The Worst Manager I Ever Worked For

I’ve written lots of articles about the good and bad qualities which can impact how leaders can be perceived, their influence and the success that they can achieve.  Today I thought I would write an article about the worst manager I ever worked for, to give a real-life example of the impacts that bad management practices can have.

I am sure many people who know will think that they know who it is that I am talking about, but they’re wrong.

My worst manager and that is saying something, worked together over 15 years ago.I learned so much from him. Particularly how not to treat people if you want to motivate people, and for that really I should thank him.

I was managing a complex project onsite at one of our clients, this was a fixed price deal and all of the money had been spent, and nothing delivered by the time I took over. The project was a disaster and the client was the client from hell, and even worse we had signed a contract which gave them all of the advantages and did nothing to help us.

I worked hard to try and turn the project around, the main problem was we had completely underestimated what was required and then under delivered on all key items.

I brought some much-needed focus and discipline to the team and we started to see some small success as we started to get things back on track. However, the project was never really going to be successful from a financial perspective as we had lost so much money in earlier years.

The absolute best we could do was to successfully deliver the promised software and move on to another deal.

My boss from hell wasn’t working for the company when I started, he joined about a year after, and he was not happy with the situation at the client.

He had no real understanding of the actual situation, nor the contract that had been signed, and started to make unrealistic demands, and when these demands were not met he would take it out on the team and me in particular.

He was a complete bully, he ignored facts, he ignored the contract, he just demanded we did the impossible, with no support or guidance, and wasn’t prepared to listen to any of the team, especially if we disagreed with him.

Finally, he decided everything was my fault, and pretty much told me so in my annual review, and he finished with the sentence, “given that we’re friends, I thought I would give you the opportunity to resign before I fire you, so start looking for another job, you have 4 weeks and if you haven’t resigned by then, well you will leave me with no choice“.

With friends like that who needs enemies 🙂

I started to look for a new job, but it was tough to find something that I wanted to do, in such a short space of time.

After 3 weeks had passed my boss called me to tell me he was going to visit the client the following Tuesday and after that, we would then meet to discuss next steps.

Shortly after he called me, the Managing Director of the client called me and asked me if I would go to dinner with him on Monday, the day before my meeting with my boss.

I agreed, and during the dinner, the MD said, “tomorrow your boss is going to come here and fire you.” I told him that I already knew.

He asked me if I also knew that in the contract, it was written that they needed his permission to remove anyone from the client account. I said, “yes I read that”.

He said well, “we really like you, you’re the only one who tells us the truth, and if you agree to stay and do your best, then I will tell your boss he cannot fire you“.

I smiled and said, “I would be happy to stay”.  That wasn’t actually true as the situation was very stressful, but as I didn’t have a new position, this was a good temporary solution.

The next day my boss arrived, we did a status update for the MD and at the end of the  meeting my boss said, “Gordon I would like to speak with the client in private, if you wait in your office, I will be about 30 minutes and then we can have a discussion“.

The MD winked at me as my boss told me this, I said ok and left them to it.

About an hour later, my boss came into my office, he had a big smile, and he said to me, “you know, I’ve been thinking, actually things here are not quite as bad as I thought, and it might be best if you and I give it another try to work together and get this done, what do you say“.

His false sincerity was unbelievable, I knew this was the last thing in the world he wanted to be saying to me, but I too smiled and said: “why not“.

I stayed in the role another 4 months whilst I looked to find another job, I felt bad for the MD as I told him I would stay, but it was impossible, it was such a stressful situation.  It’s hard to work for a company when your boss hates you and the client loves you.

Although my boss tried hard, I didn’t trust him, I couldn’t trust him. And without trust, it’s impossible to build a sustainable relationship. I also knew he wasn’t sincere about any of this and that I would be fired as soon as he had the opportunity to do it.

When I handed my resignation note in, he didn’t say anything, he just accepted it and carried on with what he was doing without even looking up.

I really wanted to tell him that I knew the truth about what happened, but he wasn’t worth it.

In the 18 months that I worked for him, he had undermined my confidence, he tried to undermine my credibility with the client and with my team, and he had been rude and abusive towards me. He had tried to crush my spirit and resolve, which made the situation extremely stressful and uncomfortable.

I was so glad to be out, the time from when my new company told me they wanted me and to receiving the contract, these were the most stressful days of my life. I felt I was almost free but as I didn’t have the contract yet. I was worried something might happen, that might make them change their minds and I would be trapped in hell.

It took me about 6 months to get over the situation, regain my confidence putting it all behind me.

It’s unbelievable the negative impact a bad boss can have on you, your physical health, and your mental well being.

As I said at the start, I learned so much from him, but unfortunately, it was what not to do, rather than what to do. But that is still great learning which I have put you great use on my leadership journey.


I believe that it’s our bad managers and bosses which leave the greatest impact on us, that we remember the most, and I would be very interested to hear about the worst manager that you have had and to learn about the impact, both positive and negative that it had on you.