Psychotic, Incompetent, Greedy, Heroic: Which Boss Are You?

16 Oct 2020 | 11.31 am

Psychotic, Incompetent, Greedy, Heroic: Which Boss Are You?

How pop culture shapes management styles

16 Oct 2020 | 11.31 am

A Durham University academic wants to help you answer the question by exploring how popular fiction has shaped modern business management styles in his new work, ‘Fiction and the Identity of the Boss’.

Dr Martyn Griffin, of the university’s Business School, profiles 100 bosses from film and TV, and categorises them under one of 10 different management types, in an attempt to understand how managers construct their identities.

Griffin’s categories include these ten, with the ‘Good Boss’ rather interestingly listed in tenth place:

  • The Psychopathic Boss
  • The Mean Boss
  • The Incompetent Boss
  • The Rule-driven Boss
  • The Greedy Boss
  • The Renegade Boss
  • The Burdened Boss
  • The Heroic Boss
  • The Predatory Boss
  • The Good Boss.

The categorisation serves to help understand the values we appreciate in a boss, and also identify which traits are needed – and which should be abandoned – to create successful leadership in the future, according to Griffin.

According to Griffin: “The influence of TV and film on the identity of the modern manager is undeniable. While writers, directors and actors often draw upon their own experiences to represent how bosses act in organisational life, these portrayals also feed back in to how managers themselves construct their identities in the workplace, by consciously or unconsciously embracing their behaviours.”

His lighthearted approach, he said, has a purpose “to understand what kinds of implicit messages are going out to people about expectations around being a manager and being managed. 

“This list captures the way that fictional portrayals of bosses are drawn from the real world and how, indeed, people watching depictions of managers on screen will flow back out in to society and culture, continually shaping our perceptions about what it is to be a manager.”

No management identity is without fault, says Griffin. Though the Heroic Boss – most notably portrayed by Tony Stark (AKA Iron Man) — epitomises the idea that the boss is the solution to all of an organisation’s woes, possessing superhuman qualities not just to get the job done, but to make it better, they notably each have their own form of Kryptonite that brings them down.

And of course, there is no one box for any boss, as it is not just their actions but their intentions that characterise their style. For example, the Good Boss category is not solely for those that turn profits whilst simultaneously investing in their employees. It includes conflicted characters, such as Ted Hastings from BBC police drama ‘Line of Duty’, and Judi Dench’s portrayal of ‘M’ in the Bond film ‘Skyfall’.

But what nobody wants is to have the Psychopathic Boss running their company. As Griffin puts it, the Psychotic Boss – portrayed by Gordon Gekko in ‘Wall Street’ and Cruella de Vil from ‘101 Dalmatians’ – highlights the narcissistic, amoral and single-minded pursuit of success found in some leaders, who place personal success over the wellbeing of their staff, and ultimately get their comeuppance — we hope!

The fictional bosses are all included as a chapter in the rather expensive book ‘The Oxford Handbook of Identities in Organisations’, which would cost around €150, but Griffin has also published it on his blog here.

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