How to Tell if your Boss is a Leader or an Intimidator

Knowing which type of boss you work for doesn’t happen in the interview process, sometimes it may even take a while for them to show their true colors. One thing rings true for every boss: they either criticize or provide feedback, and there are significant ramifications of both.

First to understand the difference between the two, let’s look at their respective definitions as defined by Merriam-Webster:

Criticism – to express disapproval of: to talk about the problems or faults

Feedback – helpful information or [helpful] criticism that is given to someone to say what can be done to improve a performance, product, etc.

As you can see they are both relatively similar, with the exception of a couple things.

Feedback is pieces of advice or (even criticism) that are actually helpful to the person being evaluated, it is showing them that while the work they are doing is not exactly satisfactory, they can improve by doing certain things.
Criticism is simple, “I don’t like it,” “no that doesn’t work,” “Delete this,” you get the point. Criticism is not providing helpful feedback or commentary, it is the act of degrading or condemning someone or someone’s work without a way of improvement.

How could this affect leadership?

Managers or bosses should always strive to help their employees reach for higher and higher goals, striving for success every time. A manager is only as successful as his team; bad team=bad management.  No manager or boss should ever be putting his employees down, or making them feel inferior in his presence; that is not a leader, that is a intimidator. A leader helps develop their employees into what is best for the company. An intimidator gives information to his employees to be regurgitated, basically his words, typed or performed by the employee. That way if something ever goes wrong, he has the employee to put the blame on with an, “I never said that,” or a “you misunderstood me.”

A leader provides feedback that is encouraging to the employee to resolve the issue, without feeling like a total failure. An intimidator says it’s wrong or they don’t like it without any kind of constructive advice behind it. So, how does this affect leadership exactly? One way to see if a leader is successful is retention: are employees sticking around? If that answer is yes, then generally, he must be doing something right. With so many opportunities out there, people aren’t sticking around in jobs where they feel unappreciated and undervalued. Now, on the flip side, does he have constant turn-around in his department, people asking to move to other departments, or complaints to higher up constantly about his behavior? Then, he’s probably a bad leader. A lot of the time bad leaders don’t just affect their department, their intimidation tactics stretch throughout the entire company.

How can you change your criticism to feedback?

This is easy, rather than condescendingly telling someone what you think of their work, provide a solution and utilize the sandwich method. This is: compliment – feedback/ways to improve – compliment.

The Sandwich Method


Feedback/Ways to Improve


An example of feedback using the sandwich method:

Hey Susan I really appreciate you getting me a draft on that blog so quickly. I do think we can work together to create a better headline though, something like “5 Ways to Tell Your Dog Loves You.” Also, I really enjoyed the part about the different dog breeds and their affection levels. We can meet to discuss this if you’d like, what do you think?

An example of criticism:

Susan, the headline has got to go, it doesn’t even make sense. Send me a new draft ASAP.

In this example we see Susan has written a blog about dogs and their affection towards their owners. Susan’s boss isn’t digging (get it) and wants a better headline. After reading both email examples, which one do you think would get a better reaction out of Susan? Example 1 still tells Susan she needs to change the title, without being condescending or patronizing. In example 2, we see the type of boss that criticizes work: he provides no constructive feedback, no ways of improving, and no collaboration. In example 2, Susan would probably get defensive. She’d do the project, but wouldn’t have pride in her work, or pride in her job. Trust me, by this point, Susan has already hit up ZipRecruiter. Example 1 thanks her for providing the work quickly, offers a solution to the problem at hand, and even offers collaboration in case Susan wants to take the lead on the headline herself, this example would bode a completely different reaction out of Susan.

How you talk to people goes a long way

It really all boils down to how you talk to people. Employee retention has a lot to do with happiness. We’re no longer in the age where people stay at jobs no matter how bad they are treated. Now, people want to be happy in their jobs, and who wouldn’t? You’re there for 40 hours a week, some people spend more time at work than they do with their own kids, so why wouldn’t you want to be happy in that kind of environment? People are leaving even if that means taking a pay cut, just so they can have a work-life balance that doesn’t make them miserable, and one thing getting people out the door faster than ever: condescending, criticizing bosses.

So, which one are you: are you a leader, or are you an intimidator?

Better yet, which one do you work for?

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