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Thank You, Boss from Hell.

Doing it backwards. For more than 40 years of my professional life, I managed teams and employees. While I may not have been a brilliant leader, I was adequate.

Praise often came my way. Employees would say, “Don, you’re not the worst nincompoop I’ve ever worked for.” Today, I want to let you in on a secret. Much of what I understood about playing the role of manager I learned backwards.

Reverse Mentors. Early in my professional career, I was lucky to work for inept men and women who demonstrated, day after day, what not to do. I simply reversed them and said, “If I ever find myself in a leadership role, I’m never going to behave like THAT.”


Sure, I had some good managers too, but the really vivid and memorable lessons came from the fools, oafs, and doofuses I reported to when I was young.

Space limitations prevent me from getting into detail here. Plus the danger of law suits charging defamation encourage me to be discreet. But, here, at a headline level, are examples of some of the lessons those early teachers shared with the young Don.
• When a supplier sends a gift basket to the office, the boss shouldn’t hog the chocolate or premium goodies.
• When the team pulls all-nighters to produce miraculous results, the boss shouldn’t take all the credit.
• The boss should never engage in hanky-panky with matter how hot they are.
• The boss should never brag about fiddling an expense report to a staff that can scarcely make their money stretch to the next payday.
• During work hours, the staff should never be forced to listen to the boss’s lame recordings of French folk songs.
• The boss shouldn’t provide inadequate information and then scold the staff for failing to be mind readers.
• The boss should never whistle in the office.
• In a meeting, the boss should not pick through the snack dish plucking out the almonds.
• The boss should never interrupt a meeting to talk to the minions on his or her estate about the squirrel-management problem.

There were many more lessons. I’m not even touching on what bosses wear, the use of jargon, and behavior at meals.

Think back. I believe if you are honest with yourself, you’ll admit that you too owe a debt of thanks to the incompetent, inexperienced, and idiotic leaders you were lucky enough to work for. Feel free to share one of those lessons in the Comments field below.

And let’s all show a little gratitude. During the course of his or her career, a really awful manager can teach dozens of subordinates how not to do things.

Of course, if this trend continues, it will eventually lead to a shortage of bad leaders.

I was lucky to grow up in an era when bozo bosses were abundant. But I wonder where the workers of tomorrow will turn to find enough reverse-mentor knucklehead employers? Tell me I shouldn’t be worried about this impending crisis.

Pittsburgh, May 9, 2019


19 Responses

Carey B

June 25, 2019

I learned a lot, not from a boss, but from a partner. My partner knew a lot about our medical specialty but most of the patients hated him…I overheard him telling the office manager to not give him his Press-Ganey reviews because they just made him feel bad, but I didn’t realize the magnitude of the problem until he left the clinic and set up his own practice in the same town. As with a divorce, I learned a lot about him after he left…

One patient said, “So Dr. X is no longer part of the clinic, is that right?” I responded, "That’s correct. He is still in town but not in the clinic. She responded, “Good”

The most instructive information, however, was when two patients within 1 week told me that he asked them, “Why are you wasting my time?” After I picked my jaw up off the floor I realized that he was giving me a teachable moment!

This beloved doctor had an equally fine wife backing him up. She is the only person I have ever heard of who was kicked out of the hospital auxiliary…this is an organization that is always desperate for hands to do the work, but she was kicked out after he left the clinic and about a month later she went to every doctor’s office in town, accosting the receptionists and throwing a pile of her husband’s cards on their desks and yelling, “I guess you don’t know where my husband’s office is since you haven’t referred any patients to him, so here are his cards!” Definitely a teachable moment…Oh, all the patients stayed with me and he has now left town, but his house, which was listed at more than 4 times the average house in this area, has been on the market for more than 2 years through two different realtors and several drops in price… I win.


June 19, 2019

I once had an art director that had no design experience, or any experience in our business at all. But, she was real “close” with the CEO. On a daily basis, sometimes more than once a day, she would walk from her office into my cubical, stand behind me and tap me on the shoulder and hand me her pencil to sharpen. I politely told her if she needed a sharpener for her office she could order one, or I would be happy to order it for her. She replied, “No, I like having you sharpen my pencil.” I ordered one anyway and put it on her desk. Right next to the computer that she never used.


June 08, 2019

Worst knuckle-headed bosses will continue to develop wherever temper tantrums go unchecked.
My worst bosses were the two night nursing supervisors at a hospital in the mid-1980s. If one had to assign an admitted patient to our unit, she would call the other supervisor right at the unit desk in the midst of our work and complain loudly about us. No matter how good a job we were doing! A poor version of “feedback”.
We got one of them recorded on cassette tape which was played back to the Director of Nursing the next morning.

Stephanie McDonald

May 22, 2019

Once had a boss who insisted he could park his new Tesla (back when they first came out) in the handicapped parking space because he was the CEO. HR told him that he was breaking the law and he said: “we don’t have any disabled people, so it’s fine.”

“Someone” called the property manager and the police and had him towed.



May 15, 2019

The most respect I ever had for a boss was one who could jump in and do MY job if needed. That has been very few…..


May 13, 2019

Boss: “Before we put a bid in for this apartment roofing job, I need you to quick make some calls to get us insurance… they want our insurer info included in the bid.”
Me: “We dont have business insurance?!?”
Boss: “Nope.”
Me: (after working for this bozo for a full year, without benefits or health insurance of my own) “What would you have done if one of us got hurt on the job?”
Boss: (having 2 work trucks, one fully insured and one no insurance whatsoever) “I would drive you to the hospital and tell them I hit you with the insured truck.”
Me: speechless and looking for new job as soon as I got home.


