Brennan: In fact, Dr. Saroyan, I worked for you.
Cam: We both know better.
Maybe he is hopelessly incompetent. Maybe he was set up as a leader in early episodes, but Characterization Marches On. Maybe he's an Obstructive Bureaucrat that presides over a band of Bunny Ears Lawyers who've long ago seized control. Maybe his second in command is a Dragon-in-Chief or Hyper-Competent Sidekick, and has been pulling the strings for years. Regardless of the reason, this trope is about bosses who just don't act like bosses.
There are four main types:
- A boss who is so incompetent and clueless that he does not even realize that he has no real power.
- A boss who does not act like one (e.g., wants to be best buds with the employees) but still has real power in the company and should not be directly disobeyed or offended.
- A boss who acts like a 'proper boss' but actually lacks the power to make the employees always obey him. Often the problem is caused by a few Bunny Ears Lawyer types whom he simply cannot afford to fire.
- A positive version: a boss who exchanges power and control for the friendship of trusted "subordinates", usually as part of workplace True Companions.
Compare Authority in Name Only.
Nothing to do with video game Bosses.
- Misato in Neon Genesis Evangelion is qualified. Her orders come off as more motherly than bossy, and she acts like a sister at home.
- In One Piece, Luffy's the captain of the Straw Hats but usually doesn't act like it. Particularly towards the beginning of the show, he tended to follow orders more than give them, prompting several characters to point out that Nami acted more like the captain than the actual captain. However, this has been changing as the story goes on: Luffy gives orders and makes decisions for the crew a lot more often now.
- In general, Luffy has a very laissez-faire approach to captaining. Everybody on the crew does whatever they want most of the time, and later follow him when he takes action, due to him having earned their admiration and loyalty. Small requests of his can sometimes be ignored, and members of the crew (Nami) even physically abuse him sometimes.
- Even later on in the story, Luffy isn't much for thinking about long-term strategies. He also explicitly refuses to become official head of the allied fleet, instead giving all his allies a piece of his Vivre Card (which points the way to the person in question's location and shows their current status) and telling them to come help out if he needs it.
- Saki Vashtal from Area 88: closest to type 3. While not incompetent, Saki is not an outstanding leader and generally lacks the ability to motivate people to go out of their way to do things for him. The pilots follow orders mostly because it's what they're paid to do. And they can refuse his orders if they can afford the $5000 dock to their pay. In an emergency situation, after the Wolfpack decimated all of the planes at the base, Saki was manipulated into a bargain where he offered to pay prize money, fuel, weapons, and repairs on the ten handpicked pilots that would fly the replacement planes sent by HQ.
- Urara Shiraishi from Yamada-kun and the Seven Witches. It's easy to forget that she's actually the president of the Supernatural Studies Club because she usually acts like a normal member and lets the others take charge. She may assert herself and give orders if she really thinks it's necessary, though.
- Kou Yagami of New Game! acts like a boss but her funny personality often gets the better of her, leading her subordinates to think twice about taking her seriously. In the past, however, she was overly strict as art director, driving one new hire to quit, and regrets her actions back then.
- In Saki, while Satomi Kanbara is the actual Club President of the Tsuruga Academy mahjong club, Yumi Kajiki not only happens to be the best player, but acts more like a leader. Yumi even picks Mutsuki as the next president, and while Kaori, a long-time friend of Satomi's, is surprised, Satomi simply goes along with it.
- Bloom Into You
- Kuze, Touko's predecessor as Student Council President, is a Type 2, being the sort to hand off work to his subordinates, resulting in Touko doing most of the work for the student council. In fact, in the second volume of the Regarding Sayaka Saeki spinoff series, Touko and Sayaka are actually surprised when he firmly vetoes Touko's proposal for the student council to do a play, since he realizes that the idea is not feasible.
- Surprisingly enough, Touko's sister Mio was also a Type 2, taking the fun jobs, such as doing speeches, and giving the rest to the student council, who even had to do the president's summer homework. Ichigaya, who served on the student council on the time, remembers the president fondly, and said he always thought the role was about delegating work.
- Touko is a mild Type 4. She's competent and hard-working, but generally doesn't assert her authority very often. She treats most of her fellow members as her friends, particularly Sayaka and Yuu.
- In Fury: My War Gone By, the character Barracuda is in charge of his outfit despite only being a sergeant and having two officers above him. This is what makes Nick Fury (correctly) suspect corruption within the outfit.
- Depending on the Writer, era, and/or medium Bruce Wayne is actually or is feigning any of the four types.
- The Transformers: More Than Meets the Eye: Rodimus is ostensibly the captain of the Lost Light, but he rarely bothers exerting actual authority outside of missions. The crew mostly just do whatever they want until Rodimus asks them to do something, and even then they often refuse to follow bad commands. This ends up making the transition to Megatrons captaincy even more difficult than it normally wouldve been; Megatrons attempts to instill some discipline anger the crew, who by that point have gotten used to Rodimuss more laidback approach.
- In The Phantom Menace, Supreme Chancellor Valorum, a Type 3, tries to get things done, but despite the power his position theoretically has he is stymied at every turn by assorted political factions of Corrupt Politicians and Obstructive Bureaucrats, as well as the closet Sith Lord that he mistakenly believes is one of his supporters and who has arranged to keep him on the defensive over baseless allegations of corruption while he makes a play of his own for the chancellorship. Even the Jedi Order, while publicly respecting his office, tend to make decisions within their own Council and do not consult him.
- In Iron Man, Tony Stark is a serious type 2 — he's the head of Stark Industries