“It can take on terrible forms if you have the wrong boss.” – Economy

“It can take on terrible forms if you have the wrong boss.” – Economy

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There’s the tyrant who rummages through the employees’ wastebaskets after work, looking for incriminating material to make a fool of them the next day. There’s the department head who responded to an employee who had just had back surgery when he asked for a new office chair: “You want a chair replacement? I wish I could replace you.” Or the branch manager of an electronics chain who diverted some of the deliveries to himself privately until an employee reported the theft – and ultimately found himself with career advisor Jürgen Hesse because he was fired. Hesse, born in 1951, has been providing career advice with Hans Christian Schrader for more than 30 years and they have written countless application guides together. No matter how different the people who came to them were, the reason why they were looking for new jobs was surprisingly often the same: they were fleeing their bosses.

SZ: Mr. Hesse, before we talk about the many bad bosses: What would a good one actually be?

Jürgen Hesse: In my view, bosses are always idealized parental figures. What do we want parents to be like? They should treat their children lovingly. In professional life we ​​would choose a different word, we would speak of appreciation. A good boss takes time, asks questions and, above all, can listen.

And a bad one?

He doesn’t treat his employees with care. He accuses but doesn’t listen. He doesn’t ask questions but gives instructions. I once met a highly intelligent young woman who flew around the world for an American company to organize internal training for the workforce. Until she finally got a new boss, a tyrant who simply moved her desk to the archives. Without a computer, without a telephone. She endured this for half a year, then she became so ill that she even wanted to take her own life. Things can take on terrible forms if you have the wrong boss.

A representative survey by a human resources consultancy a few years ago showed that two out of three employees in Germany consider their boss to be unsuitable in terms of their professional skills and character. Are there really that many bad bosses?

My calculation goes like this: A third of the bosses do a really good job, a third have room for improvement. And then there’s a third who are so bad that they can’t be saved. Some of them are seriously disturbed. One third! That is a lot.

Your gut feeling with all due respect…

I’m not making these numbers up. Psychopathy researchers Paul Babiak and Robert Years ago, we were able to present a test to around 200 managers from seven American companies. A good six percent of the bosses turned out to be psychopathic, i.e. particularly cold-hearted, unscrupulous and calculating. In a comparable test, it was only a good one percent of the population. And that’s just the tip, other studies estimate that 20 percent or more of managers have a rather challenging personality. My rule of thumb should work.

Maybe it makes sense that instead of the softie who is weak in decision-making and needs harmony, there is sometimes a bulldozer in the management position who gets things done without scruples.

One might think. When the boss runs a strict regime and spreads fear and terror, the employees give their all. It’s just not true. It’s more likely to cause them to stay away from their boss and not admit to mishaps when they happen. Bad bosses are not a blessing for a company.

You support this in your book with an experiment at the car manufacturer VW.

The result of this experiment was really impressive: the bosses in whose department there was a high level of sickness were transferred to another department. And what happens? The number of sick people increased there too. In their previous department, now under a new boss, sickness rates fell significantly. Actually, our common sense already teaches us: As a student, I hated geography – until I finally got a teacher who was friendly and spoke to us in a friendly manner. Then the spark jumped.

If the damage caused by bad bosses is so clear, why are they so persistent?

Anyone who wants power by all means will do everything to avoid having to give it up. The worse a boss is, the less likely they are to leave.

The boss’s boss could do something.

Yes, if he is a good boss himself. If it’s cut from the same cloth: probably not. Then he will defend the lousy boss. Or he simply tells him when there are problems in the department: You owe me your job, now show what you’re made of and make sure the store runs smoothly. And then the boss will torture his employees even more, until the last drop. Unfortunately, bad bosses are more likely to promote bad bosses among themselves.

Why do so many difficult characters aspire to leadership positions?

Our parents are our first bosses. Anyone who has a loving childhood is likely to develop the psychological stability so that they do not feel the need to torture other people in their later professional life. Anyone who doesn’t have that…

Now you sound like Sigmund Freud: the tyrants of today are actually just making up for their humiliations back then. A bit simple, isn’t it?

