As a small business professional, it's only natural to want to be at your best for yourself and your team. Professionals who have worked with bad bosses in the past are probably even more sensitive about wanting to develop healthy relationships with their employees. Seeking out information about being your best is a positive indicator about your skills as a boss and leader in your workplace.

Bad Boss Characteristics

These warning signs of a bad boss might help you reflect on your own strengths and weaknesses in order to more clearly see your own growth areas. Nobody and no boss is perfect, so if you sometimes exhibit bad boss characteristics without making a habit of being unhealthy, that might be a sign of being human instead of a sign of being an unhealthy leader. These are some traits that unhealthy bosses often exhibit:

  • Attempts to control even the smallest details in the workplace
  • Demonstrates a fixed mindset and no desire to grow or learn
  • Expects others to do things they don't do themselves
  • Lack of empathy and compassion for employees
  • Spends more time focusing on problems than solutions
  • Fails to give credit where credit is due
  • Changes rules and expectations often
  • Lack of respect and self-awareness
  • Wants to be served rather than serve the team

If you see yourself in more of these traits, know that you can change patterns and grow into the leader you want to be. These five tips can help you continue to develop personally and avoid the trap of becoming stuck in unhealthy workplace patterns.

1. Take a Healthy Self-Inventory 

If you identify with the warning signs of a bad boss and want to change your patterns, you have already grown in self-awareness and have begun the process of taking a self-inventory. People typically act the way they do out of habit or because it was a learned behavior. When you become aware of your issues, it gives you the opportunity to work toward changing them. Daily self-inventory and awareness also help you to avoid letting new, unhealthy behaviors develop into patterns that recur over time.

To keep tabs on how you're doing on a daily practice, consider keeping a journal where you can answer the following two questions for yourself each day:

  1. What is one thing I did well today?
  2. What is one thing I would do differently?

While bad bosses often refuse to see their growth areas, healthy bosses have a genuine desire to improve. Your answers can help you see where you might need to make amends, change your own behaviors and seek outside help or education.

2. Develop a Growth Mindset

While bad bosses have a fixed mindset, healthy bosses develop a growth mindset. When you conduct a daily self-inventory, you will begin to get a sense of your strengths and growth areas. Give yourself the grace to have areas in your professional life where you are still a work in progress. When you show yourself this compassion, it will be easier to extend it toward your employees, which makes you a healthier boss.

Take a look at your growth areas and decide where you most need to improve and then make a plan for doing so. You might read books, attend classes, engage in therapy, find a coach, work with an accountability buddy or find a peer group from which to learn. Celebrate evidence of growth as you go and remember to let your employees know you're working on improving, especially if any of your patterns have caused them stress in the past.

3. Build Accountability Into Your Workplace

Healthy bosses know that accountability is vital to a thriving workplace. Not only are your employees accountable to you, but you are also accountable to them. Let them know about your efforts to make work a better place for them and let yourself be accountable for taking steps in their favor. When your employees see you working and sacrificing on their behalf, you set a precedent for mutual care and teamwork in your business.

You are accountable to your employees, but who else are you accountable to in terms of your personal and professional growth? Consider partnering with a mentor or another small business leader in order to meet on a regular basis for mutual accountability. You can share what you are doing to grow as a leader and how you are working with your team. In addition to accountability, you will likely walk away with some excellent ideas from the other person.

4. Put Relationships First

Your employees can tell where your focus is and sense your true motives, and one of the warning signs of a bad boss is demonstrating a lack of empathy and compassion for employees. Work on putting relationships first in business even as you are working on growing your bottom line. Employees who feel valued, seen and respected as people are likely to feel more devoted to the success of the company as a whole. Invest in your team members and their personal growth, professional growth and general well-being.

Even when business demands are high, and goal deadlines are quickly approaching, you can still put people and relationships first. Ask your employees to help you brainstorm solutions and convey genuine appreciation and respect for their contributions. If you have to work late one night as a team, consider providing dinner and giving them more time to spend with family at another time to balance things out. Small gestures go a long way in communicating to your employees that you value them as people above numbers.

5. Practice Healthy Self-Care 

Leadership can be stressful, and sometimes you exhibit bad boss characteristics simply due to a lack of self-care. Remember to take regular time away on the weekends and go on vacations or retreats at regular intervals. Model for your employees what it means to take care of yourself and then give them permission to do the same.

Other forms of self-care include healthy sleep patterns, regular exercise and nutrition. Don't be afraid to seek out therapy if personal wounds are getting in the way of your leadership abilities. Business coaches can be helpful in teaching you how to have a healthy work-life blend as well. Modalities like neurofeedback and biofeedback can help teach your mind and body to work more efficiently on the job and find regulation more easily.

Healthy Boss Characteristics 

When you are self-aware, giving yourself permission to grow, being accountable, investing in relationships and practicing healthy self-care, you are more likely to be a healthy boss. Your employees are more likely to look up to you when you naturally exhibit the following healthy boss characteristics:

  • Openness to ideas and collaboration
  • Openly discusses personal growth and encourages others to grow
  • Willing to perform at the same level you expect from others
  • Empathetic and compassionate toward employees
  • Focused on strategic solutions more than problems
  • Gives credit and recognition when it is due
  • Holds consistent expectations and communicates well
  • Respectful of self and others
  • Serves team with a desire to empower them
  • Models a healthy work-life blend

Remember that nobody exhibits these traits perfectly and that healthy bosses are not perfect bosses. If you are consistently growing in healthy traits and striving toward them, chances are good that your employees will see and respect that in you as a leader.