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JR Kanu: 6 Things You Really Should Not Be Doing as a Boss



We all have dreams, hopes for what our lives could be in the future. For many of us, those dreams include a desire to expand our territories and spheres of influence.

Dreams that big can never be achieved by working alone. To make them happen, we need to attract, motivate, and manage people. Being a good boss is hard, but there are some surefire ways to make yourself a terrible boss. We’ve compiled a list of things to avoid.

Here’s what not to do as a millennial leader.

1. Don’t be unclear about people’s roles, responsibilities, and desired impact
This isn’t about writing up a second-by-second job description – such aren’t super helpful in the world of startups where people must be flexible, wear multiple hats, and often rotate responsibilities. It’s about ensuring your employees aren’t confused about what they’ll be doing when they come to work in the morning.

Don’t ask them to accomplish one thing, then rate them on something entirely different. Don’t give them one responsibility, then undercut the time they’ll need to develop mastery in the sphere you’ve assigned.

2. Don’t delegate responsibility then meddle
This one is really hard for self-made folks, but it is also the quickest way to frustrate great people and burn yourself out. The old saying, “If you want something done right, do it yourself,” is ridiculous and impractical. It should say instead, “If you want something done exactly the way you’d do it without the room for invention, individual creativity, and a potentially better outcome, do it yourself.”

Success breeds success. If you give Jane a job to do and she does it well, she’ll be motivated to raise the stakes on the next task you give her. She’ll have built the muscle memory to do good work. But if you give her a job and then meddle, you don’t just deprive her of the chance to build those useful muscles, you also ensure you never get an employee who’s getting stronger on the job. Jane doesn’t grow, your workload grows, you burn out, your dream dies. See how quickly that happened?

3. Don’t give ownership then undermine authority
You hired someone to manage marketing. He makes a decision about the marketing campaign. Because they aren’t used to it, his team comes to ask you if it’s okay to proceed. Rather than refer this team back to their marketing manager, you butt in and undo aspects of the campaign without first consulting with said manager. Pretty soon, everyone in the company realizes that the marketing manager has no real authority. Well done! You’ve ensured that A-players will never be attracted to you and what you’re building. You’ve ensured you’ll be surrounded by yes-men. You’ve ensured your place in the league of mediocrity.

4. Don’t get emotional and angry when you’re given feedback
Feedback is a gift. This line was said so often that it became a running joke during my MBA. But it wasn’t until I returned to the workforce that I realized just how true a saying it is. Without feedback, you’re flying blind as a leader. Don’t let your ego be so fragile that you cultivate an army of sycophants around you. It’s the quickest way to sink a ship.

If you get defensive, vindictive, or otherwise emotional when you receive feedback, it’ll ensure no one is ever honest with you. The higher you go in your career, the harder and harder it’ll be to get any kind of feedback, let alone honest feedback. So, if you don’t cultivate a culture of honest feedback around you, you won’t even know when your ship is sinking.

5. Don’t yell or berate them publicly
No one likes to feel like an idiot. If you think someone on your team is an idiot, well, you hired that person in the first place – or hired the person that hired that person. So what does that make you? Good.

I have been in companies where the boss would berate someone so loudly that folks in other offices could hear it. This sort of fear then breeds the worst instincts in your team.

It’s either they’ll avoid you at all costs, or there’ll be a cover-your-ass mentality that stops people from taking smart risks and looking for ways to do the least.

Most humans want to do a good job. Start them off by giving them what they need to succeed. And when they fail – because we all do – point out where they’re doing well and how they can do better. If the person isn’t responding as expected, put her or him on a plan, with clear consequences for what happens if performance doesn’t improve. Simple. We don’t need to get into a shouting match over this. Keep it classy.

6. Don’t pit employees against each other
A natural corollary of the bad behaviors described thus far is that they create strife in your team. But it’s worse if you are cultivating this sort of backstabbing competition. You are one company, and you all have the same goal: to see the company succeed. If the employees seem more interested in pleasing the boss above all else, you have failed.

It’s. Not. About. You.

When your employees measure themselves by who is in the boss’s good graces, who’s in and who’s out, you’ve created a political party – the very opposite of private enterprise.

Photo Credit: Dreamstime

JR Kanu is both the CEO and founder of REACH Technologies ( and managing partner at The Design Institute, Lagos ( He holds a B.Sc. in Engineering from Calvin College; an M.A. in Journalism from New York University; and an MBA from Stanford University. When he's not helping people manage and maximize their money at REACH, or helping companies innovate their products at The Design Institute, you'll find him at the gym, at a gallery, on the guitar, or plumbing the depths of great TV shows. He lives in Lagos with his wife, Nicole, where they regularly host friends to sumptuous and affordably healthy meals. Check them out on Instagram - @DinnerWithTheKanus.

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