That would be a very shortened psychoanalytic explanation, yes. I think she still has something going for her. Childhood is a very formative phase of life, a phase of life in which we are helpless and dependent on the absolute support of others. If you do not feel taken seriously and considered during this time, then you will carry an insecurity with you for the rest of your life, which you can only get under control by doing everything you can to avoid making yourself vulnerable and vulnerable. Then you protect yourself, make a career, don’t want to be part of the team, but rather be above the team.

Abraham Lincoln is credited with saying, “If you want to know the character of a man, so give him power.”

There is a nice experiment by the social psychologist Adam Galinsky: the so-called E-test. Galinsky divided his subjects into two groups. Participants in one group were asked to remember a situation in which they felt particularly powerful, while those in the other group were asked to remember a situation of powerlessness. He then asked the subjects to draw an E on their forehead. You can draw the letter as if you were looking at it from the inside with your mind’s eye. Or so that the E appears the right way round to people looking at you. Anyone who felt powerful was more likely to write the E on their forehead from their own line of sight. Power causes people to see themselves as the center and to consider their perspective as the more important one.

Do the bad bosses themselves realize that they are bad bosses?

No. When things are going well, deep down they may sense their deficit. Do you know the joke with the driver?

Tell.

A man is driving on the motorway and hears a warning on the radio: Be careful, there is a wrong-way driver coming towards you on the route. “What is he talking about!” he exclaims. “Just one? Hundreds!” It’s the same with bosses. They prefer to tell themselves that it is in the nature of things that they are not popular with their employees. A key characteristic of a bad boss is always thinking that he is right.

What do you do as an employee when you come across a bad boss? Complain?

Difficult, unfortunately. I remember what a young employee told me. She worked as a consultant for the CFO of a large company. At some point he started harassing her with lewd comments. When he speculated about the color of her underwear in a text message, she turned to his board colleagues. He was horrified and wanted to take care of it. But how did the story end? They were asked to sign a dissolution agreement.

So you have no chance?

Sometimes things are terribly unfair. I don’t mean to say that there aren’t options, but they need to be carefully considered. When it comes to exercising power, a persistent boss will always have a practical advantage over you. The crucial question for you is: How bad is the boss really? If he’s not an outright psychopath, you might be able to approach him gently and try to work out an arrangement. Some bosses are downright surprised when they hear how their behavior is received. But don’t try it for too long if you notice that you’re not getting through. Then you better avoid him, duck away, find allies.

Create a circle of suffering – that’s one of your pieces of advice.

Yes. It’s a huge relief when you know that other people have similar experiences with this boss. That you are not the problem, but that others are reporting similar difficulties. And sometimes we can even achieve something together. What was the name of that editor-in-chief again? Picture-Newspaper?

You mean Julian Reichelt?

From what you could read, he must have been a terrible boss. Then the women who suffered from his leadership style banded together. In the end he actually had to leave. Teaming up can work. But it can just take time. And there is no guarantee that it will actually work out in the end. Until a terrible boss falls, only those who suffer under him fall. It’s easier to look for a new boss yourself.

Termination is a big step.

I know. Also from my own experience. I was the managing director of the telephone counseling service for a long time until I got a new supervisor there. I thought she was fine, but she obviously didn’t think I was and unfortunately I didn’t realize it until late. At some point I was made accusations that I didn’t understand myself. I left at 57. Today I think: Why didn’t I start my own career advice office much earlier? We sometimes underestimate our possibilities.

Given the high probability of mistakes that you have to assume when making your estimates, how do you know whether you are getting involved with a good boss?

Perhaps you can network with their employees in advance and inquire carefully. Another clue might be the boss over there: What kind of guy is that? Does he just allow himself to be courted by the bosses under him or does he also take a look at the base and ask how satisfied the people there actually are with their work? But it will always be difficult to understand the game as long as you are on the outside. The attitude with which you approach such a conversation is important: it’s not just about getting a job offer. You also test whether the boss seems at least somewhat okay to you.

Should we view the job interview as a casting for executives?

So to speak. You should sharpen your instincts early enough: Is this really a person I would like to work for?

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