Horrible Bosses – The Movie and Real Life Stories


Did anybody see the new movie, the comedy “Horrible Bosses” this weekend? If so, leave a comment and let us know what you thought – should I see it next weekend or wait for home video?

The trailer looks pretty funny, but even bad movies can be made to look good when cut down to 2.5 minutes:

There was a related  article in the Lincoln Journal Star where people shared their real life “horrible boss” stories.

I've been pretty lucky in my career to not have direct managers who were “horrible.” The horrible-ness tended to creep in two or three levels up.

But having brushes with “horrible bosses” (or somewhat horrible ones) has motivated me to delve into the people side of lean – the philosophy, the management system, and the behaviors more so than the specific Lean tools.

Highlights from the story that tie into Lean topics or principles – keeping in mind that more of these are pathetic and sad than funny:

  • I once had a boss who was so worried that I wouldn't have enough work to do (an imaginary problem), she would write up lists of tasks such as “find pencils and sharpen them.”
  • Over my boss' 35+ year career in same position, he has turned a blind eye to his “posse” of bullies and troublemakers. Although they terrorize just about anyone and everyone, they seem to get the thumbs-up to do as they please. Tell him about issues and he ignores or never acknowledges. He did put up a suggestion box at one point in his reign, but, after reading one of the suggestions, he ripped the box out of the wall.
  • I am in the trades and work for a guy who has never turned a screwdriver so he has no concept of the time it takes to do a job or the safety concerns that can accompany said job. He thinks that just because he told you to do it that it should already be done.
  • My boss does not listen to me or any of my co-workers. She gives a blank stare when employees try to make a suggestion she does not like. I would compare her to a communist leader. It is either her way or no way.
  • I once worked at a place that would use wait staff to clean the whole place after close — scrubbing toilets, floors, everything — for far less than minimum wage. We were the cheap cleaning crew.

I hope none of you have horror stories like these… if you want to share them in a comment, there is the option to type “anonymous” and a fake email address in those fields.

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Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


  1. When I look back, my experiences with horrible bosses actually helped shape me and my views, and serve as a reminder about how I should *not* treat people that work for me.

  2. I once had a boss who was so afraid of being confronted by his employees, he would go out of his way to walk outside of the building from one end to the other. This was the “anti-gemba.”

    • Wow, good one, Jamie. On the other end of the scale, I once worked under a VP of “Lean Six Sigma” (it was just a title, without the requisite knowledge or experience required) who I’d try to keep away from the gemba.

      Because if he was there, he’d come up with gems like “if the machine/line is down, we need to send the workers home… if you punish them, that way, they’ll think of ways to keep the equipment running.”

      Of course, this was old equipment that the company had underinvested in for a long time, so yeah, let’s blame the workers.

      Horrible boss.

  3. In the last few months I have come across the concept of workplace bullying where leaders and some peers target top performers in an effort to control them based out of feeling like they are a threat. Three friends of mine from different organizations have said this has happened to them recently (one is from a government job).

    Check out the info under the INDIVIDUALS tab of http://www.workplacebullying.org/ to read more signs of workplace bullying.

    This is about as far from respect for people as you can get. Deming’s “No fear in the workplace” thinking is out the window here too (the site shows how bullying is a system issue and not just a lone bad boss).

    • It’s really a shame to hear about bullying stories like that.

      When I worked in the UK back in 2008, the “anti-bullying” campaigns were a big part of the public discourse – including not bullying at work and people not bullying public employees, etc.

  4. I saw the movie, and liked it okay. It had funny moments that were just raunchy and/or slapstick funny, but it also had funny moments that were funny because they were true (Dilbert-esque, so to speak).

    Early on in the movie, a horrible boss played by Kevin Spacey admonishes his employee played by Jason Batemen for being late…he showed up at his corporate job at 6:02 am instead of 6:00 am.

    This reminds me of a horrible former boss of mine that had problems sleeping. He’d come into work at 5:00 am and admonish me for showing up “late” at 6:30 am. Then, my boss would take off every afternoon around 1:00 pm and look at RV’s and boats. Nevermind that our production shifts were from 7:00 am to 4:00 pm.

  5. I agree with the second poster. I had a very bad boss years ago – after 2 years with the guy, I quit and found another job. In my new job the boss was supposedly “horrible”. He was difficult at times but a breeze compared to the prior boss. In hindsight, the horrible boss taught me how NOT to be a leader and how to deal with difficult people. That’s half the battle – the rest is learning how to be a good leader. Not that horrible bosses are OK, but if you find yourself working for one – know that you are learning valuable lessons in the process. Just don’t stick around too long.


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