May 12, 2019

I once worked within an Engineering firm where we designed medical equipment and had a very efficient team, but for some reason the head of engineering was replaced by a guy that the head of marketing thought was superior. The new head of engineering would make his rounds to each of us, chatting about our projects and make suggestions (change this, change that, change direction etc). It got to the point that we held our own meeting and decided to date stamp his decisions and go with the last decision as they changed depending on who he talked to or his mood. After a while, we gave up on this approach as well, as we were not getting any work done, so we went back to our original projects and when he came around and told us what to change we greased his ego, did nothing and continued to work on our design. He lasted about 6 months. That marketing manager lasted about 2 months longer.


May 11, 2019

Could you please address the passive aggressive co workers? I have a great boss at the moment but am drowning in resistance, back stabbing and unprofessional behavior.

What should I be learning from these miscreants?!


May 10, 2019

In surgery, we had lots of great sayings/words to live by…one lesson I really took to heart was “it’s great to learn from your mistakes, but even better to learn from someone else’s mistakes.” I’ve worked for some real nincompoops, but they taught me some valuable lessons.


May 10, 2019

I once had a boss who was hired by the CEO as a strategic consultant. In that role he pumped employees for information about the leadership team, belittled the company and executives as part of “helping” us do strategic plans. It was unprofessional and creepy. Then it was revealed that he was being hired by the CEO as an EVP and given operating responsibility (he was a consultant and academic with no prior operating experience anywhere). His tenure was short -lived and infamous and was known by all as a reign of terror. He was truly a bad man. It inspired me to interview with another company where I had a 15 year run working with some of the smartest colleagues and best bosses ever and it’s also where I first met and got to work with Don and the AMS team….so thanks to all the bosses from hell for all of the wonderful and unintended consequences of their horrible management and bad behavior!


May 10, 2019

I once had a boss of my boss (call him Bob) who periodically assembled the entire office and screamed and shouted at us for wasting time drinking coffee, talking, and keeping a messy desk. And he’d go on tirades about not criticizing company policies. He obviously had no understanding of the fact that people have work habits which increase their own productivity, including taking breaks to come back with a fresh approach, stretching tired muscles and getting the heart pumping to get our brains going. I personally couldn’t work with a clean desk. It’s too distracting. So when a serious problem occurred, no one would bring it to his attention. I ran into a problem that our new microwave transmitters to NASA (this was pre-internet) kept dropping. Our terminals would go down every 3 or 4 minutes and all our work would be lost. Being thorough, for two weeks I kept a log of how many times the lines went down and how much personal time was wasted. I then multiplied it by the 25 or so people in my section doing the same work. This had been reported to Bob. His reply was, “Don’t criticize the company.” So I sent my results and a memo up the chain of command about 4 levels above him. The next day you’d think we were an anthill and I had stirred it with a stick. Memos and phone calls were flying, and Bob complained that I didn’t let him know. And btw the problem was fixed the next day AND I got a raise. They couldn’t say so of course, but it was because I caused a serious problem to be fixed around an ineffective manager.


May 10, 2019

I once got an engineering job because I told a story. As a newbie engineer, I was assigned to work for the most difficult man in the department. He was argumentative and rude. For two days we literally shouted at each other. The guys in the office on the other side of the cubicle walls were laughing themselves silly. But after two days the shouting stopped and we got fantastic amounts of work done together. Jaws were dropping. I had figured out that he had no respect for someone who would not stand up to him. Once he found out I did, we worked smoothly. I later used him as an example to my 6 children when they complained about a teacher, boss or coworker. You can work with almost anyone. It’s a matter of finding out how and sticking with it. The idea is to get work done. It’s what we are hired for. We are not required to like them.


May 10, 2019

I once had a boss who suspended me without pay for crying in front of a female colleague behind closed doors, due to him sticking me with work for weeks not even an intern would want, while giving away all the design work to a male designer not nearly as talented. My tears which came with no knocks against anyone, cost me a paycheck while he continued his frequent yelling and door slamming in front of everyone. He once brought a dead animal to work he had killed knowing I was a vegetarian. He would have everyone drive to work during the worst snowstorms and he was too cheap to have the parking lot plowed. I needed a shovel to get my car unstuck at the end of the day. Maybe I need to age more in order to find the “gems” this man shared with so many.


May 10, 2019

Our HR manager removed general access to the sunny patio so that he’d have daily privacy with his folding tanning screen.
The Analyst hacked our sister site so that our monthly numbers would always be better.
No wonder Business Hero is not a category, anywhere.

Michael Yolch

May 10, 2019

I had a boss who would call me from inside his car while parked in front of the office. He called for me to come down and park his car for him. The same boss often went on yelling tirades in the office about problems completely unrelated to work. He also very often demanded that everyone accomplish literally impossible tasks within ludicrous timelines…you know…like creating a 20 page book from scratch within 2 hours.

The day I started there, we had 14 employees. One year later, only two of us had survived the abuse. That boss was incredibly inspiring…he inspired all of us to find new jobs! Good grief.


May 10, 2019

The worst bosses often meant the most I learned on the job.

And I like French folk music.


May 10, 2019

Don, you were the Best nincompoop I’ve ever had the pleasure to work with! ;)


May 10, 2019

I had a boss who gossiped endlessly with one employee about other employees’ personal lives. Also had a habit of openly kissing superiors’ behinds and then trashing them to underlings the minute they left the room.
So professional.


May 10, 2019

Don, you’re not the worst nincompoop I’ve ever worked for! True story.

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