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Clueless Boss

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"All my life, I've been weak — so weak that my most trusted adviser was able to hide a hundred years' war behind a curtain of lies!"
Earth King Kuei, Avatar: The Last Airbender

Some bosses are kind. Some bosses are stupid and woefully ineffective. Some bosses are jerks or even worse. And then there's this guy: often a decent person, and possibly well meaning, but so completely disconnected from the reality of his organization that he has no idea that it's frequently doing terrible things.

Often there is either an Evil Chancellor and/or a legion of Obstructive Bureaucrats that keep him from finding out the truth and blissfully ignorant. A frequent plot is the heroes having to clue him in to what is really going on in order to make changes. A frequent subversion to that is it turning out that the boss can't do so, for various reasons such as he's now a senile figurehead, the corruption the heroes are fighting is Inherent in the System, the boss actually approves of it once he finds out and things continue as they were, etc.

Counterpart of the Reasonable Authority Figure. Compare Puppet King, Beleaguered Bureaucrat. Often relies on a helping of Good Is Impotent. These characters often suffer from being a Horrible Judge of Character, and place far too much trust in people who don't deserve to be trusted at all.


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     Anime and Manga 
  • Aggretsuko: The CEO of Carrier Man Trading Co., Ltd., does mean well and wants the best for the company, but his ideas are not always helpful (a nagashi-somen slide for accounting instead of getting rid of Ton) and his attempts to rein in some of his more problematic employees ends up doing more harm than good (in the short term, at least).

    Comic Books 
  • The Spirou & Fantasio story QRN sur Bretzelburg has the Ruritanian king kept heavily sedated by his top general so he'll sign the defense contracts to make war on their neighboring country. The general is actually a disguised conman Running Both Sides, making the other country's queen buy the same bogus equipment in a different disguise. The king is not happy when he finds out.
  • When Tintin first meets Captain Haddock, he's a drunken wreck who has no idea his ship is being used to smuggle opium by his first mate Allan. In later stories as Tintin's companion, his skill as a mariner shines through.
  • In Nero, The King of Papland in De Gouden Vrouw is completely unaware that his trusted advisors are evil, until the end of the story.
  • In Flashpoint, that universe's version of Wonder Woman is not exactly an idiot, but she has no idea that one of her most trusted advisors has been turning the United Kingdom into a huge concentration camp. After learning about it, she is pissed.
  • The Flash: Downplayed as the company wasn't evil, but after becoming CEO of Quickstart Enterprises, Jesse Chambers/Jesse Quick does not do a good job running things (in her defence, she was 22 when she became full CEO, and was still getting her degree). Any time she was shown working, the company was on the verge of some kind of financial collapse, they were frequently on the verge of being bought out, and generally an excuse for any time she missed a team-up was she was busy with the company's latest crisis. At one point, she invested their stock into a company only for it to turn out to be a dummy corp set up by Blacksmith and they froze all their accounts after the merger, which kept Jesse out of commission while she dealt with it. After Zoom she left the company and was much happier.

    Film — Animation 
  • Princess Jasmine's father the Sultan in Aladdin is a kind man and devoted father, but completely blind to how evil Jafar really is and never even suspects that Jafar is plotting against him. The animated series continued this by portraying him as well meaning but completely out of touch.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • A short educational film about the 1892 Homestead Steel Strike portrays Andrew Carnegie as this. Carnegie spends the entire film disconnected from events, philosophizing about the rights of man and workers somewhere in a peaceful meadow, while his Number Two Henry Frick refuses to compromise with the striking union, forcibly locks them out, and then hires Pinkerton detectives to break the strikers, resulting in multiple deaths. The film closes by cutting straight from the carnage at the steel mill to one last segment of Carnegie's monologues.
  • In Die Another Day, Falco failed to inform MI6 about Miranda Frost had been on the fencing team with Col. Moon at Harvard.
  • Subverted with the Chairman of Omni Consumer Products in the RoboCop series. For most of his appearances, he comes across as a doddering relic who is being kept on as CEO by a cadre of sharp and ambitious vice-presidents. Then in the first RoboCop (1987) movie, he gets taken hostage by Big Bad President Jones, who has programmed the OCP prototype not to act against OCP officers (at least not directly). As soon as RoboCop says so, the Chairman neatly negates that immunity by declaring, "Dick, you're fired!" In the second movie, the OCP Chairman continues to play the clueless CEO while being seduced by Doctor Faxx, mere moments after giving the green light to his minions to throw her to the media wolves. It's ultimately left ambiguous whether the Chairman is a Genius Ditz or Manipulative Bastard who purposely tries to make people think he is this trope.
  • In American Dreamz, the US President is a nice, well-meaning guy who is utterly clueless about his Vice-President's machinations.
  • During the Time Skip at the beginning of The Dark Knight Rises, Bruce Wayne has been a complete recluse for eight years. At the start of the film he realizes that, while he was moping in his mansion, Wayne Enterprises was bleeding money, and his charity projects were severely under-funded.
  • The Chairman, Daniel Clamp in Gremlins 2: The New Batch is presented as a childlike idealistic figure entranced by his futuristic visions for his enterprise, seemingly unaware of the less scrupulous antics of his chief of security or Mad Scientist in his research clinic.

