11 Lessons Learned From the Worst Bosses

Wendy Robinson | Mar 6, 2017 Money
11 Lessons Learned From the Worst Bosses
Image: NBC

Steve Carell Michael Scott The OfficeNBC
In the course of my professional life, I've had at least 15 bosses. Some have been good, a few have been great, and one stands out as truly, spectacularly terrible. This boss was cruel, demeaning, and not actually good at her job. Every single day I cringed when she walked past my office. I only worked for her for a year, but it was the longest year of my life. 

When I left that job, I vowed that I would remember what it was like having her as supervisor. When the day came for me to become the boss, I'd make sure I never made an employee feel the way she made me feel.

I did eventually become a supervisor, and I've come to realize that I've learned something from almost every boss I've had. Some of the great bosses have become mentors. It has been 15 years since the last time I saw my worst boss, but I still carry the lessons of my time with her with me. She taught me that fear is not the same as leadership and that, ultimately, no amount of hard work on my end would make her a better person.

There are few experiences more universal than having a crappy boss, so I was curious to hear what lessons other women have learned from their worst bosses. Click on for the totally candid truth about what we can all learn from the bosses we'd never want to be like. 

  • The Boss With No Boundaries

    overworked woman

    "I once had a boss that had no boundaries -- ever! He would call at midnight and be mad if we didn't answer. He'd fight with his partner on the speaker phone, in the break room of all places. He had no work/life balance AT ALL and wanted us to be his friends and family and staff.

    "I learned that a good boss has boundaries and that you've got to let people be off the clock sometimes." -- Maggie C., Seattle, Washington

    More from CafeMom: 11 Women Open Up About the Best Bosses They've Had & Why They Rocked

  • The Boss That Was Kind of Crazy

    women staff meeting

    "My last boss was unpredictable. She could be fun and charming, but then she'd turn on a dime and be mean as a snake. We used to speculate that she was on drugs. We'd try to ride out the bad times and enjoy the good times, but it was exhausting. 

    "The thing I learned is that you can't fix crazy. She was never going to be a good boss, no matter what we did or how hard we worked." -- Hollie J., Des Moines, Iowa

  • The Boss Who Played Favorites

    employees office laptop

    "I had a boss who was basically not totally awful, but she totally played favorites. There was one person who could do no wrong, even when she totally screwed up.

    "It was maddening to feel like I was being held accountable and my coworker wasn't. We used to speculate that screw-up girl must have had naked pictures of the boss or something. 

    "Lesson learned: Good bosses don't play favorites. It is fine if you vibe with some people more than you do others, but everyone should be held to the same basic standards, right?" -- Mary F., Oakdale, Minnesota

    More from CafeMom13 Maternity Leave Horror Stories From Working Moms

  • The Boss With an Inferiority Complex

    woman stressed work

    "From my bad boss, I learned to keep my mouth shut. Keep my head down. Do my job. To not show my knowledge or expertise or new ideas too soon because I will be perceived as a threat.

    "This boss acted like success and recognition was a zero-sum game, so [if] I got positive attention for a project, it would make her really mad.

    "What I really learned was that I'm not good at working with a boss who doesn't see my success as their success." -- Beth S., Cleveland, Ohio

  • The Boss Bully

    woman job interview

    "My former boss loved to ask leading questions in this really passive-aggressive way. Like, he'd say 'you really seem overwhlemed, are you okay?' and if you said no -- boom! Tons more work. 

    "If you said yes, he'd give my coworker more work and tell them they had to pick my slack because I was 'struggling.'

    "My lesson: Don't be the kind of person who asks loaded, trick questions and then draws conclusions based on the answer. Once I realized what was happening, it was so intensely stressful. Every interaction was loaded! I was constantly on edge!" -- Katrina R., Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

  • The Boss Who Was an HR Nightmare

    calculating woman

    "I had a boss who was the worst. The very, very worst. It wasn't a big deal that she picked on me, but she went after a woman who had had to be hospitalized with an anxiety disorder a few years prior.

    "No joke, she went to her and said, 'Well, people are starting to say you've been slipping back to where you were before your breakdown.'

    "Literally no one was saying that. She was a bully. A horrible, nasty bully with no joy in her life.

    "I learned: Don't keep files on everyone you've ever worked with filled with lists of their various transgressions. And especially don't use the info in those files to bully your subordinates when you feel insecure." -- Name withheld 

  • The Victim Mentality Boss

    staffers work

    "I've learned that narcissists will never take the blame or admit their faults because they are never wrong.

    "I learned this from a boss who lied, stole, and constantly blamed others for his mistakes. He was even caught doing coke in the bathroom and when he got written up for it, he filed a grievance with HR because he said he was being spied on and discriminated against.

    "He 100 percent saw himself as the victim." -- Erin S., Chicago, Illinois

  • The Name & Shame Boss

    staffers working

    "I had a boss who used to use team meetings as a way to shame people. If you'd done well, he'd give you a cash bonus in front of everyone, usually like $200.

    "If you were on the low end, sales wise, he would scream and yell and make you stand in front of everyone while he did it. Needless to say, we had major issues with staff turnover.

    "From this experience, I learned to look for bosses who promote positive change and give constructive feedback. No public shaming!" -- Bethany W., Portland, Oregon

  • The Bagel Boss

    staffers at work

    "My worst boss ever ALWAYS took credit for our ideas and our hard work. I work hard and I want our department to succeed, but it is so frustrating to see someone else praised for projects I spent hundreds of hours on.

    "She even got a $5,000 bonus one quarter as a result of our hard work. She brought us bagels as a thank-you. Gee, thanks. $20 of bagels is totally rewarding. 

    "Lesson learned: Good bosses give credit where credit is due." -- Anne L., Santa Fe, New Mexico

  • The Faux-Zen Boss

    angry meditation

    "My worst boss was both mean and weird. On the weird side, she'd randomly drop to the floor to show us exercises she'd learned from her personal trainer.

    "Like, no -- why do you want us to watch you do crunches? She also tried to force us all to meditate or pray with her, which was uncomfortable for everyone.

    "On the mean side, she'd go out of her way to find mistakes but would only bring them up in front of other people. She also refused to set up regular meeting times but would rather interrupt when I was on a major deadline and then try to debrief a month's worth of stuff to talk about. It was so annoying. 

    "My lesson is that if your boss seems weird during the first week, it isn't going to get better." -- Amy R., Wheaton, Illinois

  • The Vocally Exuberant Boss

    angry employee yelling

    "My last boss was a yeller. He'd get in people's faces over any mistake, big or small. He yelled at an intern on her FIRST DAY and made her cry.

    "I once heard him call someone (a male coworker) the c-word. I worked there for three years, which is insane. I wouldn't date someone who would yell at me, so why I put up with it at work is a mystery.

    "Lesson learned? A good boss doesn't need to lead by fear and yelling. And you shouldn't put up with it." -- Carla H., Saint Paul, Minnesota


More Slideshows