A neutral boss is just as toxic as a tyrannical boss when comes to employee productivity and cultivating talent.
We all know about bosses from hell---overly critical, never quite happy, constantly changing their expectations. But research shows that management styles built around relentless neutrality can make employees just as anxious and unhappy.
According to a study highlighted in The Harvard Business Review a boss that is neutral, or even ‘too nice’ is just as destructive as a tyrannical boss. Researchers found that of those bosses with the most negative outcomes half were the typical tyrants but surprisingly the other half were neutral bosses, the kind of boss that doesn’t advocate for employees and is primarily concerned with not making waves.
The study conducted by Greg McKeown, through the research and leadership strategy firm, THIS Inc. gathered data from 1,000 managers at over 100 companies about their most and least productive experiences. Spanning a range of industries, including tech giants Apple, Cisco, HP, IBM, Intel, Microsoft, Novel, and Symantec the results offer a compelling consistent case against bosses that remain neutral.
The risks of remaining neutral
By being passive these ‘go with the flow’ bosses risk their own careers and kill career growth for their employees. One such boss, according to McKeown, limited the career of every member of his team, getting them branded as average. When a reorganization occurred this boss along with his entire team was eliminated.
In another specific example offered by study participant Chris, his boss did just enough to remain relevant in the organization but not enough to stand-out. As a result his budget was cut and his team slowly reduced to a fraction of what it had been. The remaining team was tainted by their boss and for Chris this also meant being passed up for promotions. Ultimately the issue was not what his boss was doing – but instead what his boss was not doing.
Avoid the void
Neutral is a weak management style that fails to support employees and breeds mediocrity. A void is created when bosses won’t advocate for their teams and set expectations for success. This void is a refusal to expect and recognize good work, which is insulting and demotivating to employees that do great work and demoralizing for the potential contributors.
Get to the doing
So if you find yourself falling into the neutral boss category, take these 2 steps.
1. Recognize good work
Find ways to recognize good work. Day to day recognition of strategic employee contributions is perhaps singularly the best way to both show your team what is expected and show appreciation for contributions.
is a great way to make this happen. This is what keeps your top talent engaged and it’s what develops the potential in the rest of your team.
2. Keep your team accountable
When you don’t correct employees after a mistake, you patronize them and rob them of their sense of responsibility. Think about it from their perspective---if their mistakes don’t matter, do their contributions? Instead, determine which components were within your employees’ power to change. Communicate specific ways they can perform better next time and allow them the chance to respond and mature.