are you a difficult boss?


A difficult boss often expects unreasonable things. So it is worth asking yourself a simple question.

Do my actions match my words? Or do I say one thing and expect another?

Do you have unreasonable expectations of your team? If so, you might be a difficult boss. Many difficult leaders expect one thing, but their actions don’t match their words.

Josh’s manager has asked him to work on several hard projects at the same time, with tight deadlines. During the day, he swaps from one task to the other as his manager comes and ask him questions and gives him more work to do. He juggles these tasks as best he can and eventually finishes one of them. 

When his manager reviews the work, he asks Josh why he has found errors. “These reports need to be perfect”, he says. This difficult boss expects the highest quality, at the same time expecting Josh to work really fast. This difficult boss has always said that quality comes first. At the same time, he has given Josh too many things to work on. This is common with a difficult boss.

Some more examples:

  • When you want the best quality, you can’t be the fastest, because working faster than normal means cutting corners.
  • If you want to have the best customer service, then you can’t expect to have the cheapest team.
  • When you want to have the lowest cost, then you can’t expect high quality.

A difficult boss tries to achieve conflicting goals

One thing I’ve noticed is that many difficult bosses want conflicting things, mainly because they are under pressure. The pressure comes from the top. If you don’t recognise this, you’re in for trouble.

For example, if leaders are saying that customer service is the most important thing, then they need to act in a way that supports this.

A difficult boss seems unreasonable if their goal is customer service, while all they are doing is focusing on the cutting costs.

When leaders say one thing and do another, teams are usually unhappy. People aren’t stupid. They know that they can’t do the best thing for the customer if all they are doing is focusing on cost cutting.

The team members start to feel as if everything is hopeless. If I know I can’t succeed because I am working towards conflicting targets, then there is no chance of success. When I have no chance of success, I start to put in less effort, because I know can’t win.

It’s easier to be a reasonable boss

I’m a big believer in looking at my own actions. I believe that monitoring your own thoughts, emotions and actions is one of the best ways to be a good leader.

Looking at yourself is hard work, but the only way you can lead a healthy team is when you are healthy too. If you are forcing your team to do one thing while you are saying another, you’re being a difficult boss. If you aren’t walking the talk, then you will lose the respect of your team and your peers. Most importantly, you will lose respect for yourself.

If you wake up one day and think “What the hell am I doing?”, that’s a great position to be in, because you know something is not right. Acknowledging the issue is the first step in solving the problem.

Closing your eyes and walking through life without looking at your own thoughts and actions is a fast way to be a difficult boss.

Follow this simple “difficult boss” checklist

  1. As a leader, do you feel as if you can reasonably achieve your goals?
  2. Do you feel that your own boss is asking you to do things that are in conflict to what you would expect from your own team?
  3. When you speak, do you actually believe what you say? Or are you simply repeating the false words of the leaders who don’t have to deal with the issues that you do?
  4. Do you find yourself saying “yes” to requests from your boss, even though in your heart you would love to tell them that it’s not the right thing to do?

Walking the talk is an admirable trait of strong leaders, because they understand that if you can’t match your words with your actions, you have very little chance of building a happy team.

Use the checklist above to make sure you’re not putting pressure on your team by being a difficult boss.