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Pointy-Haired Boss

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"Maybe you could tell me what is going on. And please, speak as you might to a young child. Or a golden retriever. It wasn't brains that brought me here, I assure you that."
John Tuld, Margin Call

While The Peter Principle states that all managers are incompetent by definition, The Dilbert Principle claims that the most incompetent and irrational workers will be Kicked Upstairs where they can no longer disturb the productive flow (at least in theory). This is the origin of the Pointy-Haired Boss.

Incompetence, Inc. is a likely place to find a PHB, but just about any organization with a large hierarchy will do. Occasionally he will be surrounded by very competent workers when Conservation of Competence is in effect.

Very often such a boss is not merely incompetent but evil; the kind of guy who takes all the credit for his employees' success but blames them for his own failures. In these cases he can be more contemptible than the CEO whom he serves: while the CEO is only concerned with padding the bottom line (thereby keeping the company humming along), the Pointy-Haired Boss will sink to any depths to protect his job—a job little better than that of his subordinates, yet one the PHB is completely unqualified for—and will cut the knees out from under employees to make themselves look competent.


On other occasions, they may have been competent and serious about their job at one point or another, but a combination of having to deal with a bunch of angry employees with (frequently unfounded) axes to grind and higher-ups who were around only to micromanage to hell and back and act as nuisances eventually drove them to stop giving a damn altogether and be just barely competent enough to not attract the ire of the upper management.

Less experienced examples may instead feel overwhelmed or unprepared, especially if they're leading an unfamiliar team, and thus compensate by leading with an iron fist and using lots of Make an Example of Them to show employees just how much they mean business; the likelihood of this happening rises greatly if they suspect that their inexperience is being taken advantage of. This typically leads to a vicious cycle, as the people under them will rightly view them as power-tripping assholes who don't know how to lead, which leads to even more excessive displays of dominance, which in turn causes the employees to hate them even more, and the cycle continues until the manager is reassigned or fired or the employees mutiny.


Occasionally he'll also hold the title of Benevolent Boss as well if he's not too competent at handling the actual work yet has the social intelligence to deal wisely with his workers.

All too often this is Truth in Television; one technical term is "manglement", a portmanteau of "mangle" and "management". Compare with the military's General Failure. Shares a lot of overlap with a Clueless Boss.

Though not unheard of, this trope has nothing to do with actual, pointy-haired bosses or Boss Battles. Not to be confused with bosses with Spiky Hair.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • In Monthly Girls' Nozaki-kun, Nozaki's former supervising editor Maeno is one. He is more concerned with himself than with his job, and he doesn't seem to realize how much trouble he causes for everyone. Moreover, his incompetence caused several cases of embarrassing misprints (including Tyop on the Cover), and it was implied that he never actually read Nozaki's manuscript at all.
  • Kenzou Momoi, the section chief of the Welfare Division, from Servant × Service is more benevolent that the usual example, but no less incompetent. Appearing in the form of a remote-controlled stuffed rabbit, he is never seen doing any office work and is as prone to slacking off as the Brilliant, but Lazy Hasebe. He seems concerned about his subordinates' well-being, but usually expresses this by pestering them while they need to focus on their jobs and becoming their Head Pet. When he was accidentally kidnapped/sold by a kid who thought he was a normal stuffed animal, his subordinates agree that they're not missing anything in his absence. They only get him back out of obligation rather than any sort of urgency.

    Comic Strips 
  • The trope namer comes from the original Pointy-Haired Boss in the daily comic strip and former animated TV series Dilbert, seen above playing chess against a pineapple — and losing. (Count the captured pieces!)
    • According to Scott Adams's 1996 book The Dilbert Principle, the truly Pointy-Haired Boss is a reflection of the abandonment of the aforementioned Peter Principle. In the past, competent people were promoted until they reached a position just barely overreaching their talents; now, however, the absolutely incompetent are immediately Kicked Upstairs — where, kept out of contact with the customer base and daily workload, they will do the least harm.
    • Adams draws just about every manager with pointy hair. A minimum of 99% of them are lesser reflections of the original. Interestingly the PHB was originally an unnamed balding manager who was more cruel than stupid. Then one day Adams accidentally drew the hair on the sides of his head slightly pointy and thought the resemblance to devil horns to be eerily appropriate. Then he started making him gradually more stupid while his hair kept getting pointier. And the rest is history. There's been the odd strip that actually sympathizes with the PHB and have him getting angry or frustrated for good reason. Presumably such instances come from the occasions when Adams solicits ideas from his readers, and a boss or manager was the one who got his attention.
    • Most strips actually are reasonably sympathetic to the PHB, inasmuch as it's not his fault he's woefully incompetent. Catbert is more explicitly antagonistic; the PHB is just trying to be a manager and failing horribly at it. Then there's the CEO of the company - the guy who the Pointy-Haired Boss reports to - who's just as incompetent as he is, if not more so. In strips where the PHB has to deal with one of his engineers and people from other departments or companies he is often cast as the Only Sane Man since none of them have any social skills whatsoever.
    • Of course, he manages to get some pretty good evil moments in too.
    • And some useful moments as well.
    • Adams himself, when running a restaurant, realized that he was becoming a Pointy-Haired Boss himself.
  • W.A. Thornhump was a literal Pointy-Haired Boss in Bloom County, and predated the boss from Dilbert by a decade. This was only reflected in his looks, though; he was evil, but not incompetent.
  • Retail:
    • Just about anybody at the level of store manager or higher is portrayed as a PHB, with Stuart being the most prominent.
    • Following her promotion, Marla is trying to avoid becoming one, but upper management's demands (and Josh's insistence to follow corporate orders to the letter) are making it difficult.
  • Ralph, Sally's original boss in Sally Forth.
  • Rose Trellis (at least most of the time) in On the Fastrack.
  • Preben, the owner of the titular radio station in the Norwegian comic strip Radio Gaga, has never had to work a single shift his entire life, partly thanks to his filthy rich father, and partly because that's what his staff's there to save him from. He is usually already drunk by the time he arrives in the morning, a shallow and incorrigible skirt chaser who has no problem whatsoever with Gold Diggers even while he's on the clock, and is so massively out-of-touch with the life of the everyman that he's not even aware of the fact that cars need refuelling. He just buys a new car every time his old one runs out of gas and assumes everyone else can put up with those kinds of outrageous expenses. Heck, he's barely even aware of what a radio is, let alone that he's the supposed owner of a radio station.

