Bad Bosses

Bad bosses are far too common in the real world. They can be a big distraction to product management. If you can't fix it, the best option might be to move on

As a Dude is wont to do, I sometimes wax poetically about some of the managers that I have experienced or observed. In one gig, I had 5 different bosses over a 6 year period, with a variety of styles, most of them bad. This is not a complete list, and will be added to in the future.

The “Smartest Man in the Room” boss

This is a classic ‘Type A‘ personality who has to dominate every discussion, and maintain the cadence of every meeting. Often educated at an “elite” institution, they feel that they have the chops to do both the soft and the hard skills. And the love pointing out how smart they are.

A specific example in my past is some one who was a computer engineer. And he was a gifted algorithm guy, no qualms there. But since he once worked at a startup, he feels qualified to be an authority on marketing, because he wore that hat. And on how to educate the sales team. And on how to best use a VoC exercise. (Hint: He takes over the conversation, and tries to shoehorn an existing product into a haphazard solution of a customer problem, ignoring your attempts to prevent the devolving of a great conversation.)

The Bully

This is the classic over promoted twit. They know that they can’t do the work they are responsible for, but feel the need, nay the right, to belittle the skilled people beneath them that can do the work.

If you have ever heard phrases like: “A nutless monkey could do your job”, or “If you are tired of being shit on, quit acting like a toilet”, or “If we don’t deliver X by Y, then we will be laying off 20% of the team”, you are in a group with a bully for a boss.

Other symptoms include:

  • Blowing up at meetings. All the time
  • Yelling at someone in their team loud enough that the whole floor gets to listen to the discussion
  • Petty reasons for failing to promote/advance their people’s career
  • Badmouthing employees who are seeking other positions (to escape the bully, naturally).
  • They truly relish RIF’s
  • And many more

The Clueless

This is someone who got promoted from a different group. Often they have no knowledge of what they are expected to do. They will often rely on the existing team to “just do it”, the “it” being their job. There is no plan, no cohesiveness, and very low team morale.

Part of the low morale is the fact that qualified team members that may be ready for a stretch assignment, are overlooked, and a moron is brought in.

One really bad case I have seen is when an engineering manager (who couldn’t complete a project to save his life) was “promoted” to the Director of Marketing role. No background in business. Mediocre writing skills. Not good at dealing with the people in marketing (hint: moving over and upwards managers between groups that naturally are distrustful of each other is a bad idea. Often perpetrated by #1 above, the Smartest Man in the Room)

Often the team below this leader will circulate jokes at their new manager’s expense, often that the poor sod doesn’t get, because he is clueless.


This is a mere sampling of the types of miserable bosses out there. I have personally experienced all of these, and survived. Amazingly.

The astounding thing to me is the number of people in leadership roles who are really poor at managing their team. Often the group leader or manager is promoted from someone within who may have been great at their original role, but is poorly adapted to be a manager. Great engineers make poor Directors of Engineering. Ditto at sales. Different skills, and no appetite these days to groom and train/prepare a star for the transition.

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