3 Misconceptions Managers Have About Being A Good Boss


When it comes to what it means to be a good boss, there are tons of unspoken do’s and don’t’s floating around out there, some conflicting, some sensible. It’s when rules are unspoken, though, that they have the most power over us; we don’t question them and may not even realise that they’re there in the first place, but we adhere to them nonetheless.

As the saying goes, though, people don’t leave bad jobs, they leave bad bosses. Considering how critical good leadership is to effecting high performance in the age of constant disruption, sticking to the same tired assumptions about what makes a boss good or bad is a fatal mistake.


Unfortunately, so many managers still do this. Here are 3 of the most common misconceptions managers tend to have about being a good boss.

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1. Bad bosses are the worst


There’s nothing worse than working for a tyrannical, one-track-minded, control-freak boss, is there? Actually, yes, there is.

Research has shown that the most destructive leadership style isn’t characterised by the aforementioned few traits. Rather, it’s absentee leadership. In other words, being an uninvolved boss is actually worse than being a bad boss.


The Harvard Business Review (HBR) defines absentee leaders as “people in leadership roles who are psychologically absent from them.” A 2015 HBR survey, for example, found that 8 out of the top 9 complaints that working adults had about their bosses boiled down to absent leadership.

Duke psychology professor Dan Ariely echoes the same sentiments; his work has led him to the conclusion that ignoring people’s work has a similar effect to shredding it up in front of them. Clearly, one of the most de-motivating thing (yet also one of the easiest things) you can do as a boss is to fail to give your attention to your people.



2. Money always motivates


There’s no denying, of course, that providing sufficient compensation to your employees is crucial in keeping turnover rates low. As it turns out, though, financial incentives don’t always have the motivational effect they’re intended to have.

For one thing, multiple studies have found that there is no relation between salary, job satisfaction, and employee engagement. There were also no differences between cultures in this regard.


According to Harvard Business School professor Ashley Willans, money is only a strong motivating force when work is measured quantitatively. For instance, the service, sales, and manufacturing industries all reported better performance after providing cash rewards. This effect, however, disappears when it comes to knowledge work.

The reason for this, as bestselling author Dan Pink explains, is simple. Money only motivates under the following two conditions:

  • When high performance is clearly and easily defined 
  • When problems are straightforward and have singular solutions. 

Knowledge work, however, is much more complicated than this, particularly when it involves creativity and innovation. It often revolves around complicated problems with multiple solutions; it isn’t immediately clear which solution will be most effective. In fact, there’s evidence to suggest that money can even demotivate engaged employees who derive enjoyment from what they do.

As it turns out, focusing on intrinsic motivation, or internal drive, is a much more effective way of achieving higher performance. Pink distills this to three main pillars: autonomy, mastery, and purpose.



3. Praising employees makes them “soft”


Millennials often get a lot of flak for being the “participation trophy” generation. While there’s some truth to the statement that rewarding people out of sympathy can stunt their growth, this logic doesn’t apply to employee recognition. Participation trophies are essentially about avoiding failure; recognising employees’ work is about making them feel appreciated.

In fact, according to Whillan, people have three strong psychological motives at work:

  • The freedom to choose how they do their work
  • The desire to appear and be competent
  • The need for a sense of belonging


Employee recognition taps into the desire to be seen as competent, and to feel belonging. It doesn’t make them “soft”; instead, it’s a powerful source of motivation for them. People want to feel valued at work; they want to know that their co-workers and superiors see and appreciate their efforts. 

It doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg, either. Sometimes, it’s enough to just say thank-you. Alternatively, writing thank-you notes works well too. For example, former Campbell CEO Doug Conant, who took over Campbell when it was on its way down, personally wrote 30,000 thank-you notes over 10 years. By the time he left Campbell, it had been restored to its former glory and was thriving once more.


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