Bad Boss 101: Country Club Management

The bad boss country club manager

This idea of bad bosses / having a bad boss came up at the bar across the street from my house last night. I ran into a couple of people I didn’t know — I think they might be TCU graduate school students — and a few I did, including the main bartender on shift. We were talking about how ridiculous work can be, which seems as good a Thursday evening topic as any, and one of the new people I hadn’t met brought up a classic example of having a bad boss: country club management.

Wait, what?

ID’ing a bad boss: The perks are everything

This concept shouldn’t be too hard to understand, but … let’s still take a second to lay it out.

When you think of the words “country club,” you likely have some associations around:

  • Affluent people
  • Potential pretension
  • High annual fees
  • Glamorous attire
  • Cocktails
  • Them bitches be fake
  • Etc, etc.

In a single word, though, it’s probably about affluence or being rich. Even though happiness shouldn’t be about money, it often is for many people — and the reason, at base, is because money brings you closer to: (a) freedom and (b) perks in life (i.e. people kissing your ass even though they want to spit on you).

So everything I’ve said so far is about personal life — i.e. your family belongs to a country club and those are some of the associations others might have about you, for good or bad.

How does this tie back to work?

Well, the concept of ‘country club management’ means that the organization — or the individual bad boss — is only aligned around the perks available to them/him or her. There’s no real focus on purpose, mission, context, communication, or even daily deliverables. The focus is on perks. What can be done for me? What has been done for me lately?

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I’ve had probably 3-4 bosses like this in my life. It’s never that fun. It’s Bad Boss 101.

Why is it so easy for a bad boss to emerge this way?

Simple, baby: flaws in how we structure organizations.

Linda Hill, who’s a professor at Harvard and talks about this stuff a lot, has a good explanation of how a bad boss can emerge from flawed hierarchy:

Bad Boss Flawed Hierarchy

That’s the traditional way of organizing a business — the blue guy, at the top, is the boss. He/she has the power, drives the decision-making, and is furthest from the customers (in this picture you can’t see the customers, but they’d be below the widest yellow line — because the widest yellow line is probably a call center worth of employees anyway).

Here’s a different way to think about hierarchy:

Bad Boss Better Hierarchy

Now you’ve moved the person with the most formal power to the bottom of the hierarchy — meaning they have a closer relationship with customers and also meaning the ideas of the rank-and-files can have more resonance.

Of course, this second illustration could never happen and would make most target-chasing managers hurl themselves through a plate-glass window screaming “Millennials!” The reason it could never happen is simple: people love formal power and standard hierarchy, even though it’s essentially the lowest form of respect within a business. People also love to confuse ‘formal power’ and ‘knowing what’s best,’ and the singular workplace entity most responsible for that confusion is … (drum-roll)

The bad boss.

By the way, if you’re a visually-inclined person, check out this TED Talk from Linda Hill too:


The bad boss and the exploitation of confusion into perks

So now here’s where we stand:

  • Organizational structure and hierarchy is often pretty flawed
  • A bad boss is chasing perks and benefits for themselves
  • Bullet Point No. 1 allows Bullet Point No. 2 to happen

See, here’s the deal: as much as we call all-hands meetings and talk about how great everything is going and how all the silos are aligned and revenue growth looks good, the real fact of the matter at most companies is that priorities are dead in the river. The CEO’s over here talking about Points A and B, the CFO is drumming Points D and G, the CMO is yelping about Points S and R, and the CIO is bellowing about Y and Z. There’s no alignment, everyone believes their silo is driving/saving the business, and most people are making money because consumer behavior is probably the only thing more irrational than executive behavior. We screech all day about strategy but never realize ‘strategy’ can’t exist unless it’s aligned with execution.

It’s all kind of a big cluster-mess.

As a result of unclear priorities and an over-focus on tasks, the bad boss emerges. The country club manager has arisen in their natural habitat. See … if no one really knows what the priority of the place is, then why not go hunt down some targets for yourself? To wit:

  • Your bonus
  • The best work trips possible
  • Take days off randomly and inform no one
  • Whenever confrontation arises, hide behind a specific practice such as “the once-a-year employee review” or “I think (some other silo) deals with that.”
  • Rinse and repeat

The bad boss. Country club management. Perks and benefits for you and you alone. The point of work ain’t purpose, baby! The point is rolling in what the vendors give us access to!

How to deal with a bad boss or country club manager

Look, there are many different forms of a bad boss. For example:

The ‘country club management’ version of the bad boss is an unique critter, for sure — but in all these cases above, your best bets are:

  • Try to transition within the company if you think that’s possible or think another division is more functional
  • Try to find a different opportunity elsewhere

A bad boss is fucking soul-draining, and everyone knows that — heck, everyone’s had 1 or 2, and we’re all gonna start having more as we job-hop more and more with The Rise of The Millennials (that Boomer from above just tossed himself in front of a bus screeching about “Organic Feedback Is A Myth!”).

A country club-style bad boss, though — for the short term your best bet is to play it like Gandhi and turn the other cheek. I’ve had managers like this in my day and called them on their shit periodically, and you know what that usually leads to? You’re isolated and then eventually canned. Hierarchy is a cruel mistress and in most scenarios, it simply works to protect ineptitude and each and every bad boss.

Jamie Foxx said something interesting once on the Tim Ferriss podcast that applies here: he was talking to his daughter about gay rights and his daughter said something like, “Does it affect your air space if gays can marry?” Foxx paused and realized it doesn’t.

Now look, a bad boss affects your air space in that they can technically set your workload and drive you insane — but a country club-style bad boss is good in one respect: he/she is so concerned with themselves, so focused on the perks and benefits that should be coming to them … that oftentimes they could give two shits about you and/or the work you’re supposed to be doing. So it’s a relatively positive bad boss situation in that you can skate on deliverables often, and/or search for new jobs.

What else would you recommend about having a bad boss? And don’t tell me anything about “communication” or “feedback” or “mediation,” because the entire point of the bad boss culture is that they don’t believe in that fluffy shit … they believe in chasing those perks, bay-bee! So if you have a legitimate strategy for dealing with them, I’d love to hear it — but make it realistic.

Ted Bauer

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