29 tips for being a horrible supervisor that everyone hates


cat-1599158_1280Hi everyone. Last week, I wrote about the importance of firing people faster. Some employees are not effective, and sometimes they’re downright toxic, and we need to let them go. However, often it’s not the employee who is incompetent or toxic, but their supervisors. So, to bring balance, this week, I am writing about horrible bosses. I asked the NWB Facebook community to send in horror stories. I got nearly 200 comments, which I’ve artisanally curated and quoted below. Due to being thrown-up on by a six-month-old baby among other fatherly adventures, I couldn’t include everyone’s input. We may have to make this into a series (like the nonprofit children’s books series, but less hilarious and more horrifying).

Get some coffee and some aspirins ready; this may be a little painful.

Tips for being a horrible supervisor, part 1

  1. Involve yourself in every decision. “Don’t let any decision be made without weighing in, no matter how small, and no matter how long it will be before you have time to review the matter. You’re not too good for the small stuff, you are a man/woman of the people!” 
  2. Make everyone run on your schedule. “Be 20 minutes late to every meeting, leave early, and then get angry when a minor decision is made without your input […] Insist on being the final decision maker for every aspect of every project, but then don’t make decisions in a timely manner. Wait until it’s the eleventh hour and make everyone scramble to get the work done.”
  3. Correct small mistakes to demonstrate that you’re smart. “Review and approve letters. Then change your mind over inane word choice once they are printed. Randomly ‘correct’ already correct grammar or spelling on documents given to you to sign in pen, ensuring that even once you understand it’s correct, your staff has to reprint it.”
  4. Refuse to give any feedback. “Don’t give any feedback, either positive or negative, ever. But do overreact when people fail to correctly intuit what you want.” Remember, giving proper feedback just makes employees happier and more productive, so you don’t want to do that.
  5. Spend time on less important things so that you can ignore more important things. “Insist on doing tasks someone else could do while unmade decisions pile up on your desk to the point of nearly halting anything getting done.”
  6. Refuse to let people do their jobs, then punish them for it. For example, “Hire me to be your legislative director, then forbid me from calling certain legislators’ offices directly, and then give me low marks on my evaluation for not developing those relationships.”
  7. Don’t learn new skills or improve existing ones. You’re the supervisor, why should you learn stuff when you have people to do stuff for you. “Fail to learn even the most elementary technology like email attachments; make your young staff do that in addition to their work.”
  8. Treat people as if they’re idiots. “Manage your employees with 10+ years’ experience with the same scrutiny you would apply to your interns. And then tell them that their interns are much more open to feedback.”
  9. Never communicate about anything unless it’s trivial.” Focus your communication on small, insignificant things. Don’t tell anyone about challenges such as delays in payroll, changes in the budget, elimination of departments, or an awesome new staff/consultant you just hired!
  10. Be inconsistent and unpredictable. “Keep people on their toes by being totally suit-673697_1280inconsistent in terms of communication (both style and content), expectations, feedback, and long-term vision for the organization. Everyone loves a good game of workplace Russian roulette!” Also “Change the expectations every time you meet with your employees. Berate them for not meeting the new expectations you just told them about and for instead wasting all their time trying to meet the expectations you set last month. Then constantly ask your employees to validate you.”
  11. Build a sense of importance by talking about how busy you are all the time. “I had a supervisor constantly telling me how she worked late and on weekends. As if they are busier and thus work harder than everybody else. Often the same people who talk excessively at work!” Remember, talking about being busy is just as good as actually accomplishing things.
  12. “Evaluate your employees on goals they have never seen before during a performance review. Bonus points if some of those goals are actually physically impossible to achieve.”
  13. Belittle your team over things both significant and insignificant. “When a soft draft deadline is missed, raise it at a staff meeting by throwing your hands up and shouting about how everyone’s incompetence will ensure the closure of the organization. Keep telling everyone in staff forums how the whole organization and its success is based on what you downloaded from your head 15 years previously. Keep saying loudly how you’re the only one with any ideas and it’s clear that no one else can think.”
  14. Don’t set clear priorities. “Always imply that latest idea is top priority but don’t ever reschedule existing deadlines.” Base your priorities on whoever spoke to you most recently, or whatever your horoscope is for the day.
  15. Passive-aggressively remind people of the power your hold over them. Make “jokes” often about firing people, then laugh it off. It’ll remind your team that you have a great sense of humor.
  16. Active-aggressively remind people of the power you hold over them. “First staff meeting (first day of supervisor’s new job): ‘I know you people have won all sorts of awards for being the best in the business, but I want you to know I have no problems firing anyone who is not doing their job.’”
  17. Cross personal boundaries. “I was taken out to drink by one of the senior people and got very, horribly and embarrassingly drunk with her. We had a great time being very friendly and joking around though and I thought we had bonded. When I returned to work on the Monday she acted as if we had never gone out together or interacted as friends.” Or, “Shout ‘but I love you!’ through the office wall at your development director who is trying to be blissfully engaged to someone else.”
  18. Physically invade people’s spaces. “Hug all your employees every day, and get really close to them when talking. If they have told you they don’t want to hug their boss at work, hug them anyway. If you’re standing up talking to them and they take a step backward to get some personal space, definitely take a step forward.”
  19. Delegate autonomy, but don’t really mean it. “I want you to make the decision. I don’t want to be involved. You’re experienced and you are driving this project. [Later:] You made the wrong decision. Here’s what I really wanted you to do. Now go and change everything.”
  20. Play favorites with team members, and make it obvious. “Gave Christmas gifts to favorite employees, but not everyone was a favorite. Keep them wrapped and with tags in your office so everyone can see them.”
  21. Criticize people in front of their coworkers. Don’t pull them aside and give feedback. Public humiliation allows everyone gets to learn. When applicable, use reply-all to unleash your fury on a team member.
  22. Send subtle messages to your employees that this is not a good fit for them. “Leave job posting announcements on desks of employees with notes saying, ‘You should look into this.’”
  23. Don’t learn anything about your employees’ leadership and working styles. Why would you assume that people have diversity of perspectives and ways of working. You’re the boss. Make sure people adapt to working with you, not vice versa.
  24. Become defensive at the slightest constructive feedback. “Ask for feedback in meetings and then bully and belittle everyone who opens their mouth. Then when people don’t contribute to meetings, act passive aggressive about it ‘I guess no one has anything to add and we’ll just have to go with my plan.’ Solicit feedback on said plan in emails and other meetings until someone finally says something rash and then give them a written warning for insubordination.”
  25. Multi-task while interacting with others. For example, you can get a lot more done if you don’t pay attention to people during meetings. “[My] executive director browsed her smart phone during every staff meeting, typed on her phone during staff presentations/discussions of issues, always took phone calls from her kids.”
  26. Take credit for your employee’s ideas and work. “Ask others for ideas on a project, then pitch those ideas as your own, then make others carry out the grunt work of their project idea while getting all the credit for having ‘thought’ of it.”
  27. Be completely insensitive regarding pay differential. “Tell staff about your raise and bonus when they are receiving little or none.”
  28. Be paranoid that your employees are out to get you. “Change the password to the pigeons-226527_1280shared hard drive and refuse to give it to any employees that you deem ‘untrustworthy’ regardless of their need to access said drive for their jobs. After employees hand in reports to you, hide them and accuse others of trying to steal company secrets. Forbid the entire office from speaking to certain employees because you ‘don’t want them to be distracted.’ Important: don’t tell the employee that no one is allowed to speak with them and wait for them to go crazy from the paranoia.”

