First there was Dilbert. The Pointy-Haired Boss and Catbert brought bad managers out of the closet, and the characters resonated with millions. Most of us are pretty sure that we personally worked with the individuals upon whom those characters were based.
Since there’s clearly so much material to be mined, a whole sub-genre of business books on how to deal with bad managers has emerged. The best among them can be quite helpful in providing a toolkit for surviving a reporting relationship to someone with a specific incompetence profile. And these books are generally full of real-life stories with something of a one-upsmanship flavor – my boss is much worse than yours. In addition to the entertainment value, there is something oddly comforting about knowing that yours is not the only crackpot boss out there.
Another useful, although admittedly painful, application of these ‘bad boss’ books is to use them as a mirror on our own leadership shortcomings. A thoughtful journey through one of these books will make most self-aware managers cringe – and then hopefully resolve to do better next time.
Check out this lovely little slide show published recently on BusinessWeek.com: Bad Bosses: What Kind Are You? . It’s short and focused, without anecdotes, and intended precisely for the purpose of personal reflection. We could probably all benefit from a quick flip through these slides to start each week on the right note.