When it comes to bad bosses, everyone has an opinion

August 15, 2010 | By Liz Reyer

Readers have been generous with comments and suggestions, including recommending some books that address this column's recent topics.

On the topic of bosses, everyone has plenty to say. To avoid the bad ones, one reader said that online tools can be useful: "I know I wouldn't want to work for a villainous boss, and I think the best way to avoid toxic and unappreciative managers is by doing research about potential bosses on sites like eBossWatch." Word of mouth has always been a great approach to finding a good situation, or avoiding a bad one; this takes it one step further. But don't believe everything you read; employees can be toxic, too.

Bosses also can get better. A reader offered a way to improve leadership skills: "I am reading 'Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter' by Liz Wiseman. She contrasts the bosses that are multipliers with the diminishers and has very interesting examples." Based on reviews I've read, this sounds like a practical, action-oriented leadership book that may be worth checking out.

A number of folks weighed in on being asked to violate company policy. All agree that sticking to the policy is the best, and safest, choice for an employee to make. One said that the boss may not realize that this line is being crossed, and suggested tactfully pointing that out. Another said that the employee works for the company, not the boss, and suggested, "If a debate ensues, offer to discuss the matter with the department which generates the policies. After all, if anyone knows the right and wrong of it, the policy generators would know." Then, if all else fails, quit, since a company "with oars rowing in conflicting directions is not worth working for." Strong advice, but it's worthwhile to decide how severe the corporate disconnect is and what direction your values take you.

On to multigenerational workplaces, a topic that stirs up a lot of strong feelings. Many of the comments I hear have an "us vs. them" flavor. For example, some baby boomers complained about the Millennials' (or Generation Y's) personal style, work ethic, or sense of entitlement. As one reader said, "This is the problem ... the needs of the team/customer/management should take a backseat to the 20-something whose needs must be 'addressed'? This is classic enabling of entitlement." This is a legitimate conclusion if you expect a win-lose outcome. In my view, organizations will have better outcomes if they understand and address the needs and preferences of all workers, regardless of generation. And I suspect a review of young boomers decades ago would raise similar gnashing of teeth, just with different content.

To get a different view of the Millennials, try the new book, Millennials in the Workplace, by Neil Howe. Howe and his co-author, Reena Nadler, take the perspective that understanding the Millennials' worldview will help leaders use their skills and use their predispositions to the company's advantage. The book is practical and readable, and I recommend it to anyone (especially leaders from older generations) who is seeking new ways to help a multigenerational team flourish.

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