Is Bossholism a Form of Discrimination?

BossholismA response from a faithful reader about yesterday’s post got me thinking about the nature of Bossholism. The funny thing is that Bossholes aren’t that way to everyone, just to subordinates and other unworthies.

After all, Steve Jobs was infamous for being a Bosshole but he had tremendous empathy for customers. In fact the foundation of Apple’s brilliance was his dedication to making products that customers would love, just not jobs that employees would love.

Bossholes are also very nice to their bosses and other employees at higher levels in the organization. And in fact they also might be nice to their families (although I have a hard time believing that Mr Wonderful is just that with his family.)

What is it then that makes a person a Bosshole to some and a Mr Wonderful to others? How can people regulate their emotional intelligence in such a way as to be perfect at some times and a jerk at others?

Since EI is so hard to develop I can only conclude that it is a form of discrimination that causes Bossholes to lack empathy for certain classes of people. The really puzzling thing though is that if Bossholism is tolerated at work, then work is tolerating discrimination.

Workplaces wouldn’t tolerate discrimination against other sexes, other races, or other religions. Why then does it tolerate discrimination by Bossholes against subordinates. Very puzzling.


  1. We are thankful that discrimination against minority groups is no longer tolerated, and there are words for those types of discrimination (racism, sexism, homophobia, etc.)

    There is also a word for discrimination by a Bosshole to an employee; it’s called ‘life.’

  2. To your last comment – the difference is a power. In terms of race, sex, age, etc. the goal is for equality and thus discrimination is not allowed. In essence, we are trying to erase the misuse or abuse of power in these areas. But in terms of work positions and management of organizations, few organizations strive for equality or try to erase or minimize power differentials. Hierarchy is accepted and cultivated so there is no equality and therefore discrimination is the name of the game. (How many times have you heard stories like, ‘My boss took credit for my idea’? or ‘So-and-so got the position/promotion because they are in the boss’ inner circle.’ It’s because they have the power to do so). Basically, the work world is not a fair place because of different distributions of power.

    That is why people who manage up can do really well for themselves (spend time influencing those who make the decisions) while being awful to coworkers and subordinates (whose options are limited in stopping them). Upper management isn’t in touch with what is really happening day-to-day so it can stay hidden for a long time or thought to be ‘gossip’ because they never really see it personally. The people who have power may be the only ones with the power to stop this kind of behaviour. But if they love you, you’re in the clear often for a long, long time.

    It reminds me of how siblings often have a pecking order and older ones pick on younger ones. There isn’t much you can do about this – it will happen when parents aren’t looking. To some degree, you have to just understand it is due to the situation and difference in power.

    • That brings to mind a whole set of issues on the subject of power. Stay tuned.


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