How to get away with murder* Tips learned from horrible bosses (*metaphorically speaking of course!)

This blog was written for and published by Future Females | June 2018


Okay so firstly, always keep in mind that there is a caveat to leadership – and every vocation in life-: there will never be a perfect leader, as there are no perfect people.  And just as every person on this earth is irritated by another person at some time and are even irritated by themselves, your manager will annoy you and if you’re the leader, guess what?

Your boss might laugh like a hyena, snort in meetings, chew really loudly or like bad coffee. Standard defects aside, the general specie of horrible, dodgy, cruel, narcissistic people is alive and well amongst us and unfortunately, some are also leaders.  Rumour has it that sunlight does not affect (most of) them. Hardcore.

In 2016, an Australian study found that one in five CEO’s are psychopaths. A picture is painted of business leaders who put ruthless ambition above everything else and have no qualms about using people for their own advantage.  Recent studies have shown that these type of ruthless business people are not as successful as they appear to be.  They can cause higher staff turnover and a decline in revenue. Despite their charm, psychopaths cause counterproductive behaviour, bullying and conflict in the workplace, as well as lower employee wellbeing.

Yeah sure, we’re talking here about the extreme of psychopaths and narcissists, but there are some shared traits with your garden variety horrible boss.

What sets a great leader apart from a not so nice one?  There are a gazillion books that you can read on the subject, even though I wonder if anyone will ever find the golden ticket. However, there are a few core principles, when practiced on an ongoing basis, will secure your terrible leader status.

So, how do you get away with murder?


Micromanagement is poison

Yes friends, all dressed up in a cloak of care and concern, micromanagement has been responsible for the death of many eager spirits of passionate employees. It’s a slow poison which eradicates self-esteem and increases palpitations caused by indignant swearing under your breath.  Victims usually go through the seven steps of disbelief, which mostly ends in despondency, demotivation and in some undesirable cases, rebellion.

Many reasons for trying to control someone’s every move is held up: passionate interest, making sure the work gets done and so on. But there is only one that sticks: distrust.

Micromanagement leaves people feeling as if they are never good enough, which breeds discontentment and resentment.  Over the long-term, many people just give up trying and the manager ends up having just another puppet on a string.  Hum ho.

As a leader, if you feel like nothing ever gets done without you harping on like an over-protective Chihuahua, check your own motivation behind your actions.  Are you clear in what you have asked for and does the person understand you?  Is there another way you could approach the issue?  And then, the extremely high risk method of letting someone just get on with it.  Stressing about your own stress and the stress of others not stressing enough about stuff they should be highly stressed about is a path of quick and guaranteed burn-out.  Being a control freak is not a compliment.

Let. That. Ish. Go. Chances are good that your employees will flourish in the pride of doing it for themselves. Give them a chance to impress you.


Indifference and indecision: double trouble


“The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.” – Elie Wiesel, Holocaust survivor.

Indifference often isn’t a complete lack of care. In practice, it’s the option to take the easy way out despite awareness. The result is an indecision.

This form of indifference relies on ignorance. We know what’s going on, and we know what’s needed, but because it’s hard, we choose to ignore what we know, and we let things play out.

Indifference is on the other scale of micromanagement and is equally, if not more lethal.

Indifference is an easy way out of making a hard choice; often, a choice with compromise and with loss. It tends to result in indecision, which many of us forget is also a decision.

We need to start by realising that our decisions reflect our values. We’re not who we think or image we optimistically are. We’re a product of the actions we take.

Few things are as frustrating as a leader who cannot make a call.  Ironically, you are in a leadership position because you need to make decisions. So be a big girl and make them already!  If you fail, get up and try something else, but don’t continue buffering.

If you have leaders above you who drive the fear of the Kraken into you, you need to deal with that, but don’t continue the cycle.

People need boundaries, direction, inspiration, kick-butt call makers who stand tall with integrity once they have made a decision.  This makes them happy.  Happy employees are productive employees. You do the math.


Absolute power corrupts absolutely

I don’t know about you, but I have never seen an employment contract which reads that it’s a transfer of ownership.  Yet, in the workplace, we find that there is often the crazy belief that because there is a scheduled EFT into your bank account and you willingly show up and do the things, you have transferred ownership of you to the firm.

Some horrible bosses believe, based on this premise, that they have no obligation to show professional respect towards you. You little despicable minion!  As you “report” to them, they are now entitled to shout, belittle, embarrass, humiliate and downright abuse employees.  No, Susan.  Slavery has been abolished.

I believe the enforcement of power based on a person’s position in a firm is the most common crime committed against employees.  Power is seductive.

In essence, the employee has a service agreement with the employer.  A certain list of services is exchanged for a certain amount of benefits.  Unfortunately, I have yet to see an agreement which stipulates reciprocal behavioural expectations.  There is usually a long list of behaviours an employee must toe the line with, but never how an employee is guaranteed to be treated by their superior. Just shut up and take it!

Leave the firm? How dare you! There are absolute horrendous tragedies that some people face when they dare leave, because you know, the unwritten ownership clause.  After resignations, some people are bullied, left out in the cold, ignored and some get immediate marching orders and – if you’re lucky – with a security escort.  Your five minutes of fame at last.

As a manager or leader, you do not own your employees.  And no matter how smart, educated, filthy rich or successful you are: nobody ever earns the right to be abusive in the workplace.  You need people to do the things.  Keep your ego and your mouth in check.

Do not forget that abuse also includes all the little niggly foxes such as dismissiveness, direct or indirect insults, slow and secure breakdown of self-esteem, etc.  Some horrible bosses are experts in covert abuse.  They push it just-just before it becomes a “real thing” and where you would look petty if you do anything about it.

Look out for these signs and stand up against them when they start. Don’t ever let someone get comfortable disrespecting you.


True leaders don’t create followers, they create more leaders.  Why would you want to build a legacy of destruction and broken people?  All super villains are destroyed eventually. Wouldn’t you rather build a legacy of hope, freedom and self-empowerment by paying it forward?  Also, incarceration really sucks.


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