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23 Feb 2014

Bosses Are the Problems and How to Be a Great Boss

Note: The next How to Be a Great Boss is confirmed on 9 Dec 2014 Tuesday 2 to 5.30 pm.  Limited seats, register via text to 8201-4347 now.

If you don’t like the title of this article, read on. By ‘boss’ here, I am referring to a person that an employee reports to. That reporting boss can be a customer, the shareholders, superior and in some cases, the government.

Today I shall focus on your superior, that is, someone that you report to in your work. Most of the time this person is a manager or supervisor.

Whenever an employee has a performance issue, most managers will assume it is the lack of training. As a trainer with 18 years of experience training 81,131 people in 14 countries since 1996, I know that many a times it is not the lack of training. It may not even be the lack of skills or attitude.

The biggest obstacle to an employee not performing well is not about not knowing what to do. The biggest obstacle is Interferences from Bosses.

The following are the 5 most common interferences by bosses that are causing the performance problem. Remove them and you’ll see your employees’ performance soar.

1. Lack of systems or systems are encouraging lousy performance while punishing good performance

Many companies give difficult assignments to those good performing staff and give easy jobs to those that don’t perform. Many a times performers are asked to clean up the ‘shit’ done by the trouble makers, like service recovery. This really de-motivates the good performers as it is against the simple principle of motivation - reward to reinforce positive behaviour and punish to eliminate negative behaviour.

Another common system problem is remuneration, where everyone gets the same 13th month bonus (or 5% annual increment) regardless of their performance. High performers often don’t get much more than another month bonus, which is telling everyone that it is okay to under-perform.

2. Too much pressure, especially instructions that are based on the past situations and ignore the present situation.

Imagine you are at the tennis court when you are trying hard to remember all the instructions that you have been given. When the ball is coming to you at 150 km per hour, you try to recall past instructions on what to do. The outcome is that you will definitely miss the ball. You simply can’t focus on the past and the present in the same moment.

This is what is happening in the workplace every day. Bosses always insists that staff follow company’s policies, many of which are based on what have happened in the past. When a new situation occurs (like commuters stuck in the underground tunnel), the staff are trying to focus on the present and act accordingly, like give out information immediately to the stuck commuters. But the staff remembered that under company policy, only the top management can give out information to the public.

Torn between doing what they should be doing and doing what they were told, the staff will reach a state of inertia - not doing anything.

This pressure to follow past instructions, which are no longer valid as we are dealing with a new situation now, is causing big problems. Some bosses may even blamed the staff lack of skills as the reason for the under-performance. Unbelievable but true!

3. Wrong Strategy or Tactic

A good example is the famous Kodak company, which has filed for bankruptcy in January 2012, after being in business for 131 years. Kodak adopted the wrong strategy of sticking to its film business instead of moving into digital photography and saw its business declined by 99% in a decade!

The strange thing is that it is so obvious to everyone in this world that digital photography and not film photography will do well, and I am sure all the employees in Kodak know this too. Yet Kodak management does not seem to know or listen to the public or its own staff and stick on to the wrong strategy.

If you are in top management, ask yourself this question: have you asked your staff, especially the people closest to the market, how valid is your current strategy?

The truth is not if you have a wrong strategy and you pushed your employees hard to pursue that strategy, you are the one that is really causing the poor performance!

4. Protecting their Own Turf

We know that it is not easy for bosses to rise to their current position and as such they will do whatever it takes to protect their own turf. And in doing so they may be causing harm to the organization. Worse still, the boss punishes staff that don’t toe their line. Look at the many office politics happening now and you’ll know what I am talking about.

This point is very obvious but many people refuse to face it. Like some may not even want to circulate this article for fear of being seen as bad in their employees’ eyes.

We know that the first purpose of a boss is to achieve the organization’s goals. If he cannot do so, why have him in the first place?

If the boss, in protecting his own turf, downplays achievement of the organization’s goals, in no time he will be played-out by his own boss (the shareholders in business or voters in politics).

5. Lack of management and supervision skills

We know that it is very common for the top performer to be promoted to management position, like the best performing salesperson is promoted to the post of Sales Manager.

The reality is that management calls for different skills and they are often in conflict with the technical skills that a manager was previously good at.

The lack of management and supervision skills will make the manager unable to focus on management and instead focus on technical aspects of the work. We often see Sales Managers unable to motivate and inspire their sales team to hit their sales targets and have to do the sales himself to make up for the shortfall. In fact by him doing more sales than his salespeople, he is causing his sales team to under-perform!

In short, the above 5 interferences are blocking the road to higher performance. Remove them and you’ll be have a more effective, successful and happy team. Happy management!
By Andy Ng, Asia Trainers at
See Andy in action at or get inspired by his over 450 articles daily at

If you too want to get the most out of your life and career and reap the rewards like many of our coaching clients and seminar participants have achieved, hire a Business or Executive Coach now. For more information, email to, visit or call Andy Ng at 65-6225-1784 during office hours.

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