Toxic Bosses I Have Known

Part 1: Malignant Managers

Having worked for about a dozen organizations in my 40-year tech career, I’ve experienced a wide range of colleagues and bosses. Some were fantastic, and some still remain friends. Others… not so much.


There was Fabrizio, the mercurial founder of an Italian software startup. Yes, Italians tend to be more upfront with their feelings than many other cultures, but he took it to extremes. When he was stressed or angry, he’d scream at any and all of his employees. I have a temper myself, and after a while I just wasn’t going to put up with the abuse. So I’d scream back. 

To his credit, Fabrizio never seemed to mind this, but our shouting matches rattled the other staff, especially in the US, where he set up an office in the mid-90s. One time when I was there on a working visit, we yelled at each other over something really stupid, I think it was who was going to staple a bunch of documents that had been printed. This was all in rapid-fire Italian, so the Americans had no idea what the argument was about. As I later learned, they thought it was a lovers’ quarrel, because for some reason (beyond the yelling) they were convinced that I was his mistress. No, I wasn’t, but we were friends of a sort, and there was a lot of mutual respect. I have many positive stories to tell about him as well — in spite of his flaws, he was an amazing human being who accomplished much and helped many.

Fabrizio was also abusive of his employees’ health (and his own). Smoking in offices was still legal in Italy in the 90s, and he did. When he moved part of the company to Silicon Valley in 1993, he rented an office in Campbell, the only town in the area where smoking in offices was still allowed. Later, when I worked for him again at his second startup in Milan, he had taken up smoking horrendously smelly Toscani cigars. They were the torment of everyone in the office, and by that time (early 2000s) smoking in offices was no longer legal even in Italy. But he did it anyway – no one was going to rat out the boss. By sheer dumb luck, years later after retirement he volunteered for a lung study in which a spot was found that turned out to be cancer. Apparently he recovered from that, I don’t know what finally killed him last year. (We were out of touch by then for other reasons.)


Another male boss I had later was a great manager who had the good sense to mostly let me do what I thought best in a field that I was practically inventing. There was just one thing I could never figure out about him: he wore a tie every day, and his ties were so surpassingly ugly that I could not decide whether he actually liked them or was trolling the world by wearing them.

Women Managers

Roughly half of my managers have been women, and they too have run the gamut from great to horrible. I’ll talk about the great ones another time.

There was one who started clearing people out of her department so that she could hire her friends. In particular, she wanted to give my job to the man she was having an affair with, whom she had gotten hired into a different position in the company. 

After she’d laid off one or two others (it wasn’t a large team) she had to cover her tracks, so she shuffled me off to a different department to be axed. My new manager did not attempt to meet with me at all, until after ten days he called me in to tell me my position had been eliminated. “Excuse me,” I responded “but do you actually even know what I do?” “Umm, no.” “Well then, pardon my French, but you’re fucked.” I was then running one of the few programs at the company that was actually making money. He let me go anyway. (That story ended ok – when the founder who had originally hired me found out, I was hired back into a different job, as well as eventually taking over my original job when the ex-boss’ lover failed at it).

There was the woman who claimed team management experience (and a more) that she did not demonstrate in the workplace – her LinkedIn profile was, shall we say, economical with the truth. She was apparently inept with the standard company tools for email and calendaring, and would expect me to somehow magically know when she was in the office (she wasn’t every day) and wanted to meet with me. When I asked her to put meetings on my calendar, as punishment she demanded that I come to the office every day, 9 to 5, to be available whenever she wanted me. That meant at least a one-hour driving commute during rush hours. I had long outgrown that kind of job inflexibility. 

One sign of an insecure manager is micromanaging. This woman also insisted that I cc her on all my emails to anyone else at the company, so she could track and advise on my doings. Note that we were the same age, and I possibly had more work experience than she did. I had seen red flags during the interview process with her, but was forced to ignore them because I needed the job.

The very worst boss I ever had I’m not going to mention here – it’s simply too triggering to even think about that dangerous psychopathic narcissist. Someday those stories will be told. And I’ll likely expand on the above with other bits as they come to mind.

What are some toxic boss traits you’ve been subjected to?

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