    Films — Animation 

    Films — Live-Action 
  • 9 to 5. Franklin Hart: sexist egotistical lying hypocritical bigot, and the boss of the three main characters.
  • In The Heat, Detective Mullins' boss is an incompetent and jaded version of this, and ends up as the Butt-Monkey of Mullins constantly looking for his balls.
  • Bill Lumbergh in Office Space doesn't do much besides orchestrate useless events and badger his employees, who universally dislike him. He puts up a veneer of affability, but reveals himself to be a Mean Boss in the only time he has to actually do something - namely, instead of letting Milton go, he moves his office to the basement and has him kill cockroaches.

  • Colonel Cathcart in Catch-22. Cathcart's main concerns are brown-nosing his superiors and gaining personal glory so he can become a general. He repeatedly raises the number of missions required of his subordinates (thus keeping them in perpetual danger) because it makes him look good. He also has enmity with Yossarian and goes out of his way to ensure Yossarian never gets what he wants(to be sent home).
  • Dexter: LaGuerta got her job on talent for political maneuvering, and is in way over her professional head, showing no apparent ability as a detective. Her behavior toward subordinates could also qualify as harassment in some cases (such as her nowhere-near-subtle sexual overtures toward Dexter). This was introduced in the TV adaptation as well, but was gradually dropped over the first season and disappeared completely by the middle of the second, along with her infatuation with Dexter.
  • Many of the Network Supervisors of the Bastard Operator from Hell series certainly are this, but it's semi-justifiable in that a position with such a high turnover rate probably doesn't particularly attract the employment agencies.
  • Sharpe: Several of the officers, particularly those who purchased a military commission simply because it was fashionable for a gentleman to be an officer. Never mind that they know absolutely nothing about tactics, strategy, or warfare in general.
  • Vice-Chancellor Nesselrode is portrayed as this in The Death of the Vazir Mukhtar.
  • Hamnpork, leader of the Clan in The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents, didn't take the shift to sentience particularly well, being fairly old at the time. By the time the book rolls around, Hamnpork is reduced to being a figurehead for Peaches and Darktan. However, unlike most pointy-haired bosses, Hamnpork is well aware that his leadership qualifications are from a different time, and while he is clearly unhappy about it, he is willing to let Darktan and Peaches call the shots and quietly groom Darktan as his successor. Also, while Hamnpork isn't much of a peacetime leader, he is a highly competent scrapper and solid, if unimaginative, small-unit tactician (he managed to gain and hold authority well into his old age, at a time when Asskicking Equals Authority was in full effect) and puts those skills to good use when called upon to do so.
  • Discworld:
    • Night Watch Discworld gives us two examples in the past version of the title organization. The first is Captain Tilden, a decent enough man who was a competent military leader, but is woefully unqualified to run a police organization. The (largely corrupt) Watch runs rings around him. Later on he is replaced with the future Lord Rust, a General Failure who is a far more dangerous sort of stupid. Vimes winds up laying him out with a single punch and effectively taking command himself (which he was arguably doing anyway under Tilden).
    • Many books involving Vimes have him involved with pointy-haired bosses somehow, usually in the form of the Ankh-Morpork aristocracy or Military figures. He usually tends to tell them what they want to hear and ends up doing what he was going to do anyway by deliberately misinterpreting orders. (And while Vetinari isn't a PHB, he knows enough about how Vimes usually acts that he gives orders that work better when Vimes reacts this way.)
  • George O. Smith's first "Venus Equilateral" story has a particularly memorable example... or at least a particularly memorable screwup by a PHB. The guy arrives, starts screwing things up and annoying people, tensions run higher and higher until there are pointless fights almost constantly... then an engineer swears, runs up to the center of the rotating station to get his bearings, then runs to the air plant — then runs to scream out the PHB. Two days earlier, he'd gone poking about the workings of the station, and been confused by the air plant; he'd been expecting some manner of machine, but all he'd found was a big plot of sawgrass, so he had some workmen clear it out... For those of you wondering what the problem was: the plot of sawgrass was the air plant: it filtered and scrubbed the air, and most importantly converted CO2 (exhaled by humans) back into O2, simply by being sawgrass.
  • Harry Potter: Fudge is definitely there by the fifth book, though Hagrid's remarks about him in the first book suggest that he was never a particularly effective leader. Even before he takes his level in jerkass, he is willing to send Hagrid to Azkaban on the mere suspicion of having opened the Chamber of Secrets just so that the Ministry appears to be taking action, and considering the nature of Azkaban, that's not a very nice thing to do.
