Top 5 – How to Be a Horrible Boss

Everyone has had a bad boss. And perhaps you can be one too – if you play your cards right.

Here’s my Top 5 ways to be a horrible boss:

1. Belittle people – Call them names, yell at them, look down on your staff. After all, they are beneath you.

2. Tell nobody nothing – Don’t share your calendar, don’t share information about what your bosses goals are, don’t update them with key HR updates. Keep them in the dark – they don’t need to know.

3. Celebrations are for whimps – Let’s ban all birthday celebrations, going for coffee, work happy hours, summer picnics. If you aren’t working, you aren’t working.

4. Do everything yourself – Don’t delegate any work. You can’t trust the staff to be competent. So do everything and then complain they don’t do anything.

5. Be always on – Schedule meetings on weekends, write emails at 11pm and ask for input right away, conference calls at 7pm, force people to work on vacations.

Feel free to vent a little here and tell your horror story, or better yet you success story on how your boss has avoided these or other mistakes. I’ll take either!

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Henry Brown

would expand number 1. to Belittle people in a rather public way

6. NEVER apologize and heaven forbid if you are compelled to apologize do NOT do it before a group and make sure you blame someone else

7. Make little or no effort to get to know the employees that work for you EITHER professionally or outside of the work environment.

8. Expect your staff to be on time for all meetings, yet can never quite make it on time yourself.

Avatar photo Bill Brantley

9. Pride yourself for being a jerk. The worst boss I had constantly bragged about how much of an a$$hole he was. He saw it as being a good leader.

Heather Coleman

Stifle someone else’s creativity because you feel threatened by them surpassing you professionally.

Dan Gephart

Expanding on a couple of Henry’s comment below — Belittle people in a public way. That whole praise in public, criticize in private phrase sounds cliche, but it’s really an important rule. Back when I worked on a newspaper, the previous day’s newspaper with all the mistakes circled was posted on the bulletin board. I hated walking into that office each day. Also, the whole be on time for meetings is a real pet peeve of mine, whether I’m meeting with a boss or a peer. I think it’s a sign of disrespect.

Avatar photo Bill Brantley

@Dan: I had the high-tech version from the a$$hole boss I had. When I worked for him, I was a database/web programmer along with several others. Our boss had set up development environment so that every error message from our code would be emailed to a listserv for the entire team to see. His office was on a loft that overlooked our programming department and at least once a day he would pick some poor soul and start screaming about the number of errors they had created. You could see some of the younger developers start to tremble when they heard his office door open.

Srinidhi Boray

“Horrible Boss” is a deliberate management implantation, and they are the ones who get most rewarded. Management wants them to be horrible, for they think that is how workforce is to be manipulated and coerced into work. Management is so much full of crap that they are paranoid of disciplined workers. So they create horrible boss and reward them for being horrible 🙂

I realized studying various psychometric tests (Johari Windows), that those who by natural inclination made decisions and displayed behaviors leaning towards the management got the job. Those who were making decision for the general good of all workers (more empathy) did not get the management positions.

Bottom line, it is still 21st century, being an a$$hole is a good criteria to be a boss. However, such elitism is likely to change sooner or later anyway, until then while the sun is shining dry your hay Mr.Boss.

Caryn Wesner-Early

I had one once who was kind of no. 4 – he’d delegate, but he’d insist that you get it to a certain point and then stop and let him see it. That wouldn’t have been quite so bad, though, if he hadn’t been the organization’s point person for conferences – he’d be gone for months at a time, overseeing our booth at professional meetings. By the time he got back, I’d forgotten what the project was trying to accomplish!

Eileen Roark

The two worst bosses I ever had were both Army officers – one male, one female. The female 0-5 grew so frustrated with a lazy, non-performing male employee that she stuck her tongue out at him (and burbled) during a staff meeting. Clearly, she did not have the leadership skills to properly supervise him, thus she resorted to childish behavior. The male 0-4 was former enlisted and the Army should have kept him that way. No officer and gentleman was he, but rather a verbally abusive, immature and insecure preteen. He routinely berated and embarrassed his enlisted staff rather than lead them. Once, he saw me walking towards the restroom and actually did an about-face and changed course to avoid me! This is behavior one sees in teenagers, not grown men. At least the Army was smart enough to not promote him to 0-5, so he had to get out. Good riddance to both of them.

