Managing the Meanies: The real problem with bad bosses

In the last of installment of his Managing the Meanies series, Buck Hamilton breaks down the real problem with bad bosses. Despite our personal objections to bad management and the havoc it wreaks on our own lives and careers, ultimately who suffers most are the companies who employ and promote bad managers…

Despite what might seem to be a very negative venting of my resentments overconfidentand  disappointments — a mile of clichés could perhaps sum up my situation, ax to grind, sour grapes, sore loser, to name but a few — I can assert that the problem of poor leadership is pervasive in management today and that such bad bossing is as instrumental in the demise of a company as any of the other excuses that the key bosses offer to explain their own short-comings.

Nearly all of the companies that I have worked for over the years have folded and one in particular is presently on the verge of bankruptcy with financial collapse a near certainty as this is being written. And the same de-motivating bully bosses are still there mismanaging the company down the tubes. Nearly all of the talented people are gone, some long ago defected to other companies, some were fired for not being team players and others have gone off on their own to become very successful entrepreneurs. Those remaining are the uninspired, the weaklings and the timid, the corporate animals, too, that know the survival tactics and those that are there because they’re beholden to the machinations of the corporate political game.

What none of these people realize is that those that left the company, the truly talented and inspiring leaders, are the ones whose superb performance would have launched the company and its management into greatness.

Editor’s note: Buck Hamilton is a sales and marketing executive who’s spent over thirty years working in the paper distribution business. He’s a prolific writer who’s presently working on a book which narrates the stories of sixteen Vietnam War veterans. He’s shared his excellent “Managing the Meanies: A Survival Guide”  series on Really Bad Boss over the past several weeks. We thank Buck Hamilton for his contribution and wish him continued success.

Managing the Meanies: People just don’t get it

For all that’s been written over the years about bad bosses, they still exist and may even be more prevalent than ever. The problem is, people just don’t get it. Not the higher ups who hire and retain bad bosses and not the HR Managers who allow them to get away with murder. Today, Buck Hamilton discusses this concept and what he sees as a lack of professional training that cultivates motivational leadership skills.

Several months ago my wife and I were having dinner with some friends when the subject of myoverconfident writing came up. One of our companions asked me about the subject matter of what I was currently writing and I started to tell her about this article, about poor leadership being wide-spread and about how such bad-bossing is so instrumental in business failures. It’s a pernicious underground problem that cannot be quantified, I explained. This friend of ours, an investment broker who spent many years with one of the top New York firms, looked at me with an impatient and incredulous expression and commented with a bit of a dismissing wave that such a subject’s been written about already. My quick reply to her was a rather trendy but poignant, “Yeah, but people just don’t get it”. She agreed.

A lack of proper training

As for me, the various companies that I have worked for over the years have spent small fortunes on my professional development and have sent me to seminars and training classes covering the whole spectrum of disciplines including process control, quality management, statistical product control, successful selling techniques, management boot camp and plant safety, to name but a few. Beyond these seminars I’ve been through a number of internal corporate cultural programs where the company’s mission statement is methodically dissected and analyzed, bold management statements made about customers, service, quality, how our customers will be driven to prefer us and on one else, really a whole bunch of vacuous rhetoric that pretty much looks good when printed on paper but nothing else. I have never had a single shred, not one hour, of professional training that even hinted at cultivating motivational leadership skills.

Let’s blame climate change

So the key point is this: if your company has been performing poorly no doubt someone at the top is blaming the market, pointing at your competitors or perhaps accusing the sluggish economy, the Internet or off-shore competition. I don’t know, maybe they’re blaming climate change, but surely the finger is being pointed at some influence other than toward themselves, senior management. The failure rests with them and they alone and the question needs to be asked as to what extent the failure is connected to bad-bossing and the outright cancerous attitude that pervades a company that’s afflicted with bully-bosses. The corporate environment is a shelter for the mediocre. In fact, the very nature of most corporate cultures encourages mediocrity, a haven for those that are incompetent. The great achievers, the entrepreneurial types and the ones who really contribute to the success of a business, are branded as not being team players and are either forced out or elect to leave on their own accord. Typically these capable malcontents either go to a more appreciative competitor or stride out into the market on their own where they set up an unbelievably successful competing business and drive the host company into the ground.

