I’ve studied the Queen Bee phenomenon as it relates to the modern day workplace. For decades, we’ve witnessed this phenomenon, which is defined by women who achieve success opposing the similar rise of other women, most typically in male-dominated fields. Although one might think these women would be eager to support other women out of a sense of solidarity, too often patriarchal work cultures create a situation in which the few women who rise to the top become obsessed with maintaining authority. These women aren’t necessarily born Queen Bees, but become them. Now, with the numbers of women in management positions rising so, too, are the incidents of female bosses who bully, abuse, over-criticize, or worse.
Julie, a creative director at an ad agency, realized she was a Queen Bee the day she noticed that she’d caused a giant argument among two of the designers on her team — yet again. “I’d created such an atmosphere of competition that people were constantly fighting,” she said. “But the real problem was that I secretly liked it.” The more her employees struggled, the stronger and more needed she felt as a leader.
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Recognizing that you’ve become a Queen Bee, or a bad boss of any kind, is, of course, the first step to making a change. How can you tell if you’re a Queen Bee? You think you know everything. You feel more secure when others fail. You micromanage. Your employees always disappoint you. You purposefully make things difficult for those you don’t like.
And change you should. In a 2012 Gallup survey, 60 percent of U.S. government employees reported being miserable at work not because of low pay or poor benefits, but because of their bosses. Studies show that bad bosses aren’t just a hit for morale; they’re a hit for business and profitability. A 2012 Harvard Business Review report noted that even expensive company perks like great health insurance and rewards systems mean nothing for productivity and loyalty if the boss is a bad leader. Good bosses, meanwhile, lead employees to increase revenue, as proven by various studies conducted at big box stores like Sears and Best Buy. In the case of Sears, when employee satisfaction improved by 5 percent, customer satisfaction improved enough to lead to a significant increase in revenue. This is why, more and more, underlings aren’t just subject to review but are asked for their feedback on their supervisors as well.
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A few simple ways to shed the title of Queen Bee and begin to be a better boss:
Learn To Teach. Queen Bees think that holding others back secures their own position. But, in fact, studies show that those who mentor are more professionally successful than those who don’t. A 2012 study at the University of Texas, Austin, found that those who mentored gained a better understanding of their own strengths and limitations, solidified their understanding of certain career-related concepts, and were happier besides.
Pipe Down — And Then Up. It’s easy to spot a rude, belittling Queen Bee, whether that Bee is your boss or yourself. But Queen Bees are also defined by what they don’t do—that is, ask good questions, reach out to others, and praise and reinforce good behavior. Aim to recognize the good work or efforts of at least one employee a day. If you can’t find anything to compliment, sit staffers down and find out why they’re struggling, and how you can help.
Treat Staffers As Individuals, Not A Group. Often, Queen Bees act the way they do because they feel overwhelmed. Instead of directing a group, aim to have individual relationships with each team member—know her strengths, her weaknesses, and the specific priorities you hold for her. Your job—your responsibility to your own boss—is to improve the company, rather than hold it back. Others’ failings don’t reflect well on you. The bottom line is that as a boss, you are, truly, only as good as your worst employee.