  • The Phantom of the Opera: Deconstructed with Opera managers Richard and Moncharmin in the original book: Everybody knows they get their jobs thanks to their connections, that they play petty politics with the singers instead of recognizing their true talent, and they solve any problem firing those employees involved... except those who can defend themselves. Nobody really respects them and they are accustomed to cruel pranks, and that is the cause they never take seriously the Phantom's menaces and think that Debienne and Poligny's warnings are just a Practical Joke... until the Falling Chandelier of Doom incident.
  • Falling Free: Bruce Van Atta is a former engineer, transferred to management where he would hopefully cause less damage. When Leo Graf sets off his plan to reconfigure the Quaddie's space station so that they can steal it, he tells Van Atta that he will be surprised by how much of the station, that Van Atta thinks is being decommissioned, can be "recycled." Van Atta insists that all of Leo's plans go through his office—so he can take Leo's name off them, and replace them with his own so he can take the credit.
  • Both Yuans in Farce of the Three Kingdoms. At one point, Shao dismisses a plan for being "too sensible."
  • Gene Crenshaw from The Speed of Dark rose to the top through his skill at bossing people around despite having no practical abilities. He tries to either shut down the autistics' section or force them all into a cure because he thinks their accommodations are too expensive, even though they're some of the most productive workers in the company. He also disrupts the middle managers' work by calling pointless meetings just so he can look important in the big chair. When one of his underlings dares to complain about his unwillingness to work with the team, he says, "I'm a natural leader. My personality profile shows I'm cut out to be a captain, not crew.… My gift is inspiring others and giving a strong lead."
  • The actual medieval ruling family in Magic 2.0 is revealed to be deeply stupid and must be constantly managed by the wizards to prevent disastrous decisions.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Played deadly serious in Chernobyl. All three of the guys in charge of Chernobyl power plant are horrible - Dyatlov insists on going forward with the test despite everything that went wrong and later sends people to their deaths because he just can't accept what happened, Bryukhanov is a Professional Butt-Kisser whose only thought after reactor #4 exploded is to cover his own butt, and Fomin bullies those under him and is also in such denial that he tells Sitnikov to go look at the exposed reactor core to see if it really had exploded (it had, but even after Sitnikov reports this Fomin denies it). All of them take Never My Fault to the extreme, and their only real purpose in the story is to hamper response to the accident and cause it to get worse. You'd think an exploded reactor would be bad enough without letting it continue for weeks, but no...
  • In 30 Rock, Jack Donaghy is promoted to oversee the production of Liz's comedy show after having invented a microwave. He seems to be a competent businessman, but clearly has no understanding of comedy. Note that he acted more pointy-haired in earlier episodes. This had all but disappeared by the second season. All of his summer shows were great hits, chief among them MILF Island.
    Jack: I've been reading up on humor, I found this hilarious strip called Dilbert, and I want to know, can we do that?
  • In Are You Being Served?, much of the senior staff at Grace Brothers could fit this category. Mr. Rumbold is the most blatant example, but a recurring theme is that everyone in a position of authority at the store is incompetent in one way or another; Captain Peacock is a blowhard, Mrs. Slocombe is far too self-absorbed to be much help to anything except for her pussy, Mr. Grainger is worn-out and well past the point when he should have retired, and Young Mr. Grace is virtually senile. Only Mr. Humphries can handle additional responsibilities while escaping mostly unscathed.
  • The Brittas Empire revolves around one of these running a previously ordinary leisure center. Gordon Brittas can, through sheer tactlessness and incompetence, induce psychological breakdown in pretty much anyone who visits the center. He stops by groups of happy people to offer well-meant "words of encouragement" and they storm off crying. He insults visitors until they're willing to pull a gun over a dispute about a cup of coffee. He tries to settle a problem with an unruly child, and ends up getting the center attacked by a Roman Recreational Society complete with war-elephants. His behavior did inspire many people to have the "I Spy Brittas" game where they have company outings to his center and score points every time they witness his various hand gestures and idiosyncratic tics and hear his various speeches. Bonus points if you get him to talk about The Dream.
  • Captain Brass comes off very much as an incompetent and biased boss in the first episode of CSI, but it may just be that his promotion put him in over his head — when he is demoted to Homicide in the second episode, he becomes every bit the equal to the crime lab folks in professional competence. His demotion to a position of competence is actually a violation of The Peter Principle; something that is even rarer in real life than it is in fictional entertainment.
  • This is how Major Norton was portrayed in Disney's Davy Crockett mini-series, though he may have just seemed this way against Davy.
  • ISO Administrator Mike Goss in Defying Gravity. He grinds subordinates' faces in their mistakes while refusing to admit to or back away from his own.
  • The vacuous, hero-worshiping, management-speak spouting Gus in Drop the Dead Donkey. He would appear to be a living, breathing example of the Adams principle.