January Dawes

Be sure to micromanage staff, hover over them while they’re working, all the while complaining about how busy you are…

Matthew Goolsby

Instead of the negative, I’ll try the positive.

The best attribute I’ve seen in a manager over the years is the one who when you ask for something, even though it’s turned down, empathizes with you and continues to encourage to try again later. That is truly one rare person!

Matthew Stephen Worner

The bad boss never admits when he is wrong or when anyone else has a good idea… if they idea is does not come from the boss, then “it must be a bad idea.” SMH!!!


Where to begin? Issue mandates that are unworkable and unrealistic on a regular basis. Assign work with no resources to support. Hire your friends and play favortites. Talk talk talk but never listen. Assign work with no understanding of the requisite skill sets of your staff. Assign all the work you don’t want to do to your employees, do all the glamourous/fun stuff yourself. Never promote anyone in fear that they might surpass you. ETC! I have experienced all of the above and more..

Michael Murray

I had a boss once that threw chairs to try and motivate our high school students to perform better…I learned a lot about how NOT to lead from him!!

Oh, and worse than not delegating is micro-managing. Hand it off to someone, and then demand constant updates, belittle their progress, and eventually just take it over, thereby ensuring your staff will never learn, grow, or improve!

Matthew Goolsby

Have to add one more: Some friends I was talking with last night said that the worst kinds of bosses are the ones that say: “I’ll take that idea forward. If it goes over well, it’s me who gets the credit. If it doesn’t go over well, you get the blame!”

Rick Roumimper

1. Talk about your people in a foreign language when they are around, and snicker at them when you do it.

2. Always take the last of the coffee, or worse, make undrinkable coffee.

3. Always ALWAYS include bodily functions during casual encounters. (I had a boss that loved to burp and comment about it)

4. Read Maxim or FHM in front of your female employees.

5. Poke people! That always irritates…..

Doug Mashkuri

One of my favorites is the boss when confronted with personnel issues reacts by saying, “It’s a tough job market they should be happy they have a job!”

Ted Kniker

To what’s been listed, I would add from my experience:
a) Tell people at the beginning of the performance appraisal period that you believe “no one walks on water” and therefore there will not be any outstandings given to any staff.
b) Wash your hair once a year
c) Tell your staff how bad they are at specific tasks, with no information on how to improve, then take away the task and give it to your favorites
d) Create a culture of fear and compliance by not allowing dissenting opinions (or discussion), and scream at people who try to offer a different perspective
e) Only hire people who have backgrounds that suit you — we had a boss who only hired people with Navy experience or IT experience.
f) Micro-manage all organizational decisions

Scott Burns

I have had only three jobs since leaving school, and I’ve had a handful of managers. Several of them are still great friends today and have been nothing but generous to me both when I worked with them and when I needed help starting GovDelivery. That is something I try to pay forward to my people as much as I can. My one bullying, unethical, boss was a real gift too. He made me appreciate all the others!

Jaime Gracia

The boss that never makes decisions they don’t want to deal with by saying “Hmm. I’ll have to noodle that for a while.” Which means punt, as I don’t feel like dealing with that so let’s sweep it under the rug. I would rather have bad decisions than no decisions. I actually have had healthy doses of both.

Andy Nelson

Wow – where do I start?
– Overwhelm your good employees with projects while protecting the bad ones. Even being so bold as to tell your good employees you can’t give the other ones work because they won’t do it.
– A boss who doesn’t micromanage – until it’s an important project – then wants to make decisions but refuses to.
– Can’t get anything done and complains about being swamped, but insists on doing staff-level work instead of delegating to the people hired to do it.
– Promotes his “friend” that works for him.
Couple of irritating things: forwards every e-mail to staff we are all originally copied on. Slurps his coffee and smacks while chewing – during meetings!


Hmmm…from recent experience (and in some cases recurring unfortunately):

1. Talk up achievements as stellar and ground-breaking during annual performance review but still give a low overall performance rating or give a big fat zero for a bonus.

