be applied to many other relationships in life. The relationships between parent and child, politician and constituent, and landlord and tenant, have a close connection to the relationship between bosses and subordinates. Perhaps the most important departure between these two roles can be defined as follows; good bosses actively seek out ways to deliver compassion to their coworkers, while bad bosses will work unabashedly towards their own selfish ambitions.


Ciulla, J. B. (2005). Integrating leadership with ethics: is good leadership contrary to huma Handbook on responsible leadership and governance in global business, 159-179.

Brown, J. (2013). The Enduring Value of Good Leadership. Leadership, 42(5), 35-37.

Right Management. (2012) Survey Finds Continued Worker Discontent.

Working Single Parent. (2012). The SUPERvisor. Retrieved from



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