  • Dougie in Enlightened is a sort of example. While he is actually rather good at programming, his people-management skills are horrible, and he is pretty socially inept.
  • The laughably incompetent Colonel Klink of Hogan's Heroes. It's been mentioned that he's from noble stock, so he most likely got the position through nepotism more than any real leadership ability. He confirms in one episode that his family pressured him into the military to get rid of him. However, he is also a career officer with decorations for bravery in World War I; he used to be a pilot. It is almost certain he got promoted to his current position in an attempt to get rid of him, both as a bumbling fool and as a non-member of the Nazi party.
    • On the Allied side we have Colonel Crittendon, a British Army officer who constantly is picked to lead sabotage missions into occupied Europe despite apparently having an abysmal track record keeping his men alive. Every time he shows up, Hogan and his group have to work around his stupidity making their job harder. It's actually been mentioned that Crittendon has been the sole survivor of multiple resistance cells that he's been assigned to "help." Unfortunately due to the way that rank works (Hogan is also a Colonel, but Crittendon has seniority because he's been one longer), the Heroes have no choice but to try and undermine him without directly doing so.
  • Homicide: Life on the Street:
    • Detective Gharty is incompetent both as a beat cop and as the head of IAD but turns out to be proficient when he finally lands as a homicide detective. When he is finally re-promoted to head the homicide division in the finale movie, he loses some of his competence again, becoming a shill for the department brass. It is noted that he's not entirely incompetent in the role, but in Giardello has some pretty big shoes to fill — and many of the other detectives note that "he ain't no Gee." Gharty is treated as a rather sympathetic case. While he is intelligent and capable, it has been shown on multiple occasions that he really isn't suited for the rough life of a Baltimore police officer and should have retired years ago (he has earned two citations for Bravery in the past). Gharty also seems painfully aware of how unsuited he is but still helps the main characters and tries to protect them from Gaffney.
    • Averted cynically with Roger Gaffney. He is shown as an incompetent detective, especially when compared to the main characters and is rerouted to a dead-end department, but sleazes his way to a high-end position and gets the Captain's spot Gee had earned. Given the show's cynical view of the bosses, Gaffney fits in perfectly among men with even less moral standing than himself and who happily abuse power for their own ends.
  • Vortex is a literal example in Infinity Limited. Not only is his hair pointy, he is slightly dimmer than his assistant Plankton, who more often than not correctly points out the flaws in Vortex's plans.
  • The IT Crowd:
    • Denholm Reynholm is an Affably Evil CEO who is fairly insane and rather terrifying to the IT staff due to his unpredictable and occasionally illogical behavior.
    • Denholm's son Douglas, who succeeds him, is a would-be lothario and idiot Manchild. He once checks to see whether a gun is loaded by sticking it in his mouth and pulling the trigger. Because he has the hots for Jen, however, he's much more friendly with the IT department.
  • In Made in Canada, Pyramid Productions CEO Alan Roy has no idea how to properly run a film and television production company. His management style is based on reading (but not understanding) best-selling business books, and his ideas for how to "improve" the various films and television series made by Pyramid are universally inane and/or inappropriate (such as re-casting a fly-on-the-wall reality series with himself and two other Pyramid executives as the contestants (leading the series to be cancelled), or lightening the tone of a gritty detective series to such absurd levels that an episode about a murdered prostitute is re-written to focus on a lost kitten (leading that series to be cancelled)).
  • M*A*S*H:
    • Lieutenant Colonel Henry Blake exhibited signs of this, as he was a good doctor but an almost criminally incompetent administrator (though not quite as dim as in the movie). Radar practically ran the unit, only requiring Blake to sign off on documents. One time he got Blake to sign blank pieces of paper even as Blake railed about not knowing what he's signing. That said, Blake was never malicious and generally did try to do the right thing even if he didn't know exactly how to do it. (One wonders how, as described in an 8th season episode, he was able to shape Radar into the Hypercompetent Sidekick depicted in the series.)
    • Hawkeye himself, while regarded as the best surgeon, did not do well when put in charge of the unit. Anytime that situation presented itself, his friends would have reactions in the realm of "Oh God, NOOOOO!" That said, Hawkeye was perfectly aware that he had no talent for leadership and tried to refuse command.
    • Any commanding officer other than Colonel Potter usually got portrayed this way. Major Winchester would abuse the position to wallow in perks and creature comforts which he felt were his due. And that's not even getting into Major Frank Burns...
  • A Mr. Show sketch about downsizing features a boss (played by Tom Kenny) who ends up firing many of his employees in order to boost profits... then notices he's the only one sitting at the table. Realizing he's the only one left, he goes mad from the isolation until his assistant brings him back to earth. He thanks her then fires her.
