Ask Bing

What IS a bad boss?


People write me all the time with a variety of questions, but seldom do I get one as stunning in its concision as the query lobbed in by a reader to my mailbox at "Hey, Stan," he or she writes, "How can you tell when your Boss is a bad one?"  Well, Simple One, let me count a few of the ways:

  1. You can tell by the knot you get in your gut whenever you have to deal with him. You never know which person is going to show up – the nice, benevolent manager or the insane, angry hophead.
  2. You can tell by the feeling you get when you have to get dressed every morning, the sensation that life wasn’t meant to be like this, that nobody knows what the day ahead will hold, and not in a good way, either.
  3. You can tell because on days when he is supposed to be there, leading the way, guiding his people with a firm and gentle hand, he is nowhere to be found. Yet on days when everybody is executing the plan with distinction, there he is, standing in the middle of everything, gumming up the works, micro-managing, driving everybody crazy.
  4. You can tell because her word is not to be trusted, she lies when it suits her, and worst of all, she believes her lies once they are uttered.
  5. You can tell because he is never wrong. Sometimes he may be “misinformed,” or “misled by others,” but he is never, ever, wrong. Those who think he might be in error, ever, had better keep that opinion to themselves.
  6. All credit goes to him, all blame goes to others.
  7. Her only loyalty is to herself. More times than you can count, you have seen her sell people down the river who used to be her favorites. If there is trouble, she’s the first one to throw her colleagues and subordinates overboard into the shark-infested waters. Strangely, she is also the first person to question other people’s loyalty.
  8. Work hours are hard to predict. There are long stretches of unmanaged, vague, pointless activity or inactivity, followed by short bursts of frenzy. Weekends are not safe. Vacations are not honored. Your time is not your own.
  9. His door is closed most of the time, particularly after lunch.
  10. The main topic of conversation is what an annoying, hurtful, scary, irrational nutbag the boss is. Wherever people gather, that’s what they talk about. And when they go, they die unmourned, except perhaps by the one person at the office who did his or her bidding.

That’s just ten. How many others can YOU think of, my friends?

25 Comments Add Comment

Direction, objectives, & goals are hard to predict. They can change at moments notice. This one becauses really fun when you add #4, & #7 to the mix.

A variant to #7: The manager not only sells their people down river but retaliates against anyone that has been "disloyal".

I once had manager that covered nearly all of these traits. Working there was like having everyone stand in circle and grab a poisoneous viper by the tail.

Bing from time to time, you prompt a chime, indicative of a boss's line of rhyme.

In today's business news there's a cry to get rid of the good old boys nested within critical organizational ranks.

I hardly need to emphasize what particular organization is under the gun right now, for it should be common knowledge.

What goes up must come down. At times, what starts at the bottom rises to the top, like cream and bastards.

Will government eventually experience the organizational maelstrom that the manufacturing, financial, and service sectors are receiving today? What do you think?

Just a thought. Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha......

Bing, all of these are good, but I really like that you began with two "gut" level reactions. I think that's the way you really can tell, at the end of the day. Is it a pleasure (especially given you're paid to be there) to go to work or not? In my experience, 95% of that question is answered by the kind of boss you have.

If you hate the boss, you may be the problem. If everyone hates the boss, then the boss is probably the problem.

The flipside of this issue is the loveable boss who drives the bus off a cliff and takes everyone with him. He may get lots of hugs if the division gets closed/moved, but he risks everyone's job with his inability to drive them to higher performance.

Tyrants are never popular but sometimes necessary.

There's the variation on #3 known as "the seagull drill."

The boss flies in, squaks a lot, poops on everything, and then flies away.

