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How Would Your Associates Rate You?

Vivia Chen

March 5, 2012

Asso© afxhome.Fotolia.comDo you have any idea of how your underlings really feel about you? Do they like you? Fear you? Trust you? Loathe you?

Maybe you don't care about these kinds of touchy-feely questions. But you probably assume (or hope) that they at least respect you. I mean, you are the boss, right?

According to a new study by talent management firm Development Dimensions International, a strikingly high percentage of employees do not have a very high opinion of their bosses—as professionals or human beings. Here's what DDI finds:

1. Employees think the boss is really smart—not! One in three employees have no confidence in their bosses' skills—that is, they don't believe their boss is "a skilled leader worthy of respect and loyalty." Not only did leaders fall short in this category, the report notes that "they fall a long way short."

2. "I could do my boss's job—and better." Almost 50 percent of employees think they could do a better job than their bosses—and  significantly more men (53 percent) than women (34 percent) thought so. (Side note: Jazmine Boatman, Ph.D,  a manager at DDI, says the data suggests "that men tend to have bigger egos, so they are more likely to think they can do a better job.")

3. The boss destroys employees' self-esteem. A whopping 60 percent say their boss sometimes damages their self-esteem. Interestingly, though, men (32 percent) complain about this almost twice as often as women (17 percent). (Why are men so sensitive? See Boatman's comment above.)

4. The boss loses control. He or she has anger management issues. About 30 percent of employees say "their boss doesn't remain calm and constructive when discussing a problem."

5. The boss is a terrible manager. "Instead of motivating employees, workers often feel hurt and demotivated by their boss's actions." In workplace conflicts, 42 percent of employees say their boss is "either only sometimes or never" effective. And 34 percent say their bosses play favorites with employees. And, of course, performance reviews are particularly hated.

Given the stats above, it's no wonder that "only 56 percent of employees reported that their current leader helps them be more productive."

Admittedly, the study (which surveyed over 1,250 employees worldwide) wasn't focused on the legal profession. But my gut tells me that the result might be even worse if associates had been asked the same questions. The stuff about bosses destroying self-esteem particularly strikes a chord. Who hasn't witnessed abusive partners chewing out an associate (or even a weaker partner)?

I've always assumed, though, that ineffective or ogreish bosses know down deep that they are either not up to the job or should be put away. As any school child knows, being officious or arrogant is the refuge of those with severe inadequacies.

But I might be giving too much credit for self-awareness. DDI finds that leaders were largely oblivious about being bad bosses. In DDI's 2010 study, "the vast majority—87 percent—rated themselves as good or excellent."

So much for the humility of the ruling class.

What's your experience? Do you think that partner who's been driving you crazy knows he's an awful boss? Does he care? And what's the firm doing about it?

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Do you have topics you'd like to discuss or tips to share? E-mail The Careerist's chief blogger, Vivia Chen, at [email protected].


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Well put, Mr. Smith. This often becomes demoralizing.

Most leaders are tossed into management with little more than a prayer. They are then expected to perform as if they were top surgeons in their field. The results are alarming.

I'm not surprised by the survey, although I do agree with Alexander on how there is probably some overrating on one side and some underrating on the other.

I too was tossed into management and was most likely one of those managers that people are complaining about. I decided to do something to safe the next generation of employees from living through what my people must have lived through. I wrote a book called, Suddenly in Charge (Nicholas Brealey, 2011). Help me help others by getting the word out or better yet, buy your boss a copy and pray he or she reads it.

Roberta Matuson

I think there's probably some overrating on one side, and some underrating on the other. But yes in my limited experience in legal profession I've found that management skills in general are grossly lacking in most attorneys. They're simply not a priority, unlike in corporate America where it's at least thought of as important that managers have good management skills (if that's not actually the result.) Lawyers seem to mostly take either the relatively benign attitude that management is no more than telling other people what to do, or the malevolent view that managing means inflicting your irrationality upon your employees.

There's little incentive (apart from basic decency and a sense of duty to the profession) for lawyers to be mentors or even to be considerate bosses, and there are almost never any consequences for those who bully and abrade their subordinates. Since the profession's core values seem to be "more" and "faster" there's no reason to expect anything different.

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About The Careerist

The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: [email protected]

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