  • DAC Don Bevan from the pilot and season 1 in New Tricks. He is an empty suit, obsessed with bureaucracy and management buzzwords, and his only interest in UCOS is how it can improve his media profile. His replacement DAC Robert Strickland is actually genuinely interested in making the squad a success.
  • The Office:
    • Michael Scott is a classic illustration of The Peter Principle: he was (and is) a genuinely superb salesman, which got him promoted to the post of Regional Manager — a job he is absolutely unqualified for. Though he can be selfish and petty, his employees are generally competent and sometimes back him when it's important enough. His evil tendencies fade over time, but his general inability to manage remains. His branch is always one of the top performers within the company, at least.
    • Andy Bernard is (along with Pam) the weakest paper salesman, but he gets promoted to regional manager. He terminates a major account on a technicality and the office works better during the three months he's not there. Note that this is entirely due to retcon; when he first took over, he was actually shown to be a decent boss who the others liked working with, but in season 9 his entire character took a sharp turn.
    • Jim, the branch's best sale person next to Dwight, finds himself victim of The Peter Principle after he becomes co-regional manager. When he explains to Michael all the things he did wrong, Michael admits he made the same mistakes when he first became manager.
    • Ryan, who was only a temp, somehow managed to convince his way into becoming the office's corporate supervisor, but it's shown he's a petty, vindictive, and selfish boss who is committing mass corporate fraud to hide how badly he's running things. He's fired and arrested, but then hired back in a non-explicit position because Michael just had an unexplained affection for him.
    • Pretty much everyone in Corporate is shown to be this as time goes on. Michael's direct supervisor, Jan, starts off as the Only Sane Man but quickly devolves into an unstable wreck thanks to her toxic romance with Michael and gets fired. Later, Dunder Mifflin in general goes under due to the rampant incompetence of every other department, leading them to be bought out by Sabre. Robert Califronia, who takes over as CEO of Sabre, is charismatic but completely insane, and he allows Nellie to take over Andy's job while he's on leave despite her obvious incompetence, simply because he was attracted to her. The sole exception seems to be David Wallace, the CFO, but it's apparent that he was not good enough to counter the incompetence of everyone below him.
  • The Office (UK): David Brent also seems to have some sales skills, but is a terrible boss. He's extremely self-centered and spends most of his energy trying to get his employees to think he's cool rather than manage the office properly. Word of God responded to criticisms that Brent would never reach a management position with a retort that a brief look around any kind of corporate-style organization (including The BBC) would reveal that major positions were being filled by people who were even worse than Brent.
  • Pie in the Sky: Assistant Chief Constable Fisher has risen to his current rank by politicking and taking credit for the hard work of others, primarily Detective Inspector Crabbe. He is often seen trying to manipulate events to his own advantage, with a tendency for his manipulations to blow up in his face. Crabbe describes him as possessing a "strange mixture of complete stupidity and naked ambition".
  • Major Neuheim of Private Schulz is pretty much what Colonel Klink would be like if he was a die-hard Nazi.
  • Red Dwarf:
    • Captain Frank Hollister is revealed to have only reached his rank through blackmail (from the lowly position of Doughnut Boy no less), implying that he is possibly even less qualified than Rimmer or Lister (though clearly cleverer and/or more ambitious).
    • Rimmer manages to be this despite only being in charge of one person (or in the case of the books, the most unimportant group of workers on ship).
  • The Television version of Stuff You Should Know features Steve, a rare female example. She keeps order in the office by fostering paranoia among the other staff, and switches show priorities based on her daily whims and complete misreading of social trends. She's somewhat of a more effective manager than others on the list, but that could be because the rest of the office is just as crazy as she is.
  • The Wire has several outstanding examples, both in city government and the Baltimore Police Department, with almost all authority figures fitting in somewhere between Corrupt Corporate Executive and Pointy Haired Boss. The running theme throughout the show is that all organizations are fundamentally crippled by management acting to get themselves promoted rather than succeed at their mission.
  • Arthur "Big Guy" Carlson, of WKRP in Cincinnati. Carlson's mother put him in charge of her station specifically so it would lose money and be used as a tax write-off for her corporation. When the new program director changed the format and the station started to make money, she wanted him fired.
    Arthur: As God is my witness, I thought turkeys could fly.
  • In Reaper there's Ted, the manager of The Work Bench who skirts the line between this and Bunny-Ears Lawyer. While Ted is a jerk that almost no-one likes, he seems fairly good at his actual job. It doesn't help that the main characters are slackers with bigger fish to fry. Until he gets fired, for excellent reason. His replacement, Andi, is more willing to let their habits slide.