And if none of those things work to make your team hate you:

  1. Get drunk at a gala (apparently, this is a major theme in our sector). “Get drunk at our gala while wearing a strapless dress that simply won’t stay up so that I get to have a conversation with the most intimidating and rich board member about how I need to DO SOMETHING RIGHT NOW about that shameful spectacle.” Also, “Get drunk at our gala wrap-up meeting, drop your crystal wine glass into the pool, throw up on the host’s custom-painted powder room walls.” 

Look, I already apologized for that last one, OK?

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  • Aw, how sweet of you to do a full profile of my first boss! He would be so proud to be the featured supervisor. 31/29 would fire.

  • Barbara Inman

    How about an article about bad board behavior? I can contribute some beauties. ..
    1. Leave the book “How to get along with difficult people” on your Executive Director’s desk with a note: “Guess which kind I am.”
    2. Give lots of elusive ideas with no practical details on how they might be implemented.
    3. Send an email every day asking for lots of detailed information about a myriad of things, ensuring no real work gets done while the ED chases this down for you.

  • Holly McGregor Anderson

    HYSTERICAL. Sadly, I saw myself in every one of these. LOL

  • Otway

    Let all daily, monthly, and even annual administrative tasks fall by the wayside in favor of devoting all resources to pondering over pie-in-the-sky, 20-year goals that would require a complete restructuring and oodles of grants to even begin actually thinking about implementing. Don’t even let your explicitly administrative staff do their duties when they could be working on THE PLAN. Nobody will mind that you couldn’t provide annual reports, respond to phone calls from your clients, partners, and donors, or keep up with basic accounting for years when you dazzle them by finally unveiling your shiny new idea in the year 2035. You’re just a misunderstood rockstar.

  • Wayne Salazar

    On your first day as ED, assemble the entire staff and tell them you’re going to raise the bar.

  • This post needs a trigger warning! I’m going to go curl up in a ball and say soothing words to myself for a while until the flashbacks subside.

    • Sarah Lange

      Sounds like someone needs a hug… or will that just add to the problem? 😉

  • Sarah Lange

    O…M…G… I’m not sure whether to laugh or cry!

  • GeorgeintheGorge

    My favorite technique was when the boss would berate the staff the day before the annual board meeting, giving us all the bleakest doom and gloom warnings about the state of the budget, and then the very next day be super smiley to the board and LIE about how well things were going. Actually lie. Make things up, gloss over problems, and basically evade the truth. Then he would get a raise and praise from the board-while we took a 5% paycut to stave off creditors. It was unbelievable. The only joy I ever got was watching the faces of new employees as they watched the performance for the first time.

  • Patrick Taylor

    Never consult with junior staff about anything or give them an ability to give input, and then criticize them for not showing leadership skills.

  • Jill Murphy

    New CEO who insists “we’ll have regular staff meetings so we can collaborate more and break down the silos” because we are one team. Not do it, not talk to staff, not talk to members and then chastise staff not being a team player.

    • Otway

      I had a boss who said exactly that, increased the frequency of meetings to boot, and then turned every single staff meeting into a 90-minute stream of consciousness monologue. When nobody else had time to get a word in edgewise, they’d just schedule ANOTHER meeting later that day or week “to make sure we get to all of the issues on the agenda.” Guess what would happen during those catch-up meetings? -_-

  • Angie Sanders Wierzbicki

    I’ve definitely experienced some of these attributes in bosses (and hopefully displayed any of them minimally). But not too many had more than a couple of these -lucky me, I guess!