How To Be A Horrible Boss

In the world of business, good leadership is crucial for success. Yet, it’s puzzling that many leaders, despite knowing firsthand how frustrating bad leadership can be, still don’t step up to become the kind of transformative leaders their teams truly need. So, why is that?


Perhaps it’s time we take a step back and think about what transformative leadership isn’t. Here are four ways you definitely shouldn’t be a leader. These are cautionary tales that’ll help steer you away from common leadership pitfalls, and hopefully, towards becoming the kind of leader your team will look up to and respect.

Embrace the Art of Ambiguity

To be a terrible leader, embrace the art of ambiguity. Clear communication is the oxygen of a successful team. Yet, many leaders, through a series of avoidable blunders, inadvertently stifle this vital element. Imagine a typical Monday morning scene in a company: eager faces gathered around the conference table, ready for the leader’s vision for the week. Enter the “Horrible Boss.” Instead of clarity, they deliver a cryptic message: 

“Alright team, this week, we’re diving deep into our next big project. I need 110% effort and I need you all to think out-of-the-box; let’s do our best to push the envelope. Let’s aim for greatness, people!”



Little does the boss know that this seemingly motivational speech is a puzzle that demands corpus amounts of energy to decipher. What exactly is “diving deep”? How does one “push the envelope” in a project? Exactly what does “110% effort” mean in this context? The message, lacking concrete details, becomes an undecipherable code.

A Remarkable leader avoids making assumptions; they understand that true commitment flourishes when the team is crystal clear on expectations. Unfortunately, a “Horrible Boss” takes the opposite route, assuming the team inherently comprehends their abstract motivational rhetoric.

The “Horrible Boss” is a master of unrealistic expectations. They believe their team possesses some kind of psychic abilities, knowing exactly what’s needed without clear instructions. They just expect their teams to know what they want. Often, they chide about commitment and hard work, yet fail to translate these abstract concepts into actionable goals. 

The result? Frustration, confusion, and ultimately, a team that struggles to deliver. This ambiguity earns the leader a dreaded title: “Horrible Boss; The Master of Ambiguity.”

The reality is, if as a leader, you fail to clearly state the meaning behind your words, or if your team struggles to derive concrete tasks and goals from your directives, your meetings become meaningless and you leave your team lost in translation.

Find the devil in every detail

Do you want a team devoid of creativity and initiative? Then embrace micromanagement! Obsess over the mundane details, revel in the minutiae and control every aspect of your team’s work. Truly believe that the devil is in the details. So, hunt him down and rebuke him mercilessly in front of your team.


Horrible Bosses thrives on micromanagement- a crippling disease that slowly sucks the life out of creativity and initiative.They can’t resist the urge to hover over their employees like an overprotective hawk, scrutinising every move and offering a constant stream of unsolicited micromanaging directives.  

Trust? That’s a foreign concept in their vocabulary. Instead, they believe their team members are incapable of independent thought, requiring minute-by-minute supervision and suffocating control over every aspect of the work process. 

Imagine this. Your manager copies themselves on every email you send, even for internal updates. You feel like you’re constantly walking on eggshells, afraid of making even the smallest mistake. Or, picture a daily 15-minute “status update meeting” where you’re forced to justify every action you took and email you sent. Feels suffocating, doesn’t it?

Think about the frustrated sales team forced to get manager approval for every minor discount, leading to delays and unhappy customers. Or, consider the writer whose work is rewritten sentence by sentence, leaving them demoralised and voiceless. How about a manager who expects employees to be available outside of working hours and respond to messages instantly? Doesn’t that just blur the lines between work and personal life?

These are just a few examples of micromanagement, a crippling management style that stifles creativity, crushes morale,and ultimately, kills productivity.

Micromanagement doesn’t just impact individuals; it impacts the entire company. When employees feel distrusted and controlled, they become disengaged and disinclined to go the extra mile. The constant need for approval slows down decision-making, leading to missed opportunities and lost revenue.

Don’t let micromanagement become the norm. Encourage your leaders to empower their teams, trust their judgment, and foster an environment of open communication. By doing so, you can unlock the true potential of your workforce and drive success for your entire organisation.

