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30 Ways to Enrage the Boss

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Summary: Learn about the different things that may irritate your boss and keep yourself from out of trouble!

  • I hate people eating at meetings, especially when they’re they only ones.
  • At the top of my list of annoyance is an employee delivering an assignment and saying, “I hope this is what you want.” An employee should be involved enough to understand the question we’re trying to answer.
  • If they don’t understand the goal of the assignment, they need a job elsewhere.

1. Pen. Paper. Period.
Every time I walked into the office of Walter O'Malley or Peter O'Malley, then the owners of the Dodgers, I always had a pen and paper with me. I assumed they weren't calling me in for idle chitchat. So when I would call employees to my office to give them an assignment and they didn't have a pen or pencil and paper, I would let them know this was their one and only time to come into my office unprepared. It all comes under a very basic philosophy: If you want to help your boss, be aware of what he is trying to accomplish and help him accomplish the task.

 -Fred Claire, former executive VP and general manager, Los Angeles Dodgers

2. Stay Late
I had assigned someone a big analysis project with a very tight deadline. At 6 p.m., she emailed that she was leaving. Bad move. That night, I stayed and worked until 10. Leaving before your boss does when a big project is due is not cool, especially when you're new. And if you must do it-pick up the phone. Writing it via email is never good.
-Robyn Fruchterman, former director of global marketing for color brands, Estée Lauder, New York

3. Keep Your Seat
I can't stand it when someone gets up and leaves in the middle of a meeting. It's rude and it disrupts the whole flow of the meeting. People say they have to get a cup of coffee, use the bathroom, wash their hands. But all this comes under the heading of Not Being Prepared for the Meeting to Begin With. If you need coffee or have to go to the bathroom, do it beforehand.
-William Crump, VP, human resources, Lorillard, Greensboro, North Carolina

4. Keep In Touch
If you can accomplish your work from home, it's okay to do so periodically. But always be in contact. Answer your phone. Leave your cell phone on. Be prepared to pull over on the way to the car wash to take a call related to work. I expect to be able to communicate with you when I need to without having to go on a scavenger hunt.
-Steve Baldwin, CEO, Gifford, Hillegass, and Ingwersen, Atlanta

5. Always Frugal, Never Cheap
Don't be penny-wise and pound foolish. Great, you just saved the company $2,000 by buying inexpensive hardware-except that it breaks often and doesn't come with support. The lost productivity plus maintenance costs a lot more than $2,000.
-Ross Garon, principal and owner, Tykhe Capital, New York

6. Take A Second Look Before Clicking "Send"
I'm not fond of seeing egregious typos in e-mails. One employee who hadn't done his proofreading ended up referring to one of my executives as Dunce, rather than Duncan, in formal correspondence. Similarly, I can remember an important email that involved the same executive, whose last name is Huyler, referred to as "Hurler." I don't think Duncan was amused.
- Mike Levin, president and CEO, Media Sciences International, Allendale, New Jersey

7. Don't Ask, Don't Tell
Over lunch a new associate told me that another associate had gossiped with her about his boss's personal problems. It can be seductive when you're young to grab onto the power of knowing things about your bosses. To her credit, I think my associate was simply curious about whether this was the sort of thing one talked about. But it's totally inappropriate. Remember in The Godfather when they're approached about going into the drug business? Sonny jumps in, and Brando silences him, saying, "I have a sentimental weakness for my children and I spoil them, as you can see. They talk when they should listen."
-David Kelso, managing director, JP Morgan Private Bank, New York

8. Know When To Fold 'Em
Don't play Windows Solitaire. Surf the Web instead. It at least looks like you're doing something productive.
-Jeffrey Henning, CSO, Vovici Corp., Rockland, Massachusetts

9. Crunch Time
Don't ever say, "I don't have time." You sound disorganized and worse, you make it my problem that you can't get something done that I need. If it's really the last straw, sit down with me and we'll prioritize.
-Telecommunications executive

10. Shut Up About The Box
Don't tell your boss that you're "thinking outside the box." People who say they're thinking outside the box aren't. And those who are don't need to explain.
-Larry Horn, CEO, MPEG LA, Los Angeles

11. Take Your Punches
Don't be a "door swinger." A door swinger is an insecure, thin-skinned individual who "checks in with you" too frequently after you direct an angry word at him. The door swinger pokes his head in multiple times to see if "everything is okay between us." Everything will be okay if you leave me alone! Just take the constructive criticism and get the job done. Don't waste my time with the unproductive touchy-feely stuff,
-David Snow, former president and COO, Empire Blue Cross and Blue Shield, New York

12. Drivers Wanted
I can't stand people who suggest using a steering committee as a replacement for decision making. You can't steer a car with a committee, and I don't believe you can steer a business with one. Good leadership starts with accountability.
-Jonathan Schwartz, CEO, Sun Microsystems, Santa Clara, California

13. Speak, Don't Type
Emails are for data. Don't write anything else in them. "The meeting is at 5." That's it! Don't take up an issue you're angry about, or some substantive thing you want to discuss. Save that for in person. Email can't convey body language or voice tone-you're going to sound angrier than you mean to. And I'm sorry, the smiley face doesn't work ;-).
-Telecommunications executive

14. Hold Your Tongue
It's amazing how many people don't know this: Don't talk in elevators. Don't come down the elevator from a meeting with a client and turn to your boss and say "Great! We just landed a hundred million-dollar deal!" or "That guy was a jerk!" You have no idea who the other people in the elevator are. They could be your competition.
-Magazine publisher

