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Have you got a horrible boss? | Updated: 10:59:38 AM, Tuesday January 03, 2012
By Anthony Sork Have you got a horrible boss?

Why do some bosses make us so angry? We’re not talking just mildly angry. We’re thinking obsessive all-consuming outrage. Put purely and simply, it’s the power they hold.

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“There’s the delightful Patricia who ‘restructured’ me out of my management position, but conveniently forgot to mention this to me. I found out when she sent through an outline of the new structure to the entire Directorate. That’s 30 people including those who reported to me. She couldn’t understand why I was upset.”

Why do some bosses make us so angry? We’re not talking just mildly angry. We’re thinking obsessive all-consuming outrage.

Put purely and simply, it’s the power they hold.

Socially we find ways to manage people we don’t like. We can avoid them, ignore them, minimise contact with them, or confront them. But when the people we don’t like hold the key to our career and we have to work with them every day, their minor quirks can quickly flower into fatal flaws.

“I had one boss who on sales calls days, where we needed to be making calls to customers – would stand over the phone and tell me what to say, even though she could not hear the customer on the other end. She would refuse to let us take toilet breaks.”

We don’t like the idea of conflict in the office. So we’ve compiled a handy guide for spotting a horrible boss, and the habitats where they’ll typically thrive. This guide comes from the stories we’ve heard.

Firstly, do you actually have a horrible boss?

It’s not always obvious that you have a horrible boss. Some bosses can cunningly disguise the worst of their characteristics, think “frenemy” in a corporate suit, if you like. You may also be in the hands of a practised passive-aggressive. If that’s the case you’ll never really know where you stand.

“My boss didn’t tell me he was hiring someone to take-over my role. Instead he asked my team members to write the advertisement for my job.”

Answering these two simple questions should help.

  • Have you given your boss a name that can never-ever be repeated at work?
  • Do your friends/family/partner/spouse think your bosses’ first name is actually their family name. Think “that b*stard” or “bl**dy” so and so.?

“The few times I mentioned my recent Masters, my boss snorts and asks why I’m wasting my time with it. In a meeting the other day he made a derisory comment about people who do their Masters. There were 3 people in the room with Masters and someone with a PhD. I graduate Friday week, needless to say I have not bothered to tell him that’s why I’m taking the day off! Needless to say, he does not have post-graduate qualifications. Insecurity is often at the root of moronic negativity….”

The Field Guide

Unfortunately you may find one, some or all of these characteristics in the one person.

Polite name/Real name Defining Characteristics Typical Habitat Never The Micro Manager/ Control Freak

  • “My way or the highway”
  • Asks to check your work before it goes anywhere
  • You need to inform them of your whereabouts at all times
  • May even stalk you when you leave the building
  • Uses a lot of excel spreadsheets
  • Any environment where your performance success is distilled into distinct “key performance measures”
  • Ask to work from home

The Bully/ Psychopath

  • Beautiful one day, screaming the next
  • Employs an exquisitely unpredictable technique of emotional blackmail interspersed with random rage
  • Watch the movie “The Devil Wears Prada” for inspiration on identification
  • You might think the fashion industry, but you’d be surprised how many B/Ps are thrive in the  helping professions
  • Speak first. No matter what you say, you will always be wrong
  • Ask for approval or feedback
  • Show emotion

The Upwards Manager/ Arse Licker

  • Beloved by senior management
  • Slightly to extremely lazy
  • If it’s worth doing, it’s worth delegating to you, or others
  • A gift for talking-up the difficulty of tasks and making it sound sexier than it actually is
  • Displays dog-like loyalty to the company in public
  • Growing businesses, where the UM/AL has been or is visible to senior management
  • Where loyalty is valued over talent
  • Ask for your name to go on a report, to lead a meeting or to deliver a presentation you have designed

The No-Idea/ The Criminally Incompetent

  • Never as smart as the people they manage
  • Nods and zones out if a sentence is longer than a tweet or does not include their name
  • No idea that they have no idea
  • Watch the Manager in the TV series the “IT Crowd” for inspiration or identification
  • Usually in charge of statisticians, anything IT, analysts or actuaries
  • Areas using big numbers
  • Areas using big technology
  • Areas using big numbers combined with big technology
  • You will often find a UM/AL as a NI/CI in charge of a technical team, as senior management has no idea what the technical team does and needs to put the NI/CI in a place where they perceive that they can do no harm
  • Use big numbers
  • Ask this Manager to explain your ideas to others

The Passive Aggressive/ The Princess

  • Manages by email, text or voice mail messages
  • Avoids focus on their own performance by creating conflict
  • Never gives feedback directly, alludes to things that “others” may thinkIs always late to meetings
  • Surprisingly more male than female
  • Often in customer focussed environments
  • Ask for detail on what you have done wrong. You should just be able to guess this from their silence

The sexual harasser/ The Ugh

  • A close walker, talker
  • Knows that fine line where you are not sure if you are “imagining it”
  • Most companies, unfortunately
  • Get in the elevator unaccompanied

“How about the boss who when I asked him why he selected me for the job replied that he didn’t want to hire a woman but the male applicants were so bad he had to hire me. It didn’t get much better from then on.”

Tell us your story

Do you have a horrible boss? Leave a comment below. The best comment (as determined buy our expert panel i.e. the Editor) wins all our sympathy, we’ll also write an answer in response to help you manage your horrible boss.

Related links:

Anthony Sork is Managing Director of executive coaching consultancy and the creator of the Employment Attachment Inventory. This is the world’s first, internationally patented business instrument used by leading organisations to reduce attrition and increase performance of new employees. Visit to find out more.

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