Horrible Bosses: More Than Just A Movie


Great comedians know that within every laugh there’s always a dose of truth. So, when I came across my copy of “Horrible Bosses” several weeks ago, I realized I was both laughing at and learning from the characters played by Jason Bateman, Kevin Spacey, Jason Sudeikis and Jennifer Aniston (among others). If you haven’t seen the movie, run out and rent it. It’s LOL funny and worth every penny of the $1.99 rental fee at Redbox – Horrible Bosses.

“Horrible Bosses” is more than just a movie about poor managers. It’s the tale of unbearable managers and the unhinged employees who are ready to do just about anything to change their miserable work lives. With plenty of twists and turns (including a hysterical appearance by Jamie Foxx) , “Horrible Bosses” is funny and grabs our attention through a shared experience: working for an ineffective and, in some instances, ‘horrible’ boss.

Of course, the film is an exaggeration of common supervisor-employee challenges and runs to the extreme when three unhappy employees plot to kill their managers (legal disclaimer: I do not endorse, suggest or promote this strategy). There are, however, a few nuggets of wisdom in “Horrible Bosses” if you stop laughing long enough to learn:

It’s about them…not you. “Horrible Bosses” draws upon the management-challenged supervisors most of us have experienced at some point in our careers: the absent manager, the micro-manager, the incompetent walking time bomb, the credit taker, the blamer, the ambiguous goal setter, the suck up, the unrealistic workload driver and the “throw you under the bus” manager. Read Dave Kerpen’s article 17 Things a Boss Should Never Say and you’ll likely find a few one-liners you’ve heard before.

As much as we’d like to, we can’t change our managers. So, let yourself off the hook for a moment and let your manager do the heavy lifting. Geoffrey James’ article 9 Core Beliefs of Horrible Bosses contrasts ‘horrible’ and ‘smart’ bosses in a much less dark and humorous way than the movie. Ultimately, it’s all about the manager’s behavior. A poor manager (with the help of HR, training or a coach) can become a ‘smart’ manager by making some fundamental changes in his behavior. Transforming from a ‘horrible’ boss to a ‘smart’ boss isn’t always easy, but is definitely within reach. So, what about those exceptional leaders? I’ll save that for another post, but in the meantime, read James’ follow-up article and take a look around you. I bet you’ve also encountered some Extraordinary Bosses in your life as well.

The truth? It’s also about you and what you choose to do right now.Yes, horrible bosses are a problem. Their impacts include an unpleasant workplace, mediocre performance, legal issues and high levels of turnover (all of which, eventually, have financial implications). But let’s face it, they’re your problem – like it or not – until that manager improves, is discharged or leaves the organization.

In the meantime, you have a choice. You can live with it and remain unhappy or you can do something about it. The employees in “Horrible Bosses” looked at their situation and assessed what they could (within their realm of control) actually do to change it. While their solution itself is flawed, they understood that you can change an entire ‘story’ by changing how you react to and work through whatever’s thrown at you. Ask yourself: How am I reacting to this situation? Am I letting it impact my job, my relationships and my life? What can I do differently that allows me to both perform my job well and be more satisfied (or less miserable) with what I do every day?

It’s still about you…and how you look at the bigger picture. Changing your situation – personally and professionally – requires that you balance immediate changes with longer term objectives. It’s easy to get caught up in the ‘right now’ and simply stay there without looking at what happens next. Your relationship with your manager – good or bad – is one of the most influential drivers of success, or failure, today and in the future. There are times in our career when we are forced to, but ideally should, step back and evaluate where we are now and where we want to be in the future.

In the movie, Bob Newhart makes a surprise appearance as Jason Bateman’s new boss. Newhart, naturally, is quite a character and it’s clear that Bateman is in for another ‘interesting’ ride. The lesson here is that managers, good and bad, come and go. The question, more importantly, for you is: should I stay or should I go? That question can translate into many options both within and outside your current employer. What you do next is up to you.

The sequel to “Horrible Bosses” is due in theaters November 25, 2014. Go see it, but don’t wait to take action. We’d all be laughing a little bit more if ‘horrible’ bosses stay where they belong: on the big screen in a theater near you.

Until next time,

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