A bad boss:
- Will never give you feedback until your annual review. Then you'll get a year's worth of your supposed sins recited at you. Any good you've done will not be mentioned.
- Thinks their being boss is proof they are smarter and better informed than anybody who works for them.
- Demands all communication to the outside pass through them. If they aren't available, or can't effectively solicit or convey the information because they don't have the expertise to understand it -- that's your problem, not theirs.
- Believes the only good ideas are their ideas. If you can't make them work, you are to blame.
- Insists on controlling all resources. No matter how essential a resource is to your job, you still have to go begging to them for it, every time you need some. If they're not around, well guy, you're out of luck.

The best advice I ever heard -- "Don't worry about losing your lousy job. There are plenty of lousy jobs out there."

No toxic boss is worth burning up your irreplaceable lifetime hating them and yourself. Them, for being toxic, and you for being too cowardly to flip them off. Plan your escape and get out of there!

I'm amazed that someone would ask you to define whether their boss is bad or not, can't these people make that decision on their own.

These are the kinda people who tell you they are going to the bathroom and then ask you if they should take paper..Common sense and basic intelligence seems to be in short supply these days.

The bad boss is forever late to meetings because she's just so darn busy! You hear her heels machine-gunning down the hall, she bursts in, halts the conversation with a cliche she's assimilated from other bosses ("deep dive" is popular this month), her PDA sounds the alarm and she's off again, your blood pressure dropping 3 points with every click of her departing, overpriced heels. Her pace is slowed only by the sheer mass of the diamond on her left hand. She's not disorganized, she's not peter principled, she didn't get inside these walls using her looks 20 years ago…she's just so... darn... busy!

Bad Boss:
11) Has inexplicitly bleached his hair blonde
12) Bought a BMW Sports car (can anyone say “midlife crisis”?)
12) Stomps around in a Jimi Hendrix t-shirt (only on casual Friday, of course) dropping his favorite word (the “F” bomb)
13) Reeks of weekend overindulgence on Monday mornings
14) “Promoted” out of his job to a newly-created Executive position
15) Volatile, hostile and completely irrational

I think it speaks to the overall badness of the Company as a whole (and the Board of Directors) who allow this to continue. Any thoughts?

11. If you find yourself emailing a total stranger to ask if your boss is a bad boss, then you probably have a bad boss.

I once had a bad boss...for about 25 years. Incapable of ever giving well-deserved praise, curmudgeonly, and obstinate to the point of insisting the organization should be driven off a cliff....(thanks for the analogy Chicagosail....but he wasn't the wise tyrant....he was a fool). His only saving grace was that he was too lazy to effectively persecute anyone...a limp-dicked dishrag of a mealy mouthed closet dictator, and he was as disliked by the people above as below.

He's still around (totally compartmentalized in the manner that large organizations sometimes contain a managerial cancer), and you have no idea what a pleasure it was to become one of his peers....a change in relationship he has had (and continues to have) a great deal of trouble adjusting to.

In the twilight of his misshapen career he lost what little influence he once had, and control of the work units he'd managed to eff-up for over two decades. Reversing his poorly considered and abusive policies right under his nose has been delectable...but not as sweet as when he forgets he no longer has any power. Telling an apoplectic former boss to piss-off is a kind of hilarious nirvana.

Hey Bing, you once wrote "All Bosses Suck...get over it...but then again, everything is relative, right? Some Bosses do suck more when stood side by side with a peer sampling?

Oh and tell "Anonomous for Obvious Reasons" to quit talking about me: I know who they are, and they should expect career-limiting repercussions for their insubordinate post!!!

Mike, that is a great story and supremely worded...applause applause...thank you!

Given enough time, ANY boss will be a bad boss. Having been a boss and an underling, I've seen both screw up.

If you must get out of bed and go to work for someone, life will not always be good. That leaves only one option --

Retirement, ladies and gentlemen. The ultimate victory.

Somehow, sometime, someone will, in a sense, ape someone else's forte!

The Bing sting very much mimick's Larry Flynt's "HUSTLER MAGAZINE"--applause, applause, and more applause!

The theme appears to be; make the scoundrels squirm.

One can only imagine CEO, Bernie Madoff, dethroned, and surrounded by his admiring constituents who beseech him for his secrets to being the number one Ponzi specialist making the centerfold.

