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Why Are There So Many Bad Bosses?

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Why Are There So Many Bad Bosses?

Freakonomics Radio,

5 min read
4 take-aways
Audio & text

What's inside?

How did your bad boss become a boss in the first place?

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  • Eye Opening
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If you’re good at your job, where can you go but up? And if you go up, will you find the limits of your capabilities? According to the Peter Principle, you’ll find that limit, perform badly in your new position, and languish in that post forever. It’s unfortunate that society has such a narrow definition of “moving up” in the workplace. In this episode of the Freakonomics Radio podcast, author and journalist Stephen Dubner explores the not-so-hidden side of bad bosses with a little help from some top researchers.


Although employees have a good sense of how well their managers perform, science has failed to nail down the factors that make a good or bad boss.

Research by economists Steve Tadelis and Mitchell Hoffman found no correlation between employee productivity and manager performance. However, when workers perceive a manager to be subpar, employee turnover is usually high. So while the exact attributes of a good boss are unknown, it seems a good boss is capable of retaining happy, productive employees, while bad bosses compel their best employees to quit.

The Peter Principle states that in an organizational hierarchy, people promoted to leadership positions will “rise to their level of incompetence.”

Canadian education scholar Laurence J. Peter was visiting his mechanic when he had a startling revelation: In hierarchical institutions, good workers get promoted again and again until they finally reach a position where they perform badly. Alas, they’ll remain in that position until the end of their careers. Peter came to this conclusion when he watched his...

About the Podcast

Stephen J. Dubner is the host of the Freakonomics Radio podcast, and the co-author of Freakonomics and SuperFreakonomics. In this episode, he interviews data scientist Katie Johnson; Kelly Shue, a professor of finance at the Yale School of Management; Steve Tadelis, an economics professor at U.C. Berkeley’s Haas School of Business; and Stanford economist Nicholas Bloom.

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