Next Tuesday: I steal office supplies because I hate my boss

Editor’s note: Buck Hamilton is a sales and marketing executive who’s spent over thirty years working in the paper distribution business. He’s a prolific writer who’s presently working on a book which narrates the stories of sixteen Vietnam War veterans. You can read his weekly series  “Managing the Meanies: A Survival Guide” every Tuesday here on Really Bad Boss.

Managing the Meanies: Baring teeth as a sign of aggression

In this week’s installment of Managing the Meanies, Buck continues with his story of a former colleague who’d had enough of his bully bosses and jumped ship to the competition, sparking panic and hysteria…

The Inquisition

Shortly after my colleague left his company, there followed an inquisition. Like a CIA security breechoverconfident his defection sparked interrogations – hysteria of a sort – panic and accusations. His former boss was incredulous; how could this have happened? There was a frantic activity around ferreting out a conspiracy; who knew about his defection? Who was complicit in this treasonous conduct? Disbelief and shock thundered around the halls of the corporate headquarters. Like the final scene in the Wizard of Oz, someone was really upset, but did anyone venture to take a hard look inside the company? Did anyone inquire into the real reasons why he left? In many ways the inquisition was indeed a smoke screen, a clever deception scheme to divert attention away from the truth and that is that my friend defected from his company, went to a competitor and took nearly all of the former company’s business with him because he had tired of paying homage to the ego alter.

Small in stature

I struggled with a similar bad-boss relationship a few years ago, all the time asking myself why I was so stupid as to tolerate the abuse. Arguably the worst boss that I ever worked for, this insecure guy was a real Machiavellian character, a dangerous corporate animal that everyone was afraid of…or rather, we were afraid of his moods and he knew it. Smaller in stature that the rest of us, he always stood with his hands in his pockets and he seemed to wear a perpetual grin, a quirk that I always found to be disquieting. This was particularly evident while he was working you over, disciplining you while showing a full toothy grin. I recall thinking that this was the strangest behavior – perhaps he was always nervous I thought – until it was explained to me that such a grin, a full display of teeth during a confrontational situation is a 100,000 year old simian left-over from our primate origins. Still a sign of aggression in chimps, the human expression is no less dangerous a warning.

This guy really rounded off the panoply of bad boss criteria. He was the ultimate corporate survivor, determined to be left standing when the final roll call was made. Despite being a senior manager and an officer in the corporation, he never made a critical or important decision, was never involved in high profile affairs, and as such was immune to the corporate witch hunts and purges. It’s a sad note to have to remark that this guy, like many other bad bosses that I’ve known, is still mismanaging those unfortunate enough to be reporting to him.

Next Tuesday: “Yeah…but people just don’t get it.”

Editor’s note: Buck Hamilton is a sales and marketing executive who’s spent over thirty years working in the paper distribution business. He’s a prolific writer who’s presently working on a book which narrates the stories of sixteen Vietnam War veterans. You can read his weekly series  “Managing the Meanies: A Survival Guide” every Tuesday here on Really Bad Boss.

Cronyism and its destructive effects

In this week’s Managing the Meanies, Buck introduces us to the concept of cronyism – the practice of favoring one’s close friends for positions of power. It’s as rampant in business as it is in politics and often just as destructive…


Cronyism is the management style of keeping the boss surrounded with favoritesoverconfident despite the glaringly obvious fact that these people are incompetent, if not outright harmful to the business. At its extreme this corporate-tribes phenomenon has the favorites fashioning themselves after the boss – all wearing sweater vests, for example – or embracing the beliefs of the boss, his faith or hobbies. Everyone sees through what’s going on except the bully boss because he’s too preoccupied with having his ego stroked. One of my colleagues referred to this bully manager’s favored inner circle as the boss’s “sucklings”, in confidence to me of course; this bully-boss played favorites and if you were in his inner circle then you could do no wrong. The rest of us were never consulted. The problem of course was that the inner circle was stocked with incompetents and the company ultimately, after thrashing around and struggling in the death-grip throes of mismanagement, faced bankruptcy.

