19 Ways to be a Bad Boss

June 22, 2015 by

Bad BossThere is a reason Hollywood produced a movie called “Horrible Bosses,” as well as its sequel. Listen in on conversations at a happy hour on any given Friday, and you will hear all about them. Bad bosses can be found at every level of management, and they often display the same characteristics.

During nearly all of my Leadership Development workshops, after teaching how important the manager/employee relationship is to improving employee engagement, I will challenge the participants to become someone’s “best boss.” We then explore the qualities of a best boss.

However, it is just as valuable to consider the opposite. What traits do horrible bosses most often exhibit? The list below will not only help you realize if you are working for a bad boss, but allow you to reflect on whether you are exhibiting any of these traits yourself.

1. Narcissist
Me. Me. Me. Terrible bosses are endlessly self-centered. Everything is about them and not the people they manage or what is going on in their employees’ personal lives. It is never about the team, but rather it is all about how “good they look.” Conversely, great bosses lead with integrity, honesty, care, and authenticity.

2. Screamer
One of my last bosses believed there was a direct correlation between how loud he yelled and revenue growth. I can laugh about this now that I no longer report to him. Sadly, this trait pervades the workplace. Earlier this year, I saw a LinkedIn post asking whether it is acceptable to yell at work. Shockingly, over 40% of the 10,000+ comments defended screaming as an acceptable management behavior.

3. Bully
Bullies manage through fear mongering and intimidation. Often a “screamer” as well, these people do not give guidance, they bully. They also proactively create a culture of distrust, nervousness, and fear. Under their thumb, employees are worried about losing their jobs. Office politics begin to dominate employee performance. This bullying often includes lying about people behind their backs and leading active campaigns to turn friends into workplace enemies.

4. Unapologetic
Great managers are quick to realize their missteps or mistakes and offer an apology. Bad bosses never realize their egregious behavior and certainly never atone or apologize for it.

5. Suck up
How many times have you heard the term “kiss ass” in your workplace? Bad bosses are notorious for spending little time with the people they manage. Instead, they spend their time sucking up to their boss and only trying to look good in their boss’ eyes.

6. Poor communicator
Not giving clear instructions is endemic to many bad bosses. They also frequently guard information and treat it as power. In addition, they frequently contradict themselves or give conflicting instructions. Their direct reports spend an inordinate amount of time trying to decode or interpret what limited communication is proffered.

7. Terrible listener
Very much related to communication, bad bosses don’t listen. Even worse, they do not even care to listen. Whatever you say, the bad boss hears what he or she wants to hear. In addition, they interrupt constantly, and they are never “fully present” during interactions with employees.

8. Always right
These bosses have a compulsive need to be “right” and consistently point out how others are wrong. They can never admit a mistake and never say, “I am sorry.”

9. Unavailable
Bad managers are rarely available. They are MIA when needed most, especially in times of crisis, when critical decisions need to be made, or in employee situations that require sensitivity.

10. Never praises or encourages
Quick to criticize and slow to praise. Too many employees of bad bosses report that their managers have not said “thank you” in years. Given that recognition is the most impactful driver of engagement, this is one of the most egregious traits of a bad boss.

11. Blamer
Lacking any personal accountability, these bosses blame everyone else when something goes wrong. Lacking integrity, they often break the rules or office policies to shift blame onto others. This type of boss leaves direct reports high and dry when it matters most.

12. Unrealistic/Demanding
Bad bosses set goals that are both unrealistic and unattainable, often doing so because of trait #5 (Suck up). When these goals are not met, they blame their employees for not achieving them, labeling the employees weak, lazy, and/or poor performers.

13. Indecisive
Bad bosses live in fear of themselves, often incurring “decision paralysis.” This indecision stems from either a boss’ own fear of making a mistake or simply not having enough basic business intelligence to make the decision.

14. Micro-manager
Whatever work you are performing, the micro-manager is always looking over your shoulder and second-guessing every decision you make. This can be especially frustrating when combined with trait #13 – Indecisive. Highly controlling, they demand every last bit of minutia and squelch any opportunity for innovation or creativity. You are to execute orders and report back. Command and Control.

15. Tolerant of mediocrity and relishes the “suck-ups”
These bosses care more about whether employees “kiss ass” than how they perform. They are tolerant of employees who do average or sub-par work as long as the employee sucks up and tries to make the bad boss look good. Even if it is glaringly apparent that a poor performer must go, that person can remain in the position because of his/her ability to suck up.

16. Manipulative
Bad bosses are notorious for scheming and manipulating others either for their own agenda or “just for fun.” It’s almost like a game to them, and they toy with people as though they are puppets. Sadly, this manipulation results in hurt feelings and an untold amount of wasted energy.

17. Vindictive
Heaven forbid you should ever cross, disagree, or publicly debate an issue with the bad boss. Questioning this type of boss makes him or her feel threatened, and likely to go after you to make you feel the same way. Even if your motive for questioning your boss was well intentioned, when you’re dealing with a vindictive leader, it is sometimes best (or at least easier) to bite your tongue to protect yourself and your job.

18. Inconsiderate and shaming
Bad bosses are frequently rude, inconsiderate, and “shaming.” They use staff meetings as a forum to belittle, publicly humiliate, or shame employees. Some of these behaviors are spawned by the bad boss’ own insecurities and fears. Many bosses feel better about themselves when ridiculing others.

19. Take credit for other peoples’ hard work
Ever work really hard on something, spending endless hours trying to deliver great work results to your organization, only to discover that your boss steals the credit for your hard work? If so, you have a bad boss. Good leaders take pride in their team’s accomplishments and go out of their way to make sure higher-ups know who to thank for a job well done. Simply put, taking credit for someone else’s work is shameful.

Do any of these behaviors sound familiar, either because you’ve been on the receiving end or because you sometimes exhibit them? If so, you’re not alone. No one is perfect, but simply trying harder to be a good boss goes a long way to boost employee engagement. What can you do today to be a better boss?


Kevin Sheridan is an internationally-recognized Keynote Speaker, a New York Times Best Selling Author, and one of the most sought-after voices in the world on the topic of Employee Engagement. For five years running, he has been honored on Inc. Magazine’s top 100 Leadership Speakers in the world, as well as Inc.’s top 100 experts on Employee Engagement. He was also honored to be named to The Employee Engagement Award’s Top 101 Global Influencers on Employee Engagement of 2017.

Having spent thirty years as a high-level Human Capital Management consultant, Kevin has helped some of the world’s largest corporations rebuild a culture that fosters productive engagement, earning him several distinctive awards and honors. Kevin’s premier creation, PEER®, has been consistently recognized as a long-overdue, industry-changing innovation in the field of Employee Engagement. His first book, Building a Magnetic Culture, made six of the best seller lists including The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today. He is also the author of The Virtual Manager, which explores how to most effectively manage remote workers.

Kevin received a Master of Business Administration from the Harvard Business School in 1988, concentrating his degree in Strategy, Human Resources Management, and Organizational Behavior. He is also a serial entrepreneur, having founded and sold three different companies.

Email: kevin@kevinsheridanllc.com