Most people want to bitch about their boss at some point. Some people are in the unfortunate position of having a boss who makes every day a misery. The lucky few have a boss who is an inspiration and makes their job a pleasure. So if I’m going to write about the qualities of a boss I could approach it from a positive angle (“be like this”) or a negative angle (“don’t be like this”).
I’m going negative – it’s more fun.
My experience of working in a specialised field like IT is that the more effort an individual has put in to reach their position (i.e. the amount of training and/or experience they have) the less tolerant they are of others who perform their role poorly. In short, I’ve never heard anyone complain more about their boss than IT workers do. If I was being completely fair I’d also go into some detail about what makes a bad IT worker. In fact, I may do that in another post. But today is all about the catharsis of ripping on bad bosses.
Thankfully, bosses who indulge in criminal abuse of their staff are few and far between. Physical abuse and/or threats, intimidation, sexual harassment, racism… any boss at this end of the spectrum deserves jail time. I remember reading about one boss in the public service in Australia who was eventually fired after one of the staff recorded one of his abuse sessions (apparently this boss didn’t realise many laptops have built-in video cameras).
He was recorded trying to bully an employee into accepting responsibility for a speeding fine he (the boss) had incurred. The boss initially justified his demand by saying he’d lose his license if he got another speeding infringement and refusing to help him out was disloyal. When the staff member refused to sign a statement saying she was driving the car when it was caught on a speed camera, the boss commenced screaming, made several disparaging comments about the worker’s sexual preferences and promised her she’d lose her job. It didn’t quite work out the way he wanted.
The scariest boss I ever had ran a strip club where I was working. Yes, I worked in a strip club. No I wasn’t a stripper. Shut the hell up, I could so have earned a living as a stripper if I had wanted to. If you pissed this bloke off, he conducted a “business meeting” to review your transgression with a baseball bat sitting on his desk. I shit you not. This and his reputed Mob connections eventually compelled me to run screaming for the hills.
So, ignoring outright criminal behaviour, here is my guide to being the worst boss in the world:
Be inconsistent I’ve worked in sweatshop environments that were tolerable because there were no illusions. We knew what to expect every day and we knew what we were being paid to endure it. Any time this wasn’t acceptable we could (and did) bail. The good days in an inconsistent workplace aren’t good enough to compensate for the constant fear that it’s going to be a bad day.
Criticise publicly and give no praise at all Everybody screws up sometimes but if your goal is to actually get better performance from people, a private discussion works far better than public humiliation. Some people even do well sometimes. Never underestimate the positive impact of publicly praising someone, particularly when they’ve done something well that may not be particularly high profile.
Refuse to accept responsibility More than once I’ve followed a manager’s instructions explicitly and been told later I’d done the wrong thing. My worst ever boss was a chronic offender in this area, to the point where I always preserved a paper trail to prove I was following her instructions. Even when presented with this evidence she refused to accept responsibility.
Avoid making decisions This is a classic bad manager tactic – don’t make any decisions, don’t give any directions then you can’t possibly blamed when something goes wrong, right? Maybe you’ll get away with it in some workplaces but this lack of leadership is a recipe for disaster. Have the guts to do your job – you know, be the boss.
Don’t defend your team It isn’t the boss’s job to make excuses for incompetence but it is the boss’s job to represent the team’s best interests. Too often I’ve seen bosses reflexively blame their team for situations that weren’t the team’s fault. This type of boss seems to think if they blame someone else they don’t have to defend themselves. This is a close cousin to:
Claim credit and apportion blame All too often I’ve been on an IT team where we started to think we were invisible. We never had any positive feedback from senior management because our direct boss would place themselves between us and management meaning we were never recognised for good work. Then something would go wrong and we would suddenly become visible.
Be ignorant and proud of it I’m not one of those people who think IT bosses have to be technical geniuses – in fact it’s often counter-productive if they’re too deeply immersed in the technology. But when you have resources that know more than you, don’t belittle them for it. Recognise the value of their expertise.
Be a slave to “the rules” I’m usually a fan of a disciplined and consistent approach to process. But if someone comes up with a better alternative or is able to show where an existing process won’t work… LISTEN! Saying “that’s how we always do things” doesn’t cut it. Do something because it’s the right thing to do, not because “it’s the rules”.
There are probably a thousand more ways to be a bad boss. I have a suspicion I may be hearing about a few in the comments.
52 responses to “The worst boss in the world”
My formet boss was like that. She was a real bitch. I have never disliked any woman like I dislike her! My current boss is a sweetheart and I really like him. Your post is so apt I feel you must have met her!
I want to ask you to keep that promise and do a blog entry – or even many – “about what makes a bad IT worker”. The blogosphere is too out-of-balance right now, talking only of the flaws of the management.
Be ignorant and proud of it ? may be it works in IT but it can make a real hell in my trade 🙂 so it’d better be to be bitchy but listen to the crew!
