Boss Archetypes

Boss Archetypes

Boss Archetypes Jonathan Poland

A boss is a person who manages and oversees the work of an organization, department, or team. The term “boss” can have different meanings in different contexts, but it generally refers to someone who has the authority and responsibility to direct the work of others.

It is common for bosses to be perceived as difficult by the people who work for them. This is often due to the nature of the boss’s role, which requires them to push and motivate their teams in order to achieve productivity and professionalism. This can be a challenging task, and bosses may develop a variety of styles and strategies in order to meet their objectives and advance within their organization.

Overall, a boss is a person who has the authority and responsibility to manage and oversee the work of an organization, department, or team. While the role of a boss can be challenging, it is also an important one, as it involves directing and controlling the work of others in order to achieve organizational goals.

Leader Boss

A boss who is a true leader such that they are good at setting direction, managing people, developing a positive team culture and acting as a inspirational example for team members.

Martyr Boss

An individual who has risen to their management position because they work harder than anyone else and are prepared to make every sacrifice for the company. They get respect and are an order of magnitude more productive than anyone on your team. A martyr boss may be a little disappointed every time you prioritize your life over work and tends to make everyone feel guilty, whether intentional or not.

Servant Boss

The servant boss has risen to their position by supporting everyone and generally being a useful and authentic person.

Pragmatic Boss

The boss who just wants to win and is completely flexible, energetic and realistic. The pragmatic boss is prone to criticizing, sidelining and firing mediocre employees but is supportive of performers.

True Believer

A boss who adopts the mantras of your firm with a dogmatic zeal such that they view criticism of the firm as irreverent. This boss values loyalty and a positive attitude and has risen in your organization with these traits.

Gloomy Boss

Believes that your organization is fundamentally malevolent or absurd. Views the struggles and politics of a firm with a sense of amusement and detachment. Executes well and is reasonably professional. Has a tendency to embrace outcasts, risk takers and wild independent thinkers. Dislikes true believers (above) and mediocrity.

Gritty Boss

A boss with grit who is both productive and able to take on political challenges by the most fearsome contenders in your organization. People naturally follow and respect the gritty boss.

Machiavellian Boss

The machiavellian boss views work as a grand political drama where winning has nothing to do with ethics or productivity. They live to be tricky and generally stress everyone out.

Narcissistic Boss

The narcissistic boss has an inflated ego and need for constant attention and admiration. They are prone to bullying others and surround themselves with enablers who feed them with attention and praise.

Passive Aggressive

A boss who aggressively attacks others in a way that is technically not against the rules. For example, gossiping about your negative performance and traits behind your back.

Bully Boss

An individual who has risen in an organization through intimidation. Often collects followers and may spare you if you are perceived as on their side and loyal.

Paranoid Boss

A variant of the bully boss who is also paranoid about disloyalty such that they need constant assurances that you’re with them.

Visionary Boss

A big thinker who rarely adds immediate value. Delights executives and other stakeholders such as investors, media and customers with storytelling. Is uninterested in the details of managing people and will easily give everyone high performance reviews but provides no support.

Buzzword Boss

A distant simulation of the visionary boss who tries to be inspiring by using buzzwords they don’t actually understand. Not nearly as successful as the visionary boss with the difference being that the latter is authentic and understands their industry and the art of storytelling.

Witty Boss

An individual who establishes social dominance based on their wit and intelligence. May use a cruel wit as a political tool. Tends to gather large numbers of both followers and foes.

Authoritarian Boss

Uses authority to achieve a sense of personal power. Uses processes, rules and norms to criticise others and establish a sense of social superiority. Gets a thrill from admonishing others. The authoritarian boss is disliked but feared. Often adds value in teams that require high attention to detail such as accounting.

Kingdom Builder

A boss who tries to grow their power by aggressively battling with other teams. Demands noncooperation with other teams.