Might he be saying, "I am not a crook", "Don't listen to those people telling lies about me", "They'll miss me now that I'm retired", filling in the blanks was a running mystery with Larry Flynt; however, the Bing Blog (sting) has picked some of that momentem, applause, applause, and more applause!

In my opinion, only!

Good job. You describe to a T most of the ones I've encountered. Throw in some threats of firing and some falsified write-ups and you describe one of our managers here at the moment. Glad I don't work in that department.

Robbie in Endicott - RATS! I so wanted to maintain my very forward and progressive career path at the Company. When I grow up I want to be a crazy boss, too!

A bad boss has a very specific idea about how the job needs to be done, which he will not share until after it's too late to change anything.

A bad boss makes up for poor communication skills by mimicking/quoting Dr. Evil's management technique: "I have one simple request for you people..."

A bad boss is so concerned with being friends that he forgets to actually tell anyone what needs to be done (see also, first paragraph).

Sounds like the big H casino corp

Anonymous...I've found somewhat the opposite; a bad boss often has absolutely no specific idea how something should be done....but very specific ideas of how it should have been done once something goes wrong.

Many bosses (even some good ones) don't understand, especially if they haven't dealt with a task for a very long time, that things have changed more significantly than their prehistoric experience might indicate.

A good boss learns that most competent employees really want the same good outcomes, want the task to be performed right, and have no interest in making the boss look bad. An intelligent boss understands that he needs his subordinates more than they need him. He listens to advice from competent subordinates. Bad bosses are generally completely blind to the fact that pissing-off competent subordinates is a very risky enterprise. While all bosses must make decisions that piss some people off and generate some heat from employees with whinny dispositions (and everybody knows who they are), eminently bad decisions began to irritate even the quietly competent employees.

The bad boss, since he or she has somehow been elevated to prescient god-like status, is completely unable to accept that the situation has changed....and insists on following an old model that may result in disaster (a disaster that will be forever savored by competent subordinates). Often the highly competent employees have information pipelines higher in the organization because (surprise!) a fully functional organization is always on the lookout for talent. In fact the bad boss has probably already set the search for a successor in motion by his many bad decisions (you can get away with blaming subordinates only so long....and sooner or later you can't escape the fact that as a boss you're really responsible for the whole shitty enchilada).

There's an upside to working for a bad boss; it's an opportunity to be reverse mentored. Most everything my old boss did was blatantly wrong. It gave me a very painfully acquired road map of what not to do.

If the first time you watched "The Office" you assumed it was a documentary, you've got a bad boss.

Anon, be all you can be...just don't do it here anymore...

Oh, and I'm not really a Crazy Boss, I just play one on TV...

I love TV....

Granted, there are some bad bosses out there....lots of them! In fact, I believe there are more poor leaders than there are good ones; however, let me challenge you to consider something that we never hear about. Are you a good follower? There are countless books written on leadership, but I've yet to see one written on followership, yet there are many more followers than there are leaders.

I would challenge this person who has a "bad boss" to ask a few questions...
1. What is the problem?
2. Can I fix the problem?
3. If I can't fix it, who can?
4. Can I influence them to fix it?
5. If not, can I live with the results?

If the answer to these is "No," then it's time to be a good follower and move to a place where there is someone that you can follow. Moaning, grumbling, gossipping and complaining to people who can't do anything about it is not a viable option. You will just end up starting your day with a knot in your gut.

This was my mama. No wonder it took getting this grownup to be able to manage her reasonably well.

That's a pretty good list. I recognized my boss in eight of them. How about two more?
1. whenever someone undeniably does something well, it is because the boss taught him.
2. the boss takes pains to explain why it is better to lie to employees in certain circumstances.

I think this comes from being in an insulated environment too long. I used to think it was characteristic of certain family owned business, but then I heard about the boys from GM over the last year and realize it is more widespread.