Lie all the time:
I had one boss who was a compulsive liar, who couldn’t help himself to lie all the time. I hated him.
At first I thought he was great. He seemed such a great and successful boss. Later on, I discovered his tricks.
He was simply the worst boss I ever had.
Mr. Angry, I am a computer technician of 12 years experience. By the time I get to Australia I will have an AA degree and a CompTIA A+ Computer certification. How hard are computer tech jobs to get in Melbourne?
I’m glad of a background working in law enforcement when there were no IT jobs around.
I’ve had to deal with some awful days on the job here, many the result of bad management but I can always tell myself: “This isn’t my worst day at work ever, because no one’s actually shooting at me”
What about a company where the culture is that of bad management, it isn’t down to an individual manager? I’ve seen that before now.
My example of bad management would be undermining your own employees. I’ve had one boss insist I “follow policy”, in other words, turn down a request from someone. Of course when that someone rang the boss, he turned around and gave them what they wanted.
Oddly enough, I’ve been far less bothered about following the rules since then.
You’ve nailed it Mr. Angry…i can’t believe that public service Manager, that’s just insane!
I am looking forward to the bad IT workers post…I am lucky my current assignment has some really good managers 🙂
Speaking of bad boss, I can write a thesis of what a leadership is not! I used to work in MNC and I suffered under a dictatorship disguised as consultative govt….so much so, I left the place and started a site called:
It’s the only way I know how to get back.
“Instruct members of your team to act unethically and lie to the client, and say “I am your manager and I am giving you a direct instruction” when they say “I am not doing that, it’s not ethical”.”?
He was a peach. Plagiarism. Sexual and racial harrassment. Lies. His wife had been a procuress before they’d emigrated. Birds of a feather.
Every now and again I google him just to make sure he’s nowhere near any industry I’m working in.
Suroor: I also have a good boss currently, so all this angst is in the past for me.
Liriel: pinky swear! I promise to write a balancing article
Hellboy: you’re lucky if bosses can’t get away with being ignorant
Range: sounds like a classic sociopath boss
LordOcelot: It should be easy for you – send me an email if you want some info/tips
Robert: it’s good to have a sense of perspective 🙂
Maliha: Salamaat. Yeah, the public service also has a pretty aggro union which went after that boss big time. Of course, when I write about bad IT workers I won’t be writing about myself 😉
Nora: Good luck on your quest!
Aphra: That one crosses the line from sociopath into outright criminal!
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I have the most wonderful boss in the world. Check out my post for today to see why.
Like most everything there is some psychology behind the behavior.
Especially the baseball bat, geez. That eliminates the possibility of the non-violent sociopath.
I had a boss once who loved to impress the ladies. He would bring them around, show them his little store (we sold foreign language books in Washington DC), and while he had an audience he would boss us around, just to be manly and all. One day he asked me to call up some company and ask them how long it would take them to deliver some product. I replied that it would take about 3 days – I knew since we had just done it the week before. Next day I come in, my desk is locked and my stuff is in a box by the door. He just fired my ass for talking back and making him look stupid. This guy was NOT the worst boss I ever had, but he’s on the list.
You must know my boss.
Sandra: It’s good to celebrate a good boss. And your story is HILARIOUS!
Anthony: Well, I did say the baseball bat guy was a strip club woner who fancied himself as a mobster.
Tom: never make a narcissist look bad – you know first-hand the outcome of doing that.
Mitch: Some bosses are a universal constant. Everyone gets them at some point.
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You left out “Pit your staff against one another just for fun.”
When I worked at Starbucks I had a boss who went on vacation, telling my best friend at work that her promotion depended on her finding just cause for firing me. Because he’d tried for months and not found any…because there was none.
He did manage to break up the friendship, she quit the company, and we eventually got rid of him by sending him overseas to…um…well, I hope you don’t like coffee.
Though I am retired now, I had worked for a boss for over twenty years. I was not very efficient but my boss, a lady in her sixties when I joined her, was efficiency and dignity personified. She had an eye for details and had the sharpest memory of all the people I know. She was always resourceful, and when one door closed for her, she always said ten other doors opened. For her time was gold. She was strict but understanding, condescending but not enslaving. I have learnt many things in life from her, most of all concern for family. She was very rich but very simple.
How about a boss who doesn’t care to greet you, may be he cares mat be he has other things on his mind. But work has just started. It is morning, and a goog morning too. Anyhow when he realised the company was going down he would call us to meeting but always beat around the bush and would never really say what was the real status of the company.As a professional I think he was , he hid the real truth from us , having said before in a previous meeting that thing would be good for all of us and our families for the next 20 years. We felt good.But never a hint that things were going wrong.When staff startted going home one by one then our fears were realised and still he did not or could not come out and say to us what the true pictures was.