  • The "bankers in charge" in Doctor Steel's "Lament for a Toy Factory."

  • Commander, later Commodore, Povey from The Navy Lark. It certainly didn't help that HMS Troutbridge was crewed by the biggest screw-ups in the Royal Navy, but many of the messes Povey found himself in were entirely of his own making.

  • Dino Attack RPG has Elite Agent French Fries, who made several incredibly poor choices that had disastrous consequences. Of note are his decision to expose the previously top-secret campaign in Antarctica (at first seeming like a good idea, only to accidentally cause massive riots and escalate the already mounting tension between the idealist and realist sides of the team into a whole new level of violence). Later on, he attempted to perform a court-martial against George and Rotor with conflicting charges, implement a "brilliant" idea that involved everyone walking very slowly toward a horde of mutant dinosaurs, and finally got beaten up by several different people for his trouble.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Many RPGs with diversified point-buy systems have characters suffering from PHB syndrome, especially if rank is among the characteristics to be bought. You can create a character that uses 95 of their 100 points on their traits and 5 on (e.g. military, noble or clerical) rank or you can use 80 points on traits and 20 on rank. Guess which character will be more competent...
  • Paranoia has the CPU services. While every service has a few of these (read: everyone in it above the Troubleshooters' clearance, plus everyone at the Troubleshooters' clearance, plus the T-Shooters), only CPU will deliberately promote them.
  • The Brik Wars rulebook 2005 and 2010 has a picture of a pointy-haired minifig holding a piston to illustrate half-minds. Curiously, he was illustrating the cleverer mind, the other minifig was holding the pistol to his face.

    Video Games 
  • The Elder Scrolls
    • In Morrowind, Mages Guild Archmage Trebonius Artorius is a shining example. He actually is an incredibly talented Battlemage, which helped him to rise through the ranks of the Guild. However, he quickly proved hopelessly incompetent at managing Guild affairs. His mainland superiors responded by promoting him further (in the Kicked Upstairs fashion) and putting him in charge of the Guild branch in the most backwater district in the Empire where he could cause the least amount of trouble. He let in a badly disguised spy (whose credentials even had High Chancellor Ocato's signature spelled wrong), spends his time giving his underlings Impossible Tasks and sending them on Snipe Hunts, all while generally acting petty and immature to those who offend him. When the Player Character comes to him for assignments, he sends you on a task to learn about the disappearance of the Dwemer and is shocked when you actually manage to find a plausible answer. Then he sends you on a mission to kill all of the Telvanni councilors. While there is a peaceful way to deal with him, it leaves you as the co-head of the Guild with Trebonious, which is obviously less desirable. You can instead challenge him in a duel to the death for his position, receiving it as a Klingon Promotion if you win. However, need we remind you that he is, despite his other flaws, a very talented Battlemage? (Ironically for this trope, he is also completely bald.)
    • The Mages Guild seems to encourage this trope. Unfortunately, in line with The Peter Principle, being a skilled user of magic does not automatically translate into being a skilled administrator. The Absent-Minded Professor nature of many skilled mages also does not help. Jeanne Frasoric, the head of the Bruma Mages Guild Hall in Oblivion, is a ditzy, scatterbrained mage with delusions of self-importance. She is also almost totally inept at magic, and only got her position as branch head due to her connections, something she brags about constantly, oblivious as to what that actually says about her. None of her subordinates respect her, and several pass the time pulling pranks on her. She's hardly the only Guild Hall leader in Cyrodiil in this regard, either.
  • Department of Death Boss Don Copal in Grim Fandango might not have any actual hair, but if he did, it'd be pointy.
  • Cave Johnson from Portal 2 combines this trope with Mad Scientist for a Crazy Awesome blend of gross fiscal mismanagement, Inhuman Resources, and revolutionary super-science wasted because he can't figure out what it might be actually good for (e.g. marketing gel that bounces with 100% elasticity as a dietary supplement).
  • Toothpick from Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time. Although he's the resident Manchild, he is also cruel to his own employees.
  • Nobles in Dwarf Fortress tend to be like this. For instance, nobles will periodically ban and unban the export of their favorite types of materials (like iron). So, if the noble has recently unbanned the export of iron, you might take the chance to sell some iron items to a caravan... only to have the noble re-ban iron after the caravan has packed up and is heading off, but before they disappear off the edge of your settlement. Once that caravan disappears off the edge of your settlement, whoever helped export the iron will be punished. They will also mandate the production of goods according to their preferences, with zero respect for feasibility or even physical possibililty. Glass items will be mandated in locations with no sand to speak of, beds will be demanded made out of metal (outside of strange moods, wood is the only material that you can make beds with) and occasionally you'll get mandates for things made of slade, which is incredibly rare and cannot be mined or worked. Nobles with inconvenient preferences thus tend to sufffer Unfortunate Accidents, like being given a room that turns out to be a drowning chamber.
  • Mettaton from Undertale is this according to Burgerpants, who describes MTT Resort as a "labyrinth of bad choices", and that's hardly an exaggeration. Among other things, the restaurant requires you to reserve everything — table, silverware, food, etc.; the fountain has been changed to a statue of Mettaton that misses the fountain, flooding part of the entrance hall; and you don't get room keys, so if you leave your room you have to pay to get back in. What's more is that, every time someone suggests a change for the better, Mettaton shoots it down with "That's not how they do it on the surface!"
  • Clarence's Big Chance: Clarence's boss may well be, given that he talks in chatspeak and that Generic Company in general seems rather incompetent.
  • Although Dylan Merchant in Hypnospace Outlaw is technically the second-in-command to his brother Adrian at Merchantsoft, he's the primary representative of the company you'll be seeing. Unfortunately. His sheer incompetence, particularly his habit of pushing updates to the Brain–Computer Interface without proper QA, makes him the single most destructive force in Hypnospace — moreso than even malevolent hacker T1MAGEDDON — and de facto Big Bad of the game despite incompetence and his efforts to hide it, not malice, being his primary traits.

