Administrative Assistants sometimes get to work for the world’s best boss; other times, not so much. “Bad boss behavior” can range anywhere from temperamental and demanding to scary and downright inappropriate. One key to be a consummate Administrative Professional is knowing how to deal graciously with a wide range of personality types, as well as knowing how to respond if someone crosses a line. Often, popular culture can be a great teacher, so let’s look at 5 scary bosses from the movies and television to see what we might learn.
- Franklin Hart, Jr. (9 to 5)
This film plays like an early case study in workplace feminism. Ultra-sexist boss Franklin Hart, Jr. (played by Dabney Coleman) is so distasteful that when three female office workers kidnap him and restrain him in his own home, his absence from the office goes largely unnoticed for weeks. Meanwhile, the ladies take the opportunity to implement some positive changes like equal pay, flexible work hours, an onsite day care and more. When Hart eventually returns to the office just in time for a surprise visit from the company chairman, he receives undue credit for the changes made in his absence—just before his boss sends him to oversee the Brazil branch of the company and promotes office supervisor Violet Newstead (Lily Tomlin) to Hart’s old position.
POW (Point of Wisdom): Sometimes others get the credit for an admin’s efforts—but in the long run good ideas get noticed.
- Avery Tolar (The Firm)
As the notorious-yet-respected top partner in a Mafia-owned law firm, Avery Tolar (Gene Hackman) is a frighteningly perfect blend of charm and menace. When up-and-coming attorney Mitch McDeere (Tom Cruise) discovers his boss’s corruption, Tolar shows there’s little he won’t do to make sure McDeere doesn’t talk—including hiring a woman to sleep with McDeere and using it to blackmail his employee.
POW: Charisma and status aren’t always the best litmus tests to know whether you have a good boss. Also, beware of unwarranted “gifts” and “favors” given, especially if your boss has something to hide.
- Bill Lumbergh (Office Space)
We’ve all known this kind of boss in some capacity—the kind who loves to delegate to others without doing much of anything himself, and who manages to be like fingernails on chalkboard for no reason at all. In this film, Bill Lumbergh (played by Gary Cole) epitomizes the type of boss we typically love to hate.
POW: As an Administrative Professional, you may work for a boss that either just gets under your skin or seems to delegate more work than is necessary. In such cases, you might do well to let it roll off for a while, especially if you’re in a firm with room for advancement. (“Annoying” isn’t typically a reportable offense.)
- Miranda Priestly (The Devil Wears Prada)
Meryl Streep’s performance is nearly flawless as fashion magazine head honcho Miranda Priestly, seamlessly blending chic sophistication with deadpan rudeness and verbal abuse aimed primarily at her Assistant, Andy Sachs (Anne Hathaway). As the film progresses, Andy gets a glimpse behind the veil at the fractures in Priestly’s life that help make her who she is—and in the process of achieving a line of nearly impossible tasks (including one deliberately meant to break her), Andy discovers an empowerment in herself that she didn’t know she had.
POW: Sometimes working for a difficult boss pays off in unseen dividends like fresh confidence and honed skills.
- Buddy Ackerman (Swimming with Sharks)
Kevin Spacey is so mean and nasty as boss man Buddy Ackerman that when tortured employee Rex (Frank Whaley) kidnaps Buddy and proceeds to torture him, we’re practically cheering him on. Indeed, the film sort of serves as a fantasy fulfillment of what many of us wish we could do to our mean bosses—but instead, we are relegated to voyeurism.
POW: You might feel like kidnapping and torturing a mean boss sometimes—but resist the urge. Most workplaces do have a chain of process for dealing with truly abusive bosses, and that’s a much smarter move for your career in the long run.