Learn to be a leader by observing what not to do.
8 min read
The opinions expressed by collaborators are personal.
Most people have had at least one bad boss . Unfortunately, they are common in the workplace. But seeing a bad boss as part of a movie can be fun! Especially since the bad patterns on the big screen generally get what they deserve.
Maybe people enjoy watching bad bosses on the big screen because they can relate to the disgruntled and helpless employee who has to deal with the tyranny of a toxic leader . Or perhaps they are secretly rooting for the idiot manager, because, despite all their flaws and mistakes, they do have some redeeming factors.
In the end, maybe it's just that the mean and mean bosses make great movies. Here are six of the worst big screen bosses you love to hate, and the lessons we can all learn from their mistakes.
Bill Lumbergh of Office Space is the archetypal idiot boss you love to hate. In fact, he's such a bad boss that “cool bosses” make impressions of him in an attempt at self-criticism of humor. The Office Space plot is one of the best satires of everyday life in the jungle of cubicles that makes up much of corporate America.
Pete Gibbons is a demotivated programmer who is stuck in a monotonous and heartbreaking office job filled with servile, pointless, and largely irrelevant tasks. The film is both hilarious and incredibly insightful, and has held up well through the decades since it appeared in theaters.
Lessons learned: For micromanaging! Good bosses energize their work environment and motivate those who work for them. If there is a mantra that the movie repeats, it is how the silly actions of a controlling boss can absorb the life of a company.
Business culture is created from the top down. Be respectful of your employees and stop violating their free time. If you want to motivate someone, find out what their “red stapler” is. This is the desire of their hearts, and if you can solve this, you will know how to take advantage of their internal motivation.
In the fashion world, Miranda Priestly is the quintessential bad girl and the character that gives the movie The Devil Wears Prada its name . The plot centers on Andy, a recently graduated journalist who gets a job “millions of girls would kill” with Runway magazine, of which Miranda is editor-in-chief.
Initially, Andy stumbles and stumbles over his job while struggling with Miranda, who is totally abusive to his staff. Andy slowly begins to find his way, learning to handle awkward situations, meet the challenge, and navigate unknown worlds. We see how hard work is finally worth it.
Lessons learned: From Miranda, we learn that exercising fear about your subordinates is not a good long-term strategy. Eventually, your best and brightest employees will tire of your threatening behavior and flee to better jobs. Also, don't be unnecessarily lazy. It provides employees with the keys and information they need to do their jobs well.
Most of us are already familiar with the basics of this plot: Mark Zuckerberg is a student at Harvard University when he creates a campus website called Facemash by hacking into the university database. After being hired by two seniors for a different project, he comes up with the concept for Facebook (which he initially called Thefacebook). Eventually, Zuckerberg's vision unfolds, but not before he is sued and ends up stabbing some of his friends in the back.
Lessons learned: It is not always about who has the idea to start, but who can best execute it. In the end, Zuckerberg is the one who launched Facebook. No one else had the ability to make that happen. He was successful because he discovered how to be of service. He followed his idea, believing that the income would come later (and he was right).
But the film also portrays Zuckerberg as an arrogant and paranoid guy who teased his friends to climb the ladder to success (note that Zuckerberg himself didn't love how he was portrayed in the film).
While self-confidence is key to propelling yourself through difficult times, being too arrogant will cost you money and friends. Be confident in your abilities, but control your arrogance.
In this classic comedy, three office mates (Judy Bernly, Doralee Rhodes, and Violet Newstead) seek revenge on their chauvinistic boss Franklin Hart, Jr., who mistreats his subordinates.
The three women finally take matters into their own hands and kidnap Hart. As expected, in the end, everyone gets what they deserve. This film shows one of the worst types of bosses: one who is completely lacking in integrity and willing to manipulate everyone around him for his own benefit.
Lessons Learned: Obviously, the biggest lesson from this movie is not being a “sexist, selfish, liar, and hypocrite” (in Judy Bernly's immortal words). Also, it is important to have some awareness of what is being done. Creating a toxic environment will result in reduced productivity, increased turnover, and lack of loyalty.
Unfortunately, Hart is never fired for his actions, but during his absence from work, the trio demonstrated that they were much more efficient at running the office on their own. A word for the wise: sometimes you have to know when to get out of your own way.
It's easy to say that your boss is the devil, but what do you do if your boss is actually Satan himself? In The Devil's Advocate , the demon (known by the name of John Milton) lures Kevin Lomax, a morally flexible defense attorney, into a job with a large New York firm, which of course comes with a hefty salary and a elegant apartment in Manhattan. As the plot unfolds, the ever-charismatic and persuasive Milton pushes Lomax deeper into his trap.
Lomax, who was once driven by a desire for professional excellence, becomes ruthless and fierce. But Milton doesn't have to twist Lomax's arm to do bad things. In fact, Milton tells Lomax in advance of all the horrible things his choices could bring about.
Lessons learned: Stay true to your inner compass. Clearly define who you are and what you stand for, and don't let anyone or any amount of money change that. Also, no matter how successful you are, a little humility will keep you focused.
When it comes to villain bosses, it's hard to beat Thanos . After all, it literally killed half of all living creatures in all known universes. It is a cruel and ruthless move that will surely label you as a callous megalomaniac. Let's face it: being the ultimate villain and architect of every world's calamity will earn you a bad reputation as a really bad boss. Also, all world superheroes will be obsessed with taking you down in epic ways.
Lessons learned: Bosses who are tyrannical monsters will finally discover that all the power in the world will not prevent them from kneeling once enough people (superheroes or not) are motivated to take them down. But there are also some key good things we can take away from his leadership style.
Thanos has a laser-like focus on his target and never deviates from that clearly stated mission. It is equally fair (or unfair) to everyone. You are always ready to face competition in a head-to-head battle. And he never lacks self-confidence, although he should probably have limited his arrogance, as this ends up killing him (and twice).