Why a bad boss is more than just that

Do you trust your boss? Does he or she know what they are doing? And are you sure they have never played dangerously fast and loose when it comes to whatever rules and strictures they work under?

At some time in our careers, most of us have worked for someone who would cause us to answer no to the above questions.

But, although aggravating and frustrating, for those in the lower and middle levels of organisations, a bad boss is generally only a temporary problem.

It can be solved by a change in role, move of department, or if absolutely necessary, a new job. But for those who have risen to the heady heights of the board of directors, the consequences of having a bad boss are rather more serious.

They can increasingly find themselves taking the rap for the activities of their boardroom colleagues and superiors even when they genuinely had no idea they were up to anything even slightly dubious.

For example, the claims by certain directors at Independent Insurance that they had no idea about the questionable practices that led to its collapse are likely to be viewed with cynicism by regulators and the public alike.

If they didn’t have any idea what was going on, directors will be asked, were they really carrying out their duties properly?

The new focus that the company law review is expected to put on the duties of directors is therefore most welcome.

Its suggested codification of directors’ duties into a list of a manageable size will provide a starting point for many to think about the duties and dangers of their role.

But that includes thinking not just about their own actions – they should also think about the actions of their colleagues too.

Many corporate collapses – apologies for bringing it up again, but notably Maxwell – are characterised by situations where there are one or two individuals with charismatic personalities who colleagues are unwilling, afraid or unable to stand up to.

Investigators into the Independent collapse could conclude that such personality issues were a contributory factor. However good a set of rules are, the success of any corporate governance efforts will depend on human factors. This is a particularly important issue for FDs.

As qualified accountants and custodians of the company’s accounting records, shareholders and watchdogs are likely to view any excuse based on ignorance with considerable scepticism.

And not only do they face potential court action and possible disqualification as directors, they could also be stripped of their professional qualification.

Any FD who doesn’t trust their chairman or chief executive should perhaps think long and hard about how long they stay in their job. For them, a bad boss could be far more than a temporary problem.

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