The Court Jester

Back in the 1990’s a paper company I worked for had a marketing manager named Jack. He was a dangerous corporate buffoon who was so snuggled up with the senior bosses that he was untouchable. Not only was he incompetent, I can also say that much of his professional behavior was unethical. Like the king’s jester, he was a dangerous member of the Read the rest of this entry »

Managing the Meanies: Ganging up as a management style

Last week Buck introduced us to the idea of management style being introduced in adolescence. In Buck’s case, his bad bosses were all male, but the concept that management style, particularly bad management style, begins in adolescence, transcends gender – believe me I know from experience. Today Buck discusses “ganging up” as a management style…

As kids we called it “ganging up”, gathering together as much muscle as needed in order tooverconfident demonstrate your influence. It’s a management style used by corporate bully-bosses and surely a behavior that these de-motivators learned as kids. Such corporate bullies have issues upstairs, so to speak, self-confidence vacuums that cause them to enlist the support of other bullies in order to force their influence and demonstrate their irresistible control over others. In short, they can’t influence or persuade you by themselves. They don’t have enough self-confidence for that, so they must gang up and do it as a team. If you don’t think that this is so, think again. It’s behavior that bully-bosses learned as kids and they’re using the same techniques today. The trouble is it’s a technique that’s overwhelmingly de-motivating to those on the receiving end.

I was in the lobby of the Hampton Inn at the Buffalo airport stamping the snow off of my shoes at 7:30 in the morning when my Napoleonic bully of a boss called me on my cell phone. I had just cleared eight inches of freshly fallen snow off of my rental car. It was still snowing hard and the sky was so gray and the cloud ceiling so low that it almost seemed artificial. I heard his voice and my demeanor stiffened as I braced for what was coming; I always dreaded talking with him. He was about to brow-beat me into convincing a customer to take several shipments of bad product and he had enlisted yet another bully to participate in the intimidation. This other guy was a yes-man sycophant and the two of them together surely could do some damage. My boss was in a particularly bad mood since previous attempts to strong arm me had failed; I had not acquiesced to his unethical demands – demands which could have been harmful to the customer – and obviously this pounding had been rehearsed beforehand by the two of them. They left me little wiggle room other than to do just what they insisted or no doubt face unemployment. The encounter left me red-faced and furious. It was a classic case of a pre-arranged ganging up, a desperate bully-boss technique when the guy needed to demonstrate his prowess. His confidence in his own persuasiveness was so low that he was compelled to recruit another to help with his dirty work.

This bully-boss would never confront a major issue alone and it nearly goes without saying that he surrounded himself with a few favored managers, trusted confidants that carried out his every wish. The trouble was that these guys were nearly all lesser figures, unremarkable characters who allowed this incompetent to shine. It was absolutely demoralizing to the rest of us; one of the favored had the IQ of a dolt, but he called the boss “sir” and was flatteringly responsive to his every need. These corporate courtesans were skillful at telling the boss what he wanted to hear, never gave him bad news or shared an opinion contrary to his. None of them would ever eclipse him with their mediocrity. And so the business was mismanaged into near extinction under this boss’s reign and no one in senior management ever ventured to peel back the layers and look inside.

Next Tuesday: Cronyism and its destructive effects

Buck Hamilton is a sales and marketing executive who’s spent over thirty years working in the paper distribution business. He’s a prolific writer who’s presently working on a book which narrates the stories of sixteen Vietnam War veterans. You can read his weekly series  “Managing the Meanies: A Survival Guide” every Tuesday here on Really Bad Boss.

Managing the Meanies: The Intimidating Demoralizer

Before the holiday break Buck introduced us to bosses who only appreciate one opinion, their own.  Allowed to rein free in organizations, these insecure bad bosses are dangerous for both the organization and the people who report to them. This week Buck returns with an analysis of another type of really bad boss – the Intimidating Demoralizer. He also introduces us to the idea that the seeds of this kind of bad boss behavior may be sown as far back as adolescence…

Another memorable bad boss in my past was a moody man with a disturbingly de-motivating style.overconfident Self-conscious of his short stature, he exerted absolute control over his realm. This guy was so caustic, so abusive and snotty that the dozen or so sales reps and group managers who reported to him would telephone each other in advance and pass along the storm warnings. Like an alcoholic or a manic depressive, this guy was always miserable and unhappy and as such would make certain that we were too. He insisted that we phone him and report the goings on in our respective markets and he would then take the opportunity to dismantle and crush our enthusiasm with an abusive line of questioning.

