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How to Tell If Your Boss is Bringing You Down or Pushing You Forward

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Having been blessed with a parade of truly terrific bosses, I know how vital a supportive manager is to your overall job experience and development, especially in the early stages of your career. At the same time, mediocre bosses are as common as Mondays (that is to say, they pop up everywhere you turn) and horror stories about terrible bosses are all too familiar. So what are the warning signs of a boss who is more concerned with his or her own clout than advancing the team as a whole? How can you tell if your boss will give you credit up the ladder, introduce you to the right people, and be an advocate for your work? Eight questions to ask yourself:

1. Does your boss provide constructive feedback?

Management is difficult, and you will more than likely run into one of these bosses during your career: the boss who provides no feedback at all, the boss who only gives negative feedback, and the boss who constantly doles out blind praise. Good managers must be able to provide precise, constructive feedback.

Workplace strategist Laurie Battaglia talked about the dangers of a boss who gives no feedback. “You have no idea whether you are doing things right, wrong, or have any chance of promotion,” she says. “When you ask, they put you off or just say, ‘Keep doing what you’re doing!’ ‘Keep doing what you’re doing’ is great only if you know what that is.” A boss who only gives negative feedback is equally problematic. “All you hear is what you’re doing wrong, never what you’re doing right,” Battaglia says. “This leaves you with an ‘I can’t do anything right’ point of view.”

No better than the other two is the boss who gives endless praise. “I used to work for a non-profit and had a boss who would always praise us, kept telling us what a great staff we were,” writer Mickey Gast tells me. “The thing is, this praising machine would not listen to our feedback, dismissed our carefully worded complaints, and basically buried his head in the sand when it came to suggestions. It felt great for a couple of months, until I realized that praising loud and often was his way of saying ‘I hope this makes you happy, because I sure won’t follow up with anything else.'” This type of boss may just be an incompetent manager who hides behind constant praise as a means of trying to keep his or her staff happy. Regardless, this person is probably not going to help you develop as an employee.

[Related: 3 Constructive Ways to Give Your Boss Feedback]

2. Does your boss take the time to get to know you and your goals?

“A boss who doesn’t care about your interests won’t take the time to get to know you on a personal level,” business coach Jennifer Reitmeyer says. “She won’t concern herself with learning about your background beyond what’s included on your resume, your goals, or your vision for your career and your life. A caring boss will take time to learn about what you’re trying to accomplish in your career, both short-term and long-term.” I recently wrote about this very topic with regards to getting a promotion—you need to initiate a conversation with your boss early on about your goals for this job, your potential next job, and your long-term career. If your boss is not willing to engage in that dialogue with you, that’s a red flag.

3. Does your boss listen, and follow up on good ideas?

“The best clues to whether your boss is an advocate in your career, or an antagonist, is her execution on your good ideas,” tech entrepreneur Felicite Moorman says. “Does she prioritize your ideas? Does she offer meaningful, well-thought feedback? Does she forward those good ideas in serious ways? Does she credit you to your peers, her peers, and superiors? And finally, execution. Do you see your good ideas come to fruition, accomplishments you can point to in the future?”

[Related: 3 Killer Ways to Impress Your Boss]

4. Does your boss offer you extracurricular opportunities for growth?

Whether it’s inviting you to a networking event or informing you about a company fund for skill-development classes, a great boss will keep you in mind for growth opportunities. “A caring boss will provide opportunities for skill-sharpening, like seminars, workshops, or online resources,” Reitmeyer says. “A boss who isn’t interested in your career development won’t offer opportunities for you to ‘spread your wings’ and learn new skills, especially if those skills won’t directly benefit your boss.”

5. Does your boss take accountability for the mistakes of his or her team?

A great boss recognizes that he or she is ultimately responsible for the mistakes of the team, and will not waste time pointing fingers. “A boss who doesn’t care about you won’t hesitate to blame you for his or her own shortcomings—disorganization, poor communication skills, or lack of productivity,” Reitmeyer says. “Watch out, the bus will be coming for you at every opportunity!” Similarly, a great boss will give credit to his or her employees for accomplishments, and acknowledge everyone’s contributions in a team success.

7. Does your boss select you for special projects?

As small business coach, Lisa Baker-King explains, “Special projects are reserved for those who are ‘high-potential’ employees.’” If your boss does assign you special tasks, she says, “this is a test that your boss believes you will pass.” If it seems like your boss only expects you to perform the baseline functions of your job, he or she may be holding you back.

[Related: 12 Ways to Respond to a Demanding Boss]

8. Does your boss understand your unique talents and those of your colleagues?

Good leaders are always looking for ways to move their people forward,” management consultant Gerry Seymour says. “They understand the strengths and interests of each player on their team and give them tasks and opportunities that build on those. A bad manager, on the other hand, doesn’t bother with leadership. He pushes people to do what he wants done, without regard to their strengths. This results in poorer performance, higher job stress, and usually longer hours for everyone on the team. A good warning sign to watch for: your boss is ‘helping’ you advance toward a promotion you don’t want. A good leader would already know your goals and would be leading you toward those. A bad manager just picks a direction for you, without regard for your personal inclination.”

Photo: Hero Images / Getty Images


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Join the conversation:

The first sign is so true! I had a boss who gave only negative feedback, and I once lost an internship because of performance issues I hadn't known needed my attention. I'm definitely going to work on actively seeking out feedback in future positions.

FYI: There are only seven (7) traits that are listed here... not eight. But they are definitely great indicators of things to keep watch for!

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