Ivory Tower

A pompous elitist who views themselves as fundamentally above most people. They avoid any interaction with anyone below them. Completely detached from the realities of an organization. Provides no support, little feedback but harsh performance reviews.

Lone Wolf

A productive employee who doesn’t really want to be a manager but accepted the promotion because it’s the thing to do. Often helpful if you are able to corner them. An easy boss that will give you space and generous performance reviews.

Crony Boss

A boss who got their position from a friend, who isn’t fired because of friends and who will only promote friends. Views the resources of an organization as their personal privilege. Can only be influenced by friends and friends of their friends. May hire unqualified friends with inflated job titles and salaries creating a bozo explosion.

Eccentric Boss

A boss with a slightly odd personal presence, habits and management style. Not to be underestimated based on their idiosyncrasies.

Teflon Boss

Often fails but avoids accountability and responsibility with great skill. Likely to blame you for things that are beyond your control. A variant of the machiavellian boss.

Fearmonger Boss

A boss who would like to be machiavellian but isn’t very imaginative such that they use a basic unethical strategy of trying to instill fear. For example, firing employees once in a while to create an environment of uncertainty and fear that supports their power.

Mushroom Boss

A boss who treats a team like mushrooms by keeping them in the dark and throwing manure on them once in a while. Assigns vague action items and often doesn’t follow up on them. However, once in a while they get upset that an action item wasn’t completed to their unstated expectations.


A perfectionist who requires everyone to follow their working style and preferences such that they control every aspect of work items. In some cases, these managers are extremely valuable to a firm as they produce high quality work.

Seagull Boss

A boss who gives you freedom until there is an issue at which time they swoop in to clear things up. This is actually a reasonable way to manage some teams that is known as management by exception.

Time Burglar

A boss who consumes everyone’s time on pointless pursuits such as inefficient meetings, documentation, emails, processes, training and events. Believes that looking busy equals high performance.

Wimp Boss

A boss who is valued by an organization for being a pushover such that they accept any and all action items and deadlines. This leads to a great deal of failure, chaos and overwork.

Aloof Boss

A boss who is disconnected from work realities. For example, a boss who is non-communicative or who prefers to talk and think about non-work related topics. Generous with performance reviews to hide their disconnection from what you are doing. Puts a team in a weak position.

Tragically Productive

Managers that are effective at getting a team moving aggressively in the wrong direction. Pushes through actions and strategies that everyone views as absurd, illogical or counterproductive. Succeeds at launching things that make things worse. Is concerned with deadlines and unconcerned with end-results.

Inconsistent Boss

Aggressively pushes forward ideas and initiatives. Often drops things and reprioritizes such that nothing actually gets launched. This makes the boss look busy, commanding and creative without actually adding value.

Command & Control

A boss who issues precise orders and expects them to be immediately executed. Is consistent with discipline should orders not be followed with precision. Command and control bosses are potentially valuable to an organization as they get things done and don’t cause much drama. Unfortunately, they are often incompetent due to their mechanical and unthinking style of execution. These bosses thrive where processes are standard without many exceptions or creative elements.

Sidelining Boss

Feels threatened by ability and tends to avoid hiring talented or ambitious individuals. Likely to sideline rising talent in their team or set them up to fail.

Dismissive Boss

Uses a dismissive attitude as a form of one-upmanship. For example, not answering a question because you probably wouldn’t understand the answer anyway. This has limited power such that the dismissive boss can’t compete with the likes of the witty boss, gritty boss or machiavellian boss.

Defender of the Status Quo

Does things the way that they have always been done in the past and resists change. Believes in gradual improvement and group harmony. Likely to sideline or fire employees who disrupt harmony or challenge assumptions.

Mediocre Boss

A common type of boss who embraces mediocrity. Depends on the organization for survival and fears being let go. Nevertheless, the mediocre boss will do the minimum possible to not get fired. Fears and punishes risk takers. Clings to others and is prone to groupthink, cowardice and sycophancy.

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