Dear Bad Boss,

Your staff complains about you. You’re a micro-manager. Or maybe you’re a detached manager, showing little interest in your people or the work they do.

Or maybe you put such pressure on your employees that they feel stressed all the time and hate coming to work. Of course, because of this, productivity suffers.

Maybe you have incredibly high expectations that are unachievable, especially because you either don’t know to hire or you don’t train your folks. There is no possible way for the folks in your organization to reach your ridiculous expectations.

Whatever the reason your folks don’t respect you, I want to thank you.

Say what?

Yes, Bad Boss, I appreciate you being bad. And I have two reasons.

The first reason is personal to me. You provide so much content for me to write about! I keep hearing stories about you, no matter who I talk with. You are found in corporations in a variety of industries. The corporations are every size imaginable.

You are in health care—sometimes you’re a physician, but maybe you’re a hospital administrator. You found your way into the nonprofit world and are bad to your folks there. You’re in government, you say? Government is full of bad bosses, too! Education? Yep, you’re in both K–12 and higher education. I’ve worked with some of you.

And small businesses are not immune, either. And family businesses, whether small or large, are especially vulnerable to your antics because, well, you’re family! You seem almost untouchable, because how can we fire a family member?

So as I talk with people in my expanded community, I keep hearing stories about you. And that gives me fodder enough to write for decades. So thank you.

But I mentioned I had two reasons to appreciate your badness.

The second is fairly simple. You are modeling bad behavior and, if your subordinates are paying any attention at all—and they are—they are learning what not to do when they become a supervisor.

I talk with a lot of recent college graduates in their first jobs. Many of them arrive at your organization as a Pollyanna. Remember her? She’s the girl in the Disney movie of the same name who saw the best in everyone. So your new hire comes in thinking you walk on water because, hey, isn’t that what bosses do?

But you very quickly prove her wrong. You exhibit whatever bad boss behaviors you’ve chosen, and she is shocked. Once she’s gotten over her shock, however, she’s disappointed that she must endure you every single day. Because you are truly bad, and she feels caught.

And when she contacts me to talk about you and your bad self, I listen quietly and then say this: “Well, the optimist in me says this is a good thing. You are learning what behaviors not to exhibit when you become a boss.”

I know that’s of little comfort when someone is in the middle of a bad situation, but it’s the only positive I can take away from a horrible environment.

Before heading back to graduate school to become a professor, I spoke with a mentor of mine from higher education. He asked me why I thought I would be a good classroom instructor. “Because,” I said, “I’ve had really good professors and really bad ones. I’m going to emulate the things the good ones did and never do the things the bad ones did.” My mentor’s response, “You’ll do just fine then.”

So I hope my young friends out there are watching your behavior and taking notes. If they stay away for your behaviors, they’ll be just fine.

So thank you. Really. If nothing else, you are helping the next generation of managers. And you certainly are helping me with lots of content.



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Lynne Richardson is the dean of the College of Business at the University of Mary Washington.

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