2. Encourage an employee to go on a detail elsewhere out of hopes that they’ll go away so you can hire your contractor buddy who’s looking for more stable employment.

3. Not invite an employee to certain meetings or activities, then bash them for not being a team player for not attending.

4. Admonish a pregnant employee for not giving enough advance notice when they start planning their maternity leave (as if the growing bump in the belly wasn’t a clue of what was to come).

5. Starting an interview with employees who applied for a position that offered a promotion with, “If this were a real interview…” making it crystal clear that the ego-maniacal sociopath is not ever going to consider you but is willing to waste everyone’s time by pretending they “considered” you.

6. Re-advertising job vacancies again and again because your best employees keep ending up in the top slots on the certification, discounting it as some sort of fluke.

Dave Bell

My three are:

1) Go around people to assign tasks and then ask the by-passed person for status updates.

2) Create arbitrary unrealistic timelines, do not allocate additional resources (i.e. time, skills, funding), do not learn of other constraints/projects, and then act surprised when morale and due dates fall by the wayside.

3) Follow the advice of those not familiar with the situation and unable to recognize tangential impacts. It is easy to create a solution if you do not understand the problem.


Indecision is a decision as they say…
The boss that never makes decisions they don’t want to deal with by saying “Hmm. I’ll have to noodle that for a while.”


1. Asked to be copied on every email that is sent so that they can be informed in “real time” on what’s going on. Then jump into the conversation and make decisions, there by undermining the employee.

2. Expect your employees to do everything the way you would do it, or it’s not correct.

Lorne W. Neff

I recognize a lot of these traits from past bosses and mostrecently by my boss when I was put in charge one of the sections put togetherfor years time. Even though, I was theone with the title as head of my section, my boss(s) (multiple) gave me littlepower to actually make decisions and allowed someone else in the section toplum their own assignments and work, often communicating through thatindividual or not all. This caused low moraleand resentment I could not change. I didmy best to shield my team from the criticism we received and was often blamedfor systemic problems that I had documented before I took over. But again was not allowed to change them. In the end, most of my people moved on tobigger and better assignments and did not suffer from poor performance appraisals,and the reductions in pay and status I’m sure were on their way had I not been there. I recognize my own failings in all this. I was unable to change the culture and affectpositive change. I feel my biggestfailing was leaning on the stronger individuals, and while I tried to cultivatethe weaker ones, the workload was not proportionate or fair.

I did insist my section be project orientated, and while Iwas criticized for not keeping my people chained to their desk during the day,I feel this was a plus, not a minus. Theother sections were clock watchers. Ihave worked in this type of atmosphere, forced to work certain hours. I did not do my best work and just wanted toget out of there at the end of the day. I hope I get another opportunity in the future to run a section, I thinkhaving good communication and support would make a team like that exceptional.

Chris Adkins

I used to have this boss, and then we got detached from Finance into Information Technology and my boss now is great! Needless to say, Director of Finance resigned not shortly after. Power and people crazy, when he lost us, he nearly lost his marbles…the few he had left.

Allen Sheaprd

Ehhh, I would re-write #4 – Don’t do anything. Delegate tasks without one of the following: instructions, direction or rescources. If things start to go bad – turn up the heat. When they go good – take credit. After all it was “your taks”

For extra credit – go to a big conference to “represent” the group and get the award. Tell everyone how much you enjoyed the conference.

Extra points for displaying the award in your office where we can all see it – year after year after year.

Nancy Wrona

I have had 2 different bosses who lost it over successes that I had for which they could not take credit. Each one of them came into my office unannounced, slammed the door and them began screaming at me while jumping up and down. I don’t remember what the first one was yelling, but the second one kept shrieking, “Now you’ve gottten me f***ing fired.” What was even most interesting in that case was that my office had a glass wall and all of my staff got to view this bizarre behavior.

Micheal Mullen

When I was a manager, I learned to delegate early (my boss had left, I was made manager in a day). My goal was simple, create experts. While I still had the reins on what they did and had to field any complaints, I helped them to create clear goals, levels of achievement and ultimately better the product. The old teammates have gone on to do great things and one of them, now editor-in-chief on a major site, gave me public props for my management style.