Bad Boss Behaviour Made My Startup

I would like to personally thank all the bosses I’ve had in my career for leading me to building a great culture in my own company, which subsequently produced 6Q as a result.

Let me explain. I’ve been out of school now for 30 years (wow, that makes me feel OLD!). During my first 16 years, when I was working for other people, I met and worked with some fantastic managers. I also got my fair share of bad boss behaviour.

When I started my company in 2002, I promised myself that I’d be different. I would learn from all my previous experience as an employee, and treat my employees right. I’ve spent the last 14 years working on being a better boss than some of the others I’ve come across, although I don’t say I’m perfect (far from it!).

So, what were some of the lessons I walked away with, after 16 years and a number of different jobs in different industries?

Managers can be great

I have worked in many different roles, with a number of different managers, all of whom had their own unique personality traits. The ones I most resonated with, were the ones who displayed a human side as well, and didn’t display a ‘I’m far better than you’ attitude.

Displaying beliefs through actions, not words

Thanks to the manager who used to start his day by doing something typically considered ‘below him’. He would come in, empty office bins, clean the toilets or whatever needed doing. His belief was that we were all a team; important words, and even more important actions.

Being a mentor as well as a manager

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Thanks to the boss who spent their time often mentoring their employees on being better people, generally. Their displays of kindness and constant push for all of us (including themselves) to be better was a great inspiration.

Building great lifelong relationships

Thank you to the managers who I am still friendly with. I have a few on social media as connections, who still communicate with me, and I have others I see socially from time to time, more than 15 years after I worked with them. These lifelong friendships show that we had a mutual good relationship.

Managers can also be less than great

Managers are human, I get that. I’m human too. I feel we often look up to managers as people who never make mistakes, however we do. If we accept that we’re not infallible, and we explain to those we affect when something does go wrong, it’s far better, and we can sleep soundly at night.

Bad Bosses

Image: Ryan Hyde, Flickr

I’ve had a number of managers though, who would never admit to making mistakes. Some of these are pretty colourful too. This motivated me to never be a bad boss.

The manager who had a sexual relationship with a colleague

Not only that, he made jokes about it to fellow employees, and wasn’t at all trying to keep it a secret. The fact that he was married, and so was his subordinate wasn’t nice at all. Nor was the promotions of the said employee, when she certainly didn’t deserve it professionally.

The manager who lost his temper weekly

Two heart surgeries before the age of 45 years should have told him to relax, but he was wound up tight. Two bad boss situations I witnessed are still clear to me, twenty years later.

Literally smashing all the employee coffee cups on the concrete at the back of the store, because he was sick of seeing dirty dishes in the sink. He followed up with a rule we had to bring our own cups in, and take them home to wash. The office sink was now officially out of bounds.

The time he wasn’t happy with the way a junior employee was stacking a milk fridge, and decided to pour milk all over said employee, and throw the empty cartons across the store.

The boss with no empathy at all

When my wife became pregnant, I took lunch breaks off once a month to attend the doctors appointments. I was always first to the office, one of the last to leave, and rarely ever took a lunch break (like maybe once a month). I had a doctors appointment at 11am one day, and he explained that it wasn’t good enough to take an hour outside of the ‘lunch hour’. He refused to let me go. I ignored this bad boss, and went anyway.

When my first child was born, he was upset I wanted a week off. I had booked it two months beforehand, and even offered to work remotely a few hours a day. He was childless himself at the time, as you can imagine. Two years after I left that organisation, he had his first child. He took a month off to be with his new child.

The annual performance review

A few bosses had an annual performance review with me. That’s great, however in between, I never heard a thing from them about my performance. I regularly requested even 5 minutes of verbal feedback, and rarely ever got it. To me, not ever giving feedback is a personality trait of a bad boss.

Lessons from good and bad bosses

These are just a few of the stories I have been a character in. When I started my own business,s I promised to work on a number of things, including;

  1. Always treating employees like humans
  2. Never asking someone to do something I wasn’t willing to do, myself
  3. Providing feedback (good or bad) regularly (we do quarterly face to face performance reviews)
  4. Asking of feedback constantly too, on my management techniques, the business direction, etc
  5. Empowering the team to feel like they are part of the journey

6Q is a result of this culture. We built 6Q for ourselves initially, wanting a tool that allows the entire team to give suggestions, to let managers know how they feel about certain topics, and to be inclusive.

It has been a great tool for me, as a manager, and for the team, to feel like they are being heard and more importantly, for taking action with the feedback.

If you are keen to read more about how we created 6Q, initially in a one day hackathon, I encourage you to read my previous article, The short (& long) history of our start-up.

In Summary

Being a manager is often a thankless job. We need to constantly remind ourselves that we’re not perfect, and look for ways to personally improve.

The biggest achievement you can have is to create a company culture that is inclusive and a pleasure to work in. Never stop trying to improve your communication, feedback and display your commitment through actions, not just words.

Work on being a Great Boss, not a Bad Boss.


Miles Burke

Miles Burke

Miles is the founder of 6Q. He is passionate about peer-to-peer recognition, company culture, employee engagement and wants every workplace to be the happiest it can be. Miles is also MD of Bam Creative, an author and public speaker.