Bonus Bad Boss BS: “Is this ridiculous?”

Exploring four more Strength/Weakness pairs and how picturing performance on a spectrum can help us find ways to help a bad boss moderate extreme behaviours.

Two pairs of 2d characters stand close to but slightly apart from a 3d bad boss character.


A bad boss is often bad because they haven’t fully made the transition from managing their own output to understanding that they now operate “through” people. They’re still focused on the things that made them successful in the past — often because they enjoy it. But, very few people enjoy being micromanaged. And a boss who loves the details can easily undermine our performance, development and sense of autonomy and purpose.


Resilience, determination, grit… these are all characteristics that can be valorised in organisations without analysis or moderation. To get things done, we often need to persist in the face of obstacles and challenges. Some things are difficult and require sustained effort. But I’ve already written about the dangers of over-relying on ‘resilience’ to get things done. There’s a similar pattern of behaviour amongst bad bosses. They assume that because they’re the boss, they should be able to do things, even when they’re ill-suited to that part of their role. Other bad bosses take on unsustainable workloads and so compromise everything they do — their stubbornness blinds them to what is achievable. They don’t ask for help. And sometimes they fall into a cycle of blaming themselves, and then those around them for failures, missing the fact they’ve created an impossible situation in the way they’ve framed their role.


A boss is often the custodian of quality in the team and organisation. They can help to set and maintain standards. But when a boss associates their value and worth with the quality of output, they can fall into bad boss behaviours. They might not leave room for improvisation and innovation — only trusting methods that have worked in the past. They might wastefully discard output they don’t think is good enough. They might set unreasonable expectations — demoralising teams rather than motivating them.


Bosses will often be called on to make decisions. We look to leaders to lead. But sometimes this results in a disempowering dynamic when the boss becomes a dictator, rather than the decision-maker. They might ask us to provide information and analysis and then fail to listen to our input in decision-making. They may reduce our role to execution, diminishing our opportunities to learn and develop. And if they adopt expectations of unquestioning obedience they might fall into behaviours that demotivate, demoralise and put us in danger of withdrawal and despondence.

Reductio ad absurdum

This is not a spell from Harry Potter. But it can magically unlock insights to help in bad bossing behaviours. Reductio ad absurdum is a technique in logic, rhetoric and arguing. It tries to establish your side of the argument by showing that the opposing view would (eventually) lead to absurdity or contradiction.



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I'm a Creative director at the BBC. I like words, design, data and magic. These are all my own views (apart from retweets. I borrowed those to look clever.)