By Jim Wong, CPA | March 7, 2014

Do you abuse your power, as a boss? You might be the best boss in the entire world! You have an open-door policy, know all your staffers by name, even know all your staffers’ family members by name! You remember birthdays, encourage people to have work-life balance, you even allow work-from-home days and supplement their gym memberships.

But. You are still the boss. And being the boss – no matter how great – means when you say jump, they say “How hi?” It might not be noticeable. Your teams are comfortable at their jobs, they feel like you treat them as adults, they’re not afraid to have a laugh with you about what they did over the weekend.

But I guarantee – when you gently nudge them about the upcoming ‘team building’ session, or suggest everyone dip into their pockets to support your organization’s charity of choice? They don’t hear “If you wouldn’t mind…,” they hear “That’s an order.”

In a recent article for, executive and author Jeff Haden writes about some of the morale killers and subtle pressure tactics that leaders everywhere engage in every day.

What we liked about this list, is that it outlines the subtle, off the cuff things that most busy managers and executives wouldn’t give a second thought. Actions that are so subtle, you’ll probably never hear an official complaint about them – unless you lurk around the lunchroom or water cooler, eavesdropping. Because your staff are definitely not amused.

Here are three ways bosses can abuse their power – even with the most innocent of intentions.

Pressure employees to attend “social” events. The aforementioned “team building” sessions aside, putting pressure on employees to attend “after work trivia nights”, or sign up for the company baseball team, is unfair. Many people aren’t at work to make new pals to hang out. Some people have stressful lives juggling young children and day care responsibilities. Maybe they’re taking night classes? Either way, most of them will feel obligated to attend. And won’t be happy about it.

If you want to do something special for your groups, take a poll to determine where people’s interests lie, or simply suggest a casual ‘family friendly’ weekend park or beach gathering instead.

Ask an employee to do something you already asked another employee to do. Haden writes, “You assign Joe a project. The day you needed it completed you realize Joe hasn’t finished… and probably won’t. You’re frustrated with Joe, and you really need it done, so you plop it on Mary’s desk. You know she’ll get it done.”

This is a great one. Because probably, deep down, you’re thinking “Mary will feel so proud knowing that I came to her for help! She’ll feel like she saved the day!” No. She won’t. She’ll feel trapped into completing the project because you asked her to, and she’ll end up resenting both Joe and you in the long run. If you have an employee who can’t make deadlines, don’t dump his or her work on others. Deal with the problem at hand, first.

Ask employees to alert you when you “veer off course.” Haden tells a story here, about being asked to help his sometimes longwinded boss during speeches and talks. If he saw the boss going off page, he was to give him a hand signal. And each time Haden gave that hand signal? The boss just went right on talking. In Haden’s case, it might have been a power struggle, but even if not, an employee put in that position will end up feeling A) rude and B) embarrassed, especially if others noticed the brush off. Either way, what might have seemed like a good idea at the time, a way to have a trusted ‘second set of eyes and ears’ helping you out from the audience, becomes a lose-lose for your staff member.

If staff gatherings are starting to feel uncomfortable, or you begin sensing pent-up frustration during staff meetings, take a step back, and take a hard look at your company culture.

Because we all know about that road, paved with good intentions. And we all also know where it leads!

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