  • King Théoden is this at first in The Lord of the Rings, kept ignorant and feeble by Evil Chancellor Gríma Wormtongue.
  • God turns out to be senile and basically on life support when encountered in His Dark Materials. His former Number Two, Metatron, now runs all of creation like a despot.
  • Cornelius Fudge in Harry Potter has no clue someone is going behind his back to authorize Dementor attacks on Harry, thinking everything reported to him is a ploy by Dumbledore to take over the Minister of Magic (a position Dumbledore never wanted). Dolores takes care to ensure this remains the case.
  • Caging Skies: Herr Demner is Da Chief of Knopphart's and only speaks to his employees through telephone; in his stead there is Frau Schmitt who loves to boss everybody around.
    Schmitt was the right arm of Herr Demner, our boss, who never came to the office in person. He worked two floors above and used the telephone if he had a word to say. She spoke on his behalf: 'If Herr Demner sees your foot up on that chair, nein nein nein!' 'Herr Demner wouldn't be happy with such laxness.' 'No crackers during work time, Frau Farrenkoft; Herr Demner would have a fit!''
  • Discworld:
    • In Night Watch, Vimes remembers Captain Tilden, the first captain he had after joining the City Watch, as this, though he didn't realise it at the time. When he travels back in time, Vimes ends up under Tilden's command again (under a false name) alongside his younger self. When Tilden is abruptly relieved of command and replaced, the younger version of Vimes is outraged and says that Tilden was a good captain, while the older, wiser Vimes thinks that Tilden was a good man who was horribly out of place at the job of policing and way behind the times, and it was better for Tilden that he was relieved and out of the picture considering the nasty Full-Circle Revolution that was about to happen.
    • In Small Gods, the Cenobiarch is the senile figurehead of the Omnian church, doing nothing except nodding while his senior chaplain conducts services and blessing anyone who comes near him. He has no involvement whatsoever with the inner workings of the church, which largely consist of brutally torturing and killing heretics and going to war with every nation that’s close enough to fight.
  • Jean Valjean posing as M. Madeleine in Les Misérables does a lot of good as Mayor of Montreuil-sur-Mer, but doesn't realize that one of his employees has turned Fantine out onto the street.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The Wire:
    • After McNulty debriefs Judge Phelan, the proto-MCU is kickstarted when the judge shames Burrell and Rawls for their ignorance and inaction about Avon Barksdale. Of course, Burrell's response is to make sure the MCU is only staffed with useless "humps".
    • Lester Freamon invokes this, when he handpicks a new commander of the Major Crimes Unit after Cedric Daniels is promoted to Major and transferred. Rather than risk being interfered with by a new commander who is a toady to the highly corrupt police brass, Freamon handpicks his friend Lieutenant Jimmy Asher. Asher is much more focused on his upcoming retirement than anything going on in the MCU, so he simply signs anything that Freamon or the other detectives put in front of him. Asher then goes back to planning to build his dream house, blissfully unaware that his detectives are about to serve warrants for corruption to several of the most powerful political figures in the state just before an election. This is briefly put on hold when Rawls replaces Asher with the hostile Charles Marimow, but the quo is restored when Daniels is promoted to Colonel and reinstates Asher as head of the MCU.
    • Lt. Charles Marimow, put in charge of the MCU by Rawls early in season 4 because of Lester's serving of subpoenas at the time of the election. He's abrasive and has a reputation for destroying units and alienating his men, earning the reputation of "a virus". The fact that Herc knows how the drug crews move their stashes around and Marimow doesn't is proof of his incompetency.
    • Carver gets subject to this during his first few months as a sergeant under Major Colvin. Despite being the chief of the Drug Enforcement Unit for the Western District, Carver hasn't a clue of who the players are when a turf war breaks out between the Barksdales and Marlo Stanfield. That, plus Rawls and Burrell pressuring the other Majors to focus on street rips over quality arrests, means Colvin has to go to Daniels to find someone who has useful information. Carver takes Colvin's advice to heart, and spends later seasons forming relationships with the community and crafting informants.
    • Major Colvin is also able to create and maintain Hamsterdam for a long time because his superiors and peers, even the well meaning ones, are drastically out of touch with life in Baltimore and what is happening where.
  • An arc of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine featured a legendary Old Soldier Klingon warrior, Kor, leading a contingent of Klingon ships against the Dominion... and doing really, really badly because he was secretly half senile and during the battle came to believe that he was fighting against The Federation from the Original Series and Captain Kirk! Worth noting, the character (and actor) first appeared on the TOS episode Errand of Mercy.
  • On Leverage the team infiltrates a greeting card company in order to take down the Corrupt Corporate Executive CEO who is embezzling from the company. However, they soon realize that the CEO is actually a good guy who is way over his head running the company and has no clue what is really going on. They then have to find out which of the employees have been manipulating the clueless boss and setting him up to be the Fall Guy.
  • On Turn, Maj. Hewlettt is ostensibly the commander of the British forces in Setauket and, realizing that there's a lot of anti-Tory sentiment underfoot, tries to be as fair-minded as possible. In practice, though, he's so clueless that at one point, Capt. Simcoe manages to poison his beloved horse right under his nose.
  • On M*A*S*H, Col. Henry Blake was the commanding officer of the 4077, but relied heavily on his assistant Radar O'Reilly to do most of the work and was often oblivious to the goings-on around the base.
  • Melissa McCall in season one and most of season two of Teen Wolf. At first she was a keen observer of Hands-Off Parenting (being a single mom with a unpredictable schedule) until season two, when the story begins to kick off and her son continues to miss class and get caught up in the plot. Despite being unaware of the actual circumstances, she eventually begins to take a more active role in his life and investigates; And she does well. Until, she lets it slip that her son is still dating her homicidal mother.
  • WKRP in Cincinnati has radio station-manager Arthur Carlson, who means well but was given the job by his tycoon mother in order to use the station as a tax write-off.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Warhammer 40,000: One of the lords from the newest edition of the Necrons is this to his Beleaguered Assistant bodyguard. Zahndrekh's circuits were damaged during his stasis, and now he thinks he's still stamping down rebellions of his fellow Necrons, even seeing enemies as Necrons, and taking commanders captive. His bodyguard Obyron, who sees things as they are, ensures that these captives keep finding ways to kill themselves in "unfortunate accidents".
  • Classic Traveller campaign The Traveller Adventure. The Marquis of Aramis is a well-intentioned but clueless noble. He's manipulated by the Tukera MegaCorp leader Roald Bulolo into allowing a tradewar with Oberlindes Lines. He has no idea that the main provocation for the tradewar was the result of the criminal scheming of another Tukera leader, Aran Ashkashkur.

