This list provides a little taste of the all-you-can-eat buffet of bad bosses in television and movies. Find out what you can learn from this parade of awful leaders.

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This article was last updated June 29, 2023.

Whether it’s a workplace comedy or a dramatic period piece, almost every film or television show involves some type of leadership figure. Perhaps the story centers on a family matriarch, a corporate bigwig or a politician — one way or another, someone, somehow, is usually in charge.

When the leader is a good one, the story may be inspiring. When the leader is a bad one, the story is often instructive. After all, there’s as much to be learned from a negative example as from a positive one.

Although this list is by no means exhaustive, it provides a little taste of the all-you-can-eat buffet of bad bosses in television and movies. Whether based on real-life figures or figments of the writers’ fevered imaginations, they’re all terrible in their own special ways. Find out what you can learn from this parade of awful leaders.

Michael Scott, The Office


Of course, Michael Scott is probably the first person you think of when you think of a terrible boss. He’s ignorant, petty and completely unprofessional. He is redeemed, in part, by the genuine affection he has for most of his employees (other than Toby). However, it’s not enough to make up for all of the ways that he frustrates those whom he’s supposed to lead.

Many bosses think that social events and team-building exercises can make up for their own lack of knowledge and leadership. However, employees want to be led by someone who knows what’s up — someone they can respect. Being everyone’s pal doesn’t go very far when you’re not providing the competent guidance and support that your staff is looking for. You don’t have to be humorless but, if you want to step up as a leader, you need to be on top of your game and take your role seriously.

Miranda Priestly, The Devil Wears Prada


Loosely based on Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour, Priestly is demanding, hard-nosed and a consummate perfectionist. While these qualities make her difficult to work for, they’re not bad in and of themselves. However, Priestly’s worst quality is her duplicity and her willingness to undermine the people below her in order to secure her position at the top.

Leaders are only as good as their followers, so they need to nurture and value the people who support them. While running a tight ship isn’t a problem in most cases, a willingness to throw the crew overboard is. A team will follow you anywhere if they know that you appreciate them and are seeking to promote their interests along with your own.

Elizabeth II, The Crown


While the late queen is a beloved figure for many, watching The Crown gives the viewer plenty of insight into what it would be like to depend on Elizabeth II as a leader. Her single-minded devotion to duty and to doing what her advisors deem best leaves her little room to relate to or identify with the people around her. That has tragic consequences for many members of her family and her court, and it keeps her from being the positive leader she might otherwise be.

Leaders who are overly concerned with appearances may make it their goal to “do the right thing” in every circumstance. What often happens is that the perfect then becomes the enemy of the good. Leaders need to make hard decisions based on a variety of factors, including the sometimes messy feelings and needs of the people around them. Being married to some abstract notion of institutional perfection can leave little room to maneuver when required.

Bill Lumbergh, Office Space


Bill Lumbergh is written as the worst type of corporate boss — micro-managing, passive-aggressive and completely unconcerned with his staff outside of the numbers they generate. He’s petty and personal, especially in his treatment of Milton, which ends up leading to his undoing.

While some bosses still question the whole concept of work-life balance, it’s essential to take it into account when providing leadership. The people who work in your organization have families, friends and plans — they don’t cease to exist outside of office hours. Showing respect for your staff and agents starts with respecting their time, their space and their autonomy.

Ava Coleman, Abbott Elementary


As the principal of Abbott Elementary, Ava Coleman believes the children are our future and she dedicates her life to doing what’s best for them.

JK, she’s terrible and she only does what’s good for her and her career. From blackmailing the school superintendent to get her job in the first place to spending emergency funds on a sign with her picture on it, Ava’s always looking out for No. 1.

When providing leadership, especially in a personality-driven role like real estate team leader, rainmaker or top-producing luxury broker, it can be easy to think that you’re the only one who matters. The true measure of a leader, however, should be measured by the health of the whole organization, not just the figurehead at the top.

Bob Kelso, Scrubs


Dr. Kelso is rude, humorless and utterly disdainful of the people he’s leading. He delights in showing how little he cares about anything other than the budgetary bottom line. What makes things worse is that he’s responsible for teaching the young residents at Sacred Heart Hospital, compounding the negative effect of his bad leadership.

The real estate industry has seen a huge influx of newer agents in the past couple of years. They need positive examples so that they can build a solid, long-lasting career. Remember, your role is not only about profitability, although that’s important. It’s also about giving your staff and junior agents a role model to emulate in the years ahead.

Christy Murdock is a freelance writer, coach and consultant and the owner of Writing Real Estate. Connect with Writing Real Estate on Instagram and subscribe to the weekly roundup, The Ketchup.

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