Excel in the Art of Silent Treatment

To be the best, you must champion the art of silence, refusing to acknowledge the triumphs and victories achieved by your team. Thinking of giving positive feedback? Don’t bother. That’s a luxury reserved only for celestial figures. Your subordinates need not hear it. The “Horrible Boss” thrives on the belief that praise is an unnecessary embellishment and that employees should be grateful for the mere opportunity to work. 




Do your best to make sure your workplace is a feedback-starved environment. The impact? Stunted growth, missed learning opportunities, and a workforce stranded in the wilderness of professional development. After all, even God’s chosen ones wandered in the wilderness for 40 years, and so too shall your subordinates. Steer clear from the tedious practice of recognising your team’s victories. Reserve the hallowed task of giving feedback only to those above you. Your subordinates need not bask in the glory of recognition. Let them yearn for a drop of recognition in the arid expanse of professional development. Let them long for it, as the desert yearns for rain. Do this, and you will be well on your way to being the best horrible boss of all time.

Imagine a passionate young marketing assistant. During meetings, they actively participate, raising insightful questions to gain clarity and learn from experienced colleagues. Yet, their eagerness for knowledge often goes unanswered or dismissed, leaving them feeling discouraged and uncertain. This lack of nurturing not only hinders their learning and professional growth but also stifles their confidence to contribute their full potential to the team’s success.


Similarly, think of a high-performing sales team consistently exceeding their monthly quotas and securing lucrative dealsfor the company. Their dedication and hard work drive significant revenue growth, yet their achievements go unrecognised – no acknowledgement, no praise, no celebration. This lack of appreciation can quickly lead to frustration and a decline in morale, ultimately impacting the team’s motivation and overall performance.


Mastering the art of withholding positive feedback isn’t just a misguided leadership strategy; it’s a demotivational tactic reminiscent of the tactics employed by Horrible Bosses. Imagine a leader who, instead of acknowledging and celebrating achievements, specialises in the awkward silence that follows success. This isn’t leadership; it’s a comical endeavour that stifles employee growth and transforms workplace enthusiasm into an endangered species teetering on the brink of extinction. It’s a strategy that not only fails to inspire but actively undermines the potential and morale of a team.

By providing constructive feedback, guidance, and acknowledgement, leaders can unlock the full potential of their teams, fuelling engagement and driving success for the organisation. But the Horrible Boss is having none of this!



Become a Master of Inconsistency

To be the best, become the most inconsistent person you know, especially concerning rules and policies in the workplace. Lead with an air of unpredictability. Charm your team by keeping them perennially on edge. Be a firm believer that stability breeds complacency. After all, rules are not cast in stone; they must be treated as though they were written on the sands of the Kariba. In the realm of leadership, your mastery of inconsistency will truly be the crowning jewel that sets you apart from the ordinary boss, for you will earn the title of ‘Horrible Boss.” 

Imagine working in a world where the rules change like the weather. One day “business casual” means jeans, the next it means suits. “Hybrid work” can be approved this week and denied the next, leaving you feeling excluded and questioning the very meaning of flexibility. While a vacation policy promises days off, getting approval feels like winning the lottery.

This lack of consistency breeds a culture of confusion, frustration, and ultimately, resentment. Employees lose trust in leadership, question the fairness of the system, and become hesitant to take initiative, fearing they might unknowingly break a rule. This cripples productivity, stifles decision-making, and creates a breeding ground for negativity and distrust.Inconsistent policies aren’t just bad for morale, they can even lead to legal troubles if employees feel unfairly targeted.

Instead of this chaotic landscape, imagine a workplace with clear, concise, and consistently applied policies. A place where employees feel empowered, engaged, and confident in their roles. This is the power of fairness, transparency, and consistency – the foundation for a thriving organisation.

In the end, we all know what it feels like to work under a leader who leaves us confused and disengaged. While we explored the humorous aspects of bad leadership, let’s be clear: nobody actually wants to be that boss. Instead of fostering a chaotic environment, let’s strive to become leaders who inspire and empower.

Alexander Zulu

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