Raincoaster: Did you really send that boss to Australia? You know, it isn’t really cool to send criminals here any more.
Narayanan: I think that’s the best sort of boss, one you learn from and/or are inspired by
Nizam: I’m not fond of bosses who won’t talk to you either although I haven’t had that problem too often.
I find it amazing that you’ve pointed to the characteristics of the bosses of a particular profession i.e. IT—what you say of them is so true; as an IT worker, and a relatively new one at that, I am seeing much of the condescension with my own eyes.
Bravo for your observation and well-written article 🙂
Try working in higher (and I use the term loosely) education if you want to experiece the real thrills of incompetence, intolerance, elitism, fear and loathing, and other assorted joys of the everyday work world. And this is not limited to the bosses! I know some instructors (I will not use the term college professors, because they are not even close) who are neither competent in their field of study, the art of teaching, or anything other than finding the easiest way to earn a paycheck. Administration is so fearful of lawsuits, bad press, and loss of student body counts that they will tolerate the most abusive behavior.
Yes, I work in such a place and it sucks!
In larger companies HR can be helpful unless they don’t understand what makes a bad boss bad as outlined here…
Here are two quotes that sum up a bad boss near perfectly
“Bureaucracy defends the status quo long past the time when the quo has lost its status.”
Laurence J. Peter
“The perfect bureaucrat everywhere is the man who manages to make no decisions and escape all responsibility.”
That’s strange. I also work in a strip club where my boss has mob connections, although I’m a guy and couldn’t be a dancer if I wanted to. Not at this club anyway. 😉 I’m a board marker and I’m content with that, for the time being.
I once worked at a hotel where we were required to put all tips into a pot and then it was divided equally between all the staff including my boss. He said it was the only fair way to handle it. What an arse. He had all the flaws you stated plus being a cheap chiseler.
There are innumerable varieties and flavours of bad boss behaviour – what is interesting is that underneath or behind these manisfestations of a small, weak and viscous mind is generally fear – borne out of survival, greed, ambition, sadism and other distinctly unworthy traits.
My work involves helping bosses and staff get better at improving what the business does and how it does it. Beleive me – the symptoms of a bad boss are greater by orders of magnitude when turf, reward, authority or NIMBY viewpoints are directly or implicitly challenged! Feel free to visit:
What about really stupid: –
If this doesn’t make you smile then you need to see a doctor!!
Ah, the IT worker, far to often overlooked and overworked. I’ve worked in the research industry for years and, unfortunately, no-one really knows what IT does to fill their time, except that they’re too busy doing god-knows-what to fix the IT problems in the lab as they arise. You guys always seem very busy, and you really get no glory for what you do. I hope you are paid well, at least…
Introspectif: Many long years of experience I’m afraid. Glad you enjoyed the article
Baabaa: I’ve heard similar stories from friends in that field! I hope it ends up working out for you.
beewax: I’ve ranted about HR before too, half the time they’re the problem rather than the solution.
MarK: awesome quotes, thanks!
kaser: ah, the joys of working in a strip club
tlir: well put. Good luck with helping some bosses to improve.
lerwegian: nice stories – it’s good when annoying people inflict punishment on themselves.
Running Emu: By and large it’s fair to say that IT workers are well paid (although this isn’t universally true) But most would take a pay cut in exchange for better working conditions and a better boss.
I am no world reknowned management expert like Deming or Drucker. I have no Phd, have conducted no scholary research or gathered statistics. My opinions are drawn from over thirty years in middle management. I am neither executive, consultant, nor belong to any elite institutions. I am, however, passionate about these views: Employees come to work with an implicit trust that their managers are always working for the best interest of the company and its employees. That trust should not and cannot ever be taken for granted. Look what is happening today. It is no longer “What’s good for the company is good for the manager.” It has become “What’s good for the manager is good for the company.” Top executives have totally lost sight of this phenomenon and are allowing managers to run amok in order to fulfill their own personal agendas.
Several years ago I wrote a book on the subject of bad bosses, workplace culture and employee morale. It is as relevant today as it was then. The premise of the book is that employee morale is directly linked to the interaction of employees with line managers who are charged with executing the policies and strategies of companies. Unfortunately, many of these managers subvert the good intentions of the organization to meet their own personal goals and agendas at the expense of their peers and subordinates. This management subculture is the result of a corporate culture of ignorance, indifference and excuse. This problem can only be addressed from the top echelon of the organization through honest introspection and intelligent skepticism – not by some consultant’s attempts to manipulate the workforce into “feeling” better through gimmicks and programs. Better corporate level leadership is the key. Read more in “160 Degrees of Deviation: The Case for the Corporate Cynic.”
Thanks for the input Jerome. You should start up a blog and post excerpts from the book. You’d sell a million.
How about a boss (manager) that just doesnt come into work half the time and doesnt seem to manage anyone or anything?
