It’s a good question, isn’t it? 

Status is one of those things that we don’t actively think about, but it’s ingrained in our society and more specifically, corporate culture. 

By nature, when you get the bigger title, the bigger job, the higher salary, the better office, there is an assumption that you’ve now elevated your status.

But how does that impact your leadership style? Or does it? 

When I look back on all the stories I’ve heard about the best and worst bosses on my Best Boss Ever podcast, there are a few traits that stand out (lots more on that in my upcoming second book!) and one of those is leaders’ approach to status. 

The worst bosses used their perceived elevated status to play by different rules, drive performance by instilling fear or gatekeeping their network. According to podcast guests, some of the worst offenders used status as an excuse to “yell at team members behind closed doors out of anger or frustration,” differently treating those they saw as lower status compared to those they saw as peers or more senior to them. 

This happens a lot when times are challenging or the company is going through a rough patch. One of my very first podcast guests, Cam Hygarth, talked about a situation where a leader used status as a means to command and control through difficult situations, saying his “worst boss ever” “pushed more” and “threatened more.” In Cam’s experience, his team saw this behavior as a sign of disrespect that started at the very senior levels of leadership and permeated through the company, damaging good people who eventually left. 

I’ve experienced this type of leadership as well. Status is a crutch that many lean on when times are tough, using it to demand more from their team members in a push to get things done. I’ve found this to be ineffective for a number of reasons, but one of the most damaging is that this status-driven behavior is catchy and leaders mirror each other. This makes it acceptable, even if it’s hugely detrimental to the team and the business. 

On the flip side, the best bosses ignore status and operate as if every team member is of the same status. In fact, sometimes this type of behavior and leadership approach can really confuse the corporate structure. 

I talked about this with another early podcast guest, Gary Mottershead, who identified his “best boss ever,” as someone who was “downward-serving.” This boss cared more about doing right by those that reported to him than catering to those he reported to. For Gary, and I’d argue for many of us who have direct reports and report to someone else, the best bosses are the ones who are more focused on “downward-serving” (while still being able to manage those they report to), while the worst bosses are only focused on “upward-serving.” 

For many employees, there is a concern that being disrespectful to those “above us” will result in a serious consequence. For example, you likely wouldn’t storm into the CEO’s office when you’re having a really bad day and take out your anger and frustration on them. But you may feel OK doing that with a peer or someone who reports to you. 

But the best bosses are concerned that being disrespectful to those “below us” will result in the same serious consequences. 

This all comes down to perceived status, and how we use it (or don’t use it) to justify different behaviors around different people. 

Have you worked with someone who used their perceived status to excuse certain behaviors in the workplace? Join me on LinkedIn and let’s continue the conversation. 

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