15. 'Fess Up
If you think you may have made a mistake, don't try to hide it. It's far better to share your doubts, so that your boss can determine if there is, in fact, a problem. Nothing builds confidence faster than honest self-assessment, and nothing destroys confidence faster than incompetence exposed after the fact.
-Orin Herskowitz, executive director, Columbia University Science and Technology Ventures, New York

16. Mind Your Own Beeswax
What annoys me is the antenna that some employees have up to sense a fellow employee's perceived edge. I've been put on the spot by an employee cornering me and asking, "Hey, how come Joe got such and such? Any chance I can get that next time?" Sometimes it's more subtle, but the translation is the same. There are always complex reasons people are valued in different ways, and it's difficult for a manager to explain. It doesn't ingratiate an employee to push the point.
-Steve Shurtz, general manager, Saul Zaentz FilmCenter, Berkeley, California

17. Show The Love
Everyone needs to make a few personal calls at work. Don't look sheepish when the boss walks into your cubicle and catches you talking to your boyfriend or girlfriend. People change the tone of their voice to make it sound like they aren't making a personal call. The abrupt change in tone, from sweet to businesslike, tells the whole story, and it's obvious when you try to hide it. Just own up to it and politely end the call.
-David Pakman, former SVP corporate development and public policy, Bertelsmann BeMusic, New York

18. Take A Hint
When you're approaching the boss, timing is everything. If I'm putting my coat on, I'm going somewhere. If I don't look up from my computer screen when you pop your head in, go away-even if what you're saying is important. If you can't read my body language, are you going to be able to read a client's?
-Publishing executive

19. Never Brag About Friends You Don't Have
Don't exaggerate personal relationships to impress people. I once had a young MBA out of Yale who would occasionally go with me to meetings, then tell others about his close personal relationship with the person he had just met through me. These were my relationships and my meetings. He came and listened. Yet to listen to him tell it, you would have thought he knew the person better than I did. He sounded pompous, and it made him look incredibly insecure and shallow.
-David Snow

20. Quit With Class
During the tech boom, it must have happened half a dozen times-some kid who'd been with us a year and a half would come in, no appointment, and say, "Thought I'd pop in and tell you I'm going to work for such-and-such dot-com. I'll call you if it doesn't work out." Call me if it doesn't work out? What does that mean, that you'll grant me the privilege of hiring you back? Of course, they'd be out on their ass in 60 days waiting tables. If you're going to leave a company, leave humbly, leave well.
-Bill Gray, president, Ogilvy&Mather, New York

21. Don't Forget To Flush
I can't stand people who can't differentiate a good time for schmoozing from a bad one. For example: the bathroom. When I'm standing at the urinal, it's not a good opportunity for face time.
-Marketing executive

22. Never Hover
I believe in an open door policy, but don't abuse it. People sometimes walk in when I'm on the phone and just stand there waiting for me to get off. It feels like there's a ghost in the room and it breaks my concentration. It's one of the few times you'll see irritation on my face. If you walk in and see I'm on the phone, leave a note with my assistant or come back later.
-Herbert Baum, former chairman, president, and CEO, The Dial Corporation, Scottsdale, Arizona

23. Say Goodnight
Don't pretend to be burning the midnight oil when you're not. I've known employees who habitually wait for the boss to leave, only to take off on her heels. Not only is this obsequious, it's completely unnecessary. What counts is not how late you work but what you accomplish. I admire the person who's efficient enough to get the job done and walk out the door at the end of the day in time to have a real life.
-Shelly Lazarus, chairman and CEO, Ogilvy&Mather, New York

24. Edit Yourself
Don't take ten minutes to say something that can be said in one. I'll know that you could have said it in a minute, so the extra time reflects poorly on you.
-Roy Zuckerberg, former vice chairman, Goldman Sachs, New York

25. Don't Be A Meet Eater
I hate people eating at meetings, especially when they're the only ones. If I have to book a meeting during lunchtime, I prefer if people ask first, "Do you mind if I eat?" before they bring food in. It's especially bad with smelly foods.
-Cheryl Lucanegro, VP of advertising sales, Pandora, Oakland, California

26. Don't Hope. Know.
At the top of my list of annoyances is an employee delivering an assignment and saying, "I hope this is what you want." An employee should be involved enough to understand the question we're trying to answer. If they don't understand the goal of the assignment, they need a job elsewhere.
-Ira Stanley, former VP and CFO, MCSi, Dayton, Ohio

27. The Whine List
Few behaviors are more annoying to me than adults who whine-especially in the workplace. I had a new recruit who thought I would enjoy hearing about everything from his troubles with his landlord to how difficult his performance objectives were to achieve. He must have thought that was part of our growing relationship, but I'm not a person who commiserates in that way. To me, whining shows a lack of sensitivity and maturity.
-Eileen Odum, executive VP/group CEO, NiSource, Merrillville, Indiana

28. Humor Him
If I'm trying to be funny, the least you can do is have the courtesy to laugh!
-Frank Petrilli, former president and CEO, TD Waterhouse USA, New York

29. Know When You're Beat
If you don't know the answer, don't pretend you do. You'll have more credibility with me by saying "I don't know, but I'll get right back to you."
-Sam Gilliland, chairman and CEO, Sabre Holdings, Southlake, Texas

30. Keep Pie Out Of The Sky
One thing that pisses me off is people talking about doing something but packaging it without a budget. If you propose things like, "Hey, why don't we hire a PR company?" then make sure you research your proposal. There are costs attached. I don't have time for theoretical ideas without numbers attached. If I have to investigate everything, it becomes micromanagement.
-Dan Yarom, founder and president, Poliform USA, New York
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