The 12 Behaviors of the World’s Worst Bosses

bla-bla-businessmanOver the years, I’ve interviewed hundreds of CEOs and top executives to discover the core beliefs and personality traits that made them successful. Sometimes I run across horrible bosses who are monetarily successful but who are miserable to work for, or with.

Here are the traits they share:

1. They think they know everything (or can learn anything in seconds).

Few people are more irritating than know-it-alls and their conceptual cousins, people who think they’re so smart they can understand even highly-complex subjects simply by watching a TV show or glancing through a news story.

2. They refuse to believe facts that are contrary to their opinions.

Bad bosses “shoot the messenger.” The worst bosses, however, do the mental equivalent of a child plugging up his ears and yelling “lalalalalalalala” to drown out a parent’s voice. Then they shoot the messenger… without really hearing the message.

3. They tell lies but convince themselves they’re telling the truth.

If you’ve watched “Sneaky Pete,” you know that the best con-men believe the lies they’re telling because that belief makes them more convincing. Horrible bosses do the same thing, conning themselves or, as it’s sometimes called, “breathing their own smoke.”

4. They judge women solely based on their attractiveness.

While this distasteful trait is more common among male bosses, there are female bosses who feel the same (e.g. “The Devil Wears Prada“). The big red flag here is when every female on the team is perfectly coifed and wearing a pencil skirt with heels.

5. They hire unqualified family members to do important jobs.

When a boss gives close relatives jobs for which they are unqualified, it doubles the work for everyone else, who must now waste extra time truckling to the relatives, covering for their mistakes, and redoing the work they’ve scamped or bungled.

6. They never admit they’re wrong and never apologize.

While often full of bluster and braggadocio, horrible bosses are secretly afraid that, if they admit they were wrong, everyone will realize that they’re not the superheroes they’re pretending to be. Apologizing, of course, entails admitting that they’re wrong.

7. They wriggle out of paying salaries and commissions.

Over the years, I’ve received dozens of complaints about bosses who make big promises to salespeople–and then don’t pay the commissions. Equally bad are bosses who hire contractors and then stiff them after they’ve done the contracted work.

8. They encourage aggressive hard-sell tactics.

Horrible bosses frequently push salespeople to sell an ever-increasing number of products that customers neither want nor need. Best case, this creates a horde of angry dissatisfied customers. Worst case, it results in fraud, as in the case of Wells Fargo.

9. They can’t tolerate being laughed at.

I’ll never forget the time a marketing group I’d just joined did a skit making fun of our company. The employee playing our boss (who was in the audience) made a joke about the boss’s weight. From that point on, the boss treated the poor guy like crap for a year and then fired him for no good reason.

10. They take all the credit and finger-point the blame.

If an organization wins, a horrible boss boasts “I am obviously a great leader.” If the organizations loses, though, that same horrible boss inevitably complains that “my employees let me down.”

11. They sacrifice the company to line their own pockets.

Horrible bosses often run up the short-term stock price to increase the value of their own options, even when that means that firing employees, alienating customers, damaging the community, and screwing long-term investors.

12. They just talk the walk; they don’t walk the walk.

Finally, horrible bosses always have high-minded mission statements promising to treat customers and employees well and to “make the world a better place.” In reality, they use such statements as a veneer of plausible deniability while they pursue their own selfish interests.

Originally published by Inc.



Geoffrey James

Geoffrey James

Geoffrey James, writes a daily column for Inc.com and is the author of the newly-published book Business Without the Bullsh*t: 49 Secrets and Shortcuts You Need to Know.

2 Replies to "The 12 Behaviors of the World's Worst Bosses"

  • Ken O'Brien
    March 22, 2018 (11:41 am)

    Thanks for the truth that most bad bosses clearly do not see in themselves.

  • Leslie Sutherland
    March 22, 2018 (4:15 pm)

    So true! It shocks me how many of these traits I’ve seen. But Karma will out; when you treat people well, it comes back to you.