    Web Comics 
  • Lord Stanley the Tool from Erfworld. He is not only is a Pointy-Haired Boss, but he's also a Bad Boss who threatens to kill Parson for simply noting that Stanley is short, and an Evil Overlord. And to top it all off? He believes that he is holy, and on a Mission from God (though in his defense, there's a good chance that he is). However, this may fall under the "promoted beyond his capabilities" aspect of the trope, as he's a pretty savvy tactician and capable warrior. Although, as the story progresses he seems to be going through Character Development to be less of a Bad Boss, as he actually is putting effort into trying to be nicer to his subordinates, and he has shown several moments of competence, such as negotiating an alliance with the Juggle Elf tribe all on his own.
  • The head developer of Clichequest, the satirically stereotypical MMORPG that The Noob is set in and around, is an idiot, Jerkass and Small Name, Big Ego to boot.
  • Mike in Between Failures is self-aware and trying not to be one of these, but his management training was inadequate to prepare him for the job, and those in charge of him have fobbed him off on one of the least important branch stores rather than trying to help him.
  • Dr. Phage in Awful Hospital, though it's not so much a case of idiocy as it is a case of being insanely weird even by the hospital's standards, along with a bad, bad case of Blue-and-Orange Morality. His thought process is so darned alien he looks like an utter moron.
  • George Fennec of Kevin & Kell is owner of Hare-Link, but only got that position because his daughter, the former owner, wanted to avoid a potential conflict of interest situation when her mother wanted her to promote her new stepfather. He makes hardly any useful decisions for the business except for once filling in for Kevin as a representative for a deal with Carrot Computers, and tends to be quite distracting. When he passes out after it dawns on him that his pregnant rabbit wife will likely have a litter of babies rather than just onenote , Kevin notes that they can finally get some work done. George is actually a benign example. His ex-wife was emotionally blackmailing their daughter into firing her boyfriend's father and promoting her step-father, and Fionna did not want, so that George offered her a way-out. And he seldom makes business decisions because he trusts Kevin to run the company with as little interference as possible, since Kevin had been the company founding and owner for the longest time.
  • Horns, the Weapon Brown version of Dilbert's PHB is decidedly not like the original. For starters we're introduced to him as he's murdering Mr. Dithers to take charge of The Syndicate. Then again he forces the Mad Scientist version of Dilbert to rush CAL-v1.N and HOBS' awakening and ignores "Dilbert's" warnings that the two are unstable and uncontrollable.

