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Is your boss too bossy?

Anthony Balderrama, Writer

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One of the perks of being the boss is that what you say goes. You get to decide what happens and when it happens. If you're the big boss, you also get an assistant who books your flight, orders your lunch and coordinates your schedule. In other words, you're important.

With this authority comes unpleasant responsibility. Giving those orders can be fun, but they can also cause friction in the workplace. Having to fire someone or deny them a promotion is an unpleasant experience that no one enjoys. But what happens when bosses abuse their authority? Yes, employees are supposed to support their bosses, but they're not supposed to be servants.

We decided to find out when a boss has crossed the line from being in charge to being unreasonable. The answers we received varied from person to person, suggesting that there is no single definition for being too authoritative. Not all workers agree on the same signs of an overly commanding boss, but they know it when they see it.

Here are some opinions on how to identify a boss that's too bossy:

"A good boss delegates the result, not the process. This empowers the employee to figure out how to create a solution or solve the problem on their own. The result is better quality and an employee who can apply their new knowledge to future challenges.

An example: The boss tells the janitor that it is his responsibility to empty the trash on Tuesdays and Thursdays. If the trash is full on Wednesday, the janitor will not empty it. However, if the boss tells the janitor that it's his responsibility to keep the trash bins empty, the janitor will empty the trash bins any time they are full any day of the week. Which is a better result?" -- Orna W. Drawas, author of "Perform Like a Rock Star and Still Have Time for Lunch"

"As long as the boss's behavior makes sense to his reports, he's not too bossy. It is indeed his job to be in charge and at times demanding. With emphasis on 'at times.' It is also his job to make sure that his team understands why he had to display a certain behavior in a certain situation. So as long as the boss keeps listening and watching out for feedback of his team members to maintain a mutual understanding, he's a good boss.

Bosses flip out sometimes. Bosses have to make fast decisions sometimes. However, they should also take the time afterwards to explain, teach and, if necessary, apologize. They need to be aware if their behavior makes sense to their people and if not, either adjust their behavior or explain it, to bring back the balance. If the workers feel like their boss is overreaching his authority, it means a necessary conversation hasn't taken place and it probably also means that the boss is not flexible and stuck in only one  -- authoritarian-- management style." - Anja Schuetz, people management coach for Yellow Umbrella

"The difference between an assertive boss and one that's deemed too bossy is that the assertive boss understands that those he's assertively directing need and want it to perform better, while the bossy boss doesn't care. To effectively manage people, bosses must figure out how each of their employees needs their management direction packaged in order to get each to perform at their best. Less successful (and often despised) bosses take the position that 'this is who I am; deal with it.'"  -- Sean O'Neil, CEO of One to One Leadership

"I think a boss becomes too bossy when he or she limits the free expression of ideas of other organizational leaders. Fact: People are hired because they bring skills, ideas, and unique perspectives to the table. If a boss is overriding the sharing of those unique talents, you don't have a team, you have a king or queen and serfs. If a team or an organization is to make well thought out, well rounded decisions, it takes the input of everyone involved and a bossy boss can thwart that effort." --  Daniel Crosby, Crosby Performance Consulting

"Demanding bosses are not necessarily bad for us. They set high standards, they force us to stretch ourselves and to prove that we have the capacity to perform above and beyond our own expectations, and we achieve a real sense of accomplishment in knowing that we've been successful. The experience turns negative when it's one-sided: our bosses don't acknowledge our hard work, only see the flaws and not the overall positive contribution, take credit for our work, or don't know how to establish a balance -- knowing when to step back so the pressure is not unrelenting. That translates into managing employees with enough rope to let them succeed but not enough to trip up."  -- Roy Cohen, author of "The Wall Street Professional's Survival Guide"

"Bosses who are characterized as 'too bossy' tend to combine their assertiveness with unhealthy doses of disrespect and condescension. Good bosses know how to be assertive in a positive and supportive manner that enables their employees to continue feeling motivated and engaged at work."  -- Asher Adelman, founder of eBossWatch

"The difference between being an assertive boss and one that's too bossy: An assertive boss communicates respectfully with others even when they must say no."  -- Kate Nasser, The People-Skills Coach

Anthony Balderrama is a writer and blogger for and its job blog, The Work Buzz. He researches and writes about job search strategy, career management, hiring trends and workplace issues.

Last Updated: 09/03/2011 - 2:27 PM

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