    Video Games 
  • The Elder Scrolls:
    • Trebonius Artorius from The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind. He's the Archmage of the Mages Guild, though most people in the guild seem to regard him as a joke. He is a talented Battlemage but is woefully incompetent at running guild affairs. It is implied that he ended up in his current position by getting simultaneously Kicked Upstairs and Reassigned to Antarctica (Morrowind being the most backwater province in the Empire with the weakest guild presence). He gives people seemingly random and pointless tasks (such as taking inventory of all the silverware in Morrowind or digging a tunnel to the mainland) and he doesn't notice that his advisor is actually a Telvanni spy, despite obvious errors in said advisor's credentials.
    • Again with Archmage Savos Aren from the College of Winterhold in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. Rather than being utterly incompetent like Trebonius, he's just become so jaded to the real issues occurring in the College that he leaves almost all administrative duties to second-in-command Mirabelle Ervine, only taking time out of his (not so) busy schedule to make a few executive decisions.

  • Tripping Over You: Mr. Renard, Milo's boss at the theatre, doesn't seem to realize that Milo wants to act there and is unhappy working as a laborer. Subverted when Milo learns that Mr. Renard is stringing him along and doesn't want him as an actor.

    Web Original 
  • On the Dream SMP, George was named king of the Greater Dream SMP after Dream dethroned Eret for choosing to aid the Pogtopians during the war against Manberg. The fact that George didn't even know that there was a war and spent almost the whole time building a house says all you need to know.
  • Many, many examples on Not Always Working. For example:
    • One story tells of a video game store boss who discontinued the store's biggest draw (customers being allowed to play the games before they bought them) because he didn't want parents dropping off their children while they shopped. After this costs them half their business, he fires half the staff and discontinues the weekly game tournaments which another employee points out brings in more money than any other day. He also discontinues new game sales and trade-ins and holds off on ordering new parts for old console repairs. Since the story's submitter relies on commission for older console repairs, he quits since he isn't receiving a paycheck. He also notes that the store went out of business a few weeks later.

    Western Animation 
  • The Earth King from Avatar: The Last Airbender is a well meaning young man who is an amazingly Sheltered Aristocrat whose Evil Chancellor has kept him from even learning that his kingdom has been at war for a century, that his city came close to falling a decade ago and is currently in the middle of a siege.
  • On The Simpsons, Principal Skinner is often portrayed that way. He clearly has no authority and is ridiculed by all children, often making things worse by not thinking things over twice. An example of this occurs in "New Kid on The Block" where Jimbo is lifting Bart's head inside a toilet bowl, while Skinner just waits outside and buys Jimbo's incredibly paper-thin excuse.
  • The farmer tends to be conveyed as such in Shaun the Sheep. The farmyard tends to be a completely dysfunctional place, but his sheepdog Bitzer (sometimes helped or hindered by Shaun and the flock) manages to get everything back in line before he becomes the wiser.

    Real Life 
  • In real life, you have the term "puppet king", which is used to describe kings who think they have the power, but are basically puppets in the hands of their prime minister or another royal family member.