    Web Videos 

    Western Animation 
  • The Dilbert TV series. See the Comics Strips section for more on Dilbert in general. The TV incarnation of the Boss focuses more on him being a Cloudcuckoolander rather than a flat-out Mean Boss.
  • Dr. Venture from The Venture Bros. considers super-science to be a more productive use for the future. After becoming the CEO of JJ's company, Rusty immediately fired the entire board of directors, ignoring how much more profitable and easier JJ's setup was, causing the company's stocks to plummet. There's a reason why nearly everyone calls him the world's dumbest scientist.
  • Mr. Larrity from Code Monkeys outdoes perhaps even the trope namer; the man has no clue how to run a video game company (other than knowing that Games = $$$), generally treats his staff like crap, displays unapologetic sexism, has been known to do such outrageous things as bet Gameavision on a clearly bad Poker hand (that includes cards not even found in a standard deck of cards, like a blue Uno Reverse)... one could go on forever and not even scratch the surface.
  • Principal Pixiefrog from My Gym Partner's a Monkey is hampered by his perpetual fear of lawsuits and his difficulties getting students and staff alike to take him seriously.
  • CatDog: Rancid Rabbit at his least villainous is this. Otherwise, he's a Mean Boss or even a full-out Bad Boss.
  • Phineas and Ferb:
    • Major Monogram drifts into this sometimes. While in most cases Doofenshmirtz is usually doing something to warrant sending Perry to stop him, there are a few instances where Doofenshmirtz is usually taking an off day such as going on a blind date, meeting an old teacher, going to a convention, actually being sick, etc., but Monogram doesn't really bother to look into these case and send Perry to "stop him" anyway. Then again, even in those occasions, Doofenshmirtz was doing something that should be stopped. In the blind date, Doof had developed a device to deprive people of their emotions if his date failed; to impress the "old teacher", he tried to blow up the moon; the convention was for evil scientists so, there was a reason to think someone (even if it wasn't Doofenshmirtz) would do something Perry should stop; when he got run over by an ice cream truck, he tried to hit the truck with a giant tire. Even when Major Monogram sent Perry to Doofenshmirtz because Doof was picking up empty bottles for recycling, it turned out it was for some plot ("It's green and evil! I call it 'greevil'!"). On top of that, it's sometimes implied that Perry is OWCA's best agent, while Doofenshmirtz is their least serious threat.
    • Doofenshmirtz himself proves to be this for Doofenshmirtz Evil Incorporated; both his daughter and his Minion with an F in Evil proved to be more competent than him.
  • Richard De Longpre from Allen Gregory, a sexually depraved Manchild who prides himself on being the seemingly successful CEO of the corporation he inherited from his father; In fact, he is so dysfunctional on every level that his own board of directors assume most of the actual work in running the company, with Richard relegated to carrying a worthless title while maintaining the illusion that he's the one in charge. And that's to say nothing of his heir apparent, Allen Gregory...
  • Futurama:
    • Zapp Brannigan, a celebrated space captain who can't fly his way out of a wet paper bag. He puts all the work on his assistant Kif and takes any credit he can. His strategies for any threat are usually Attack! Attack! Attack!, sending hundreds of Red Shirts to their demise while he sits back and does nothing. The only reason he hasn't gotten himself offed note  because circumstances usually prevent it from happening and at best he walks away with a few bruises.
    • Fry becomes a literal one of these when... That '80s Guy bought out Planet Express and promotes Fry to the position of Vice-Chairman simply on the fact that they were both from the '80s.
  • Pops from Regular Show is this. He's the boss at the park, but he's incompetent, childish, clueless, and very naive. However, unlike most examples of this trope, he's a Benevolent Boss. He's an incredibly sweet man, and always has a kind word for everyone. Everyone at the park really likes him, even though he's an oddball. Benson is the opposite, frequently threatening to fire Mordecai and Rigby over unfair or mundane reasons.
  • Heavily lampshaded with Randy Marsh in the South Park episode, "A Nightmare on Facetime". Years later, he came back to be this when running his pot farm, Tegirdy Farms.
  • Lucius Heinous VII from Jimmy Two-Shoes, although he is technically a Pointy-Horned Boss, being Satan and all. If it wasn't for Heloise, Misery Inc. would completely fail to live up to its name.
  • Archer:
    • Mallory, Archer's boss/mom, whose mind tends to fly on missions and who sometimes becomes an emotional wreck.
    • Happens to the KGB as well in season 3. Not that Major Jakov was especially competent, but he is eventually replaced by Barry Dylan, a former ODIN agent rebuilt as a cyborg. Which might be fine, as Barry was good at his job, but becoming a cyborg seems to have exaggerated his Bunny-Ears Lawyer tendencies into full-blown insanity. He has since been replaced by Katya Kasanova (also a cyborg and former agent), and it remains to be seen how competent she is.
  • Nestor from Scaredy Squirrel is the manager of The Stash n' Hoard, but doesn't even know how to run the place right.
  • Robin on Teen Titans Go! is literally and figuratively a Pointy-Haired Boss.
  • Pumpers from Breadwinners due to thinking as himself as The Ace and for having a massive ego.
  • Stan Pines in Gravity Falls, a shady grifter and cheapskate who runs a tourist trap called the MYSTERY (S)HACK, and uses every trick in the book to make a quick buck, Dipper even marks him as mediocre boss. However, Stan has a very deep and dark past which explains how and why he got to be who he is.
  • The Batman has GCPD Chief Angel Rojas in its first two seasons. The man is incompetent, a glory hog, petty, an Ungrateful Bastard, and refuses to learn from his mistakes. He couldn't solve some of the Riddler's easiest riddles. On a couple of occasions, he's trying to take credit for Batman's work. He's a Mean Boss, openly belittling detective Ethan Bennett in front of his other subordinates just because Bennett supported Batman; this, along with the Joker's Mind Rape, drove Bennett to become the show's first Clayface. Even after Batman saved Rojas from Clayface and later Mr. Freeze and Firefly, he's still a jackass to him and when he learns Bennett's partner, Ellen Yin, was in an alliance with Batman, he fired her and used her as a hostage to get Batman to come to him, so he could capture him. Karma then bit him in the ass in the episode he pulled that last stunt, as the Trope Namer for The Commissioner Gordon had just debuted and became Commissioner, ergo outranking Rojas, and proceed to both end Rojas's manhunt for Batman and force Rojas to release and reinstate Yin.
  • Mary Gibbons from The Mighty B! is a sadist of the Honey Bee Academy but doesn't even know how to run a school properly.
  • Professor Pamplemoose from Sidekick thinks he knows how to run a school right, despite being a total idiot.
  • Grossology: The Director, whose lack of competence at his job can largely be narrowed down to the fact that someone thought it would be a good idea to make a neurotic Neat Freak the head of an agency that specializes in dealing with disgusting things.

Alternative Title(s): Stupid Boss


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