Absolutely uncertain

One of the hallmarks of his dreadful management style was that he’d never believe what we told him, he’d question the veracity of the intelligence that we reported and let us know that he had little confidence in our feedback. He’d intimidate and demoralize us. We all recognized of course what was going on here; this guy was asserting his power and control over us. If he allowed us to be enthusiastic, if he put credence and confidence in what we reported to him, then he’d be giving us credibility and hence power. He’d be validating us. His moody abuse, like an insecure tyrant, was his way of keeping us absolutely uncertain, never knowing what to expect and always thinking the worst. Dealing with him was an exhausting struggle that over time would have anyone worn down to an insignificant nub. It was some years later that we learned that there was indeed some truth to the otherwise unfounded rumors that he went through the trash in our offices at night after everyone had left to see what dirt he could find on his people. We positively dreaded having to deal with this loser, and he was the company’s vice president of sales and marketing!

Self-inflicted deficiencies

One thing is clear; I know men and I know how they think. I’m a man and have been one for nearly sixty years. As such I passed through childhood and into adolescence with boys, went to school and played sports with them, matured into adulthood with men and have worked with them for over thirty years. What they were as boys and how they learned to interact with other as kids in many ways is what they are today; how they treat others, how they project themselves and, more importantly, what self-inflicted deficiencies they have burdened themselves with since the experiences of their adolescence.

Next Tuesday: Ganging up as a corporate management style

Buck Hamilton is a sales and marketing executive who’s spent over thirty years working in the paper distribution business. He’s a prolific writer who’s presently working on a book which narrates the stories of sixteen Vietnam War veterans. You can read his weekly series  “Managing the Meanies: A Survival Guide” every Tuesday here on Really Bad Boss.

Managing the Meanies: A Desperate dislike for opinions

In this week’s installment of Managing the Meanies, Buck introduces us to the bosses who only appreciate one opinion, their own.  Allowed to rein free in organizations, these really bad bosses are insecure, and dangerous for both the organization and the people who report to them…

Great communicators make great leaders, and the opposite is true as well

I have had bosses where the ebb and flow of dynamic conversation was absolutely prohibited. overconfident Having such a dialog would have empowered me, given me too much confidence and in turn would have diminished their control over me and the situation. One guy that I worked for had a desperate dislike for opinions – my professional advice and contributions, that is – and whenever I shared my thoughts on a matter he would quickly rebuke me. He was the one asking the questions, and my opinions, should he have entertained them, would simply diminish his control over the situation and me. Great communicators do indeed make great leaders and the opposite is true as well. Most bully-bosses are poor communicators, they tell you only what you barely need to know and not a fragment more. Keeping you in the dark and always guessing is their way of maintaining absolute control. It’s also their way of never making a poor decision, or any decision at all for that matter, bad decisions that someday might indict them for incompetence.

The corporate bully-boss that I just described above was a classic case-study in the realm of poor communication. Working for him was like being a laboratory rat in a complex labyrinth; you never really knew which corridor to go down. Should you just happen to work your way down the right path you’d be rewarded with no feed-back whatsoever, advance down the wrong path and you’d be jolted with a shock. It took me several years to figure out that the complete lack of direction from him was his way of never stumbling into a bad decision, and along with his dual-faced profile that he showed – lord and master to those below him, obsequious subject to those above – was the manner in which he skillfully survived in a senior management position for some twenty years of so!

Insecure managers are extremely dangerous people.

The tragedy here, and it can be described as no less so, is that those running the company don’t see these corporate de-motivators for who and what they really are; morale-busters just as pernicious to the health of the business as any other threat. One such de-motivator told me during my yearly performance review that I wasn’t a team player, a ridiculous condemnation that went into my file. I confidently shared my opinion with him that most people in the company, my colleagues as well as higher ups, would disagree with him. It was only because I offered contrary opinions to his from time to time, resisted his bullying threats and de-motivating intimidations that he branded me as such. It was me who was a threat to him. He perceived me to be more competent than he and when around I exposed him as the fraud that his own insecurities thought him to be. Insecure managers are extremely dangerous people.

Buck Hamilton is a sales and marketing executive who’s spent over thirty years working in the paper distribution business. He’s a prolific writer who’s presently working on a book which narrates the stories of sixteen Vietnam War veterans. You can read his weekly series  “Managing the Meanies: A Survival Guide” every Tuesday here on Really Bad Boss.

« Previous Entries