I’ve worked for a lot of those!
That seems like the lesser of two evils to me 🙂 I’d prefer an absent manager to an evil manager who was always there.
Janet O’Grady from Aspen Magazine is perhaps the worst editor in chief in the publishing world. I have heard so many bad things about her – she’s manipulative, talks shit about everybody in Aspen (including the people she calls her friends) and she is a terrible writer. Word is, she has fired or “let go” of so many people at her company because she doesn’t know how to manage or run the business which her husband originally used to run. She doesn’t know what she’s doing. People around town are suggesting that the ship is sinking quickly and nobody would be surprised if she sells the company or it will slowly go into a sad demise.
And when you really piss off your staff they go online and call you out by name.
Took your advice and started a blog. http://thecorporatecynic.wordpress.com
Excerpts from my book, “160 Degrees of Deviation: The Case for the Corporate Cynic” as well as more heresy about the corproate world will be posted there.
Excellent work Jerome.
Not getting a lot of traffic on the blog. Any tips?
Step one: find other blogs on which you think you can make worthwhile comments. These blogs don’t have to be similarly themed to yours, just blogs you think you can make worthwhile comments on. A certain number of people will follow your comments back to your blog and if they like what they see they will stick around. This is a good way to get a base.
Step two: find some sort of “community” site whose members mght be interested in your writing and submit some posts. I’ve never had a post make any significant waves on Digg or the main Reddit. I have built quite a chunk of readership from the Joel on Software sub-reddit. And once I got a big hit from Stumble Upon. What works for you might vary.
Another suggestion often offered by people (I rarely do this and my traffic would probably be higher if I did) is to link to and write posts commenting on high profile blogs. Actually, if you do a search “increasing blog traffic” you’ll probably find a pile of suggestions that may or may not work for you.
Thanks for the help, Mate!
Be a raging psycho:
Send out emails at 3 a.m. on a Satuday to your workers who put in at least 60+ hours a week with 20 bullet points about the office “environment” and tell them to put away their post-it notes every day, stack all papers on the desks neatly, and clean their handprints from the desks…because they couldn’t possibly have better things to do with their non-existent lives.
I think you’ve summed up a micro-manager quite well there.
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My nightmare boss would publicly accuse me of “hiding” when I was working my butt off maintaining 100+ desktops and servers. I’d try to employ simple IT techniques (group policy/scripts) to standardize the systems and be criticized because “it just makes (my) job easier.” He gave me a bad review for being inflexible..he was angry because I didn’t rewire the computer room fast enough and he’d have to come back to lock up after his basketball game (they were too paranoid to give me keys..I was the only admin.) He would raise his voice all the time, after warning him he did it again the next Monday..I told him he sucked at IT and walked out. A month and a half later I’m making 15k for an advanced engineering group. My old boss was so inexperienced I’m convinced he doesn’t even know it…I want him to fail.
Totally understand you here. Previous boss was similar – probably worse. And self sabotaging his own company by dumping paying clients and then loosing others.
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The worst boss in the world is this woman called Robyn Tyler. She is protected by the state government of Queensland. No matter how much money she loses or how many people she sacks she lives on like a blessed fat cat. Every decision she makes is a bad one because she has a low IQ (stupid is as stupid does). When will the powers that be realise that this woman has ruined the Institute she presides over and also the lives of many good people who have worked there? Never it would appear. The day this moron leaves will be the day that things improve. In fact she is known as “the moron” by staff there. For gods sake get rid of this idiot and impose some natural justice.
How many years does it take to get some justice in this Institute (Southbank Institute of Technology)? Dictatorships have come and gone in less time. Get rid of this fat no-hoper and revert to a TAFE.
It is the only solution. Talk about Arab spring we need a SEQ Spring.
Fat – sorry sacred cow syndrome. Protected at all costs.
I used to work for a small IT business. Needless to say after many years of abuse, poor pay, no pay rise for 5 years, I left. When the small business owner is not even IT qualified, and the way he treats his staff, you know somethings not right. And dumping the clients the good staff can support – so he can try and get rid of the good staff – doesnt sound good either. He doesnt realise how valuable his good staff are – just treat them badly, humliate them and make life hell – but still need them to fox your stuff ups and teach him how to do the work.
Guess the day he punched me in the face and pushed me against the wall when I advised him to stop using the stolen software license he was installing on all the computers for the companies supported was the last straw. This was just the tip of the iceberg into bad boss behaviour. I could write pages on this (needless to say I have always kept a detailed daily journal).
I heard he is still as bad as ever – and he even defamed me to other staff recently. Anyway I will let karma run it’s course – I wont use my state and fed police contacts (plus Interpol – family connection) to do what they could do.
But I guess though the Russians he stole from (the software makers) will collect in due time – as they told me “in their own special way – we like teaching people lessons”. And they dont joke about money.