Bad Boss BS: “The map is not the territory.”

Four 2d characters stood close to but slightly apart from a 3d bad boss character.
A bar chart detailing current competence and another value for the level I want to achieve in 12 months.
I can use simple bar charts to assess my level of competence for different skills. I can add more information by recording my “competence” now and where I’d like to be in 12 months time. Or I might put bars next to each other to compare my skills to someone else in the team — helping me work out how everyone can make the most of their contribution in team activities
A 3d bad boss character looking at a radar chart that maps the competence of three people. Each axis represents a different skill and the areas which represent each person are overlaid to help spot compatibility issues and complimentary skillsets.
You can make more complex radar charts to map out the “shape” of teams or groups. How compatible people might be will affect success. Reflecting on preferences and ability to flex also helps when we’re working with others. It help us understand where and how we might need to make extra effort to succeed.
Three characters sit along a scale which describes “comfort with ambiguity”. It shows that some people love ambiguity, other people hate it and others are somewhere in the middle.
As a warm-up activity you can ask people to place themselves on a simple scale to describe a behaviour or preference. The point of this activity isn’t really the “map” — it’s the quality of the conversation and insight that it opens up. Like with a Rorschach test — abstract representations often help us unlock insights and automatic responses.

Map the territory

There are various ways of constructing this sort of “map”. You can simply estimate it — write a few different competencies, skills or behaviours down and make an instinctive judgement of where you and other people sit. You can collect feedback from colleagues and use the insights you get to generate further maps. You can make a spreadsheet and use the features to track responses over time and between context — it will also generate the charts for you. You can add contrasting pairs and use the insights to think about development opportunities or to reflect on sources of friction in a relationship or group. And you can draw maps to describe the shape of the boss — and then consider whether you can think of ways to change the shape of any of the maps (and the reality they describe) to make life easier and more productive.

Three sources of bad

Our relationship with a boss can be “bad” for different reasons. Now that we’re four months into the Blog Series we’re starting to see patterns in the way a boss can be bad for us. I’m starting to think of these as three categories of badness — competence, confidence and compatibility:

  1. They’re just bad at some things (and some things are just unacceptable).
  2. Their badness is due to the relationship between confidence and competence — there are ‘behavioural’ aspects to the badness
  3. Our relationship is complicated and compromised by our own preferences and ways of working.



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I'm a Creative director at the BBC. I like words, design, data and magic. These are all my own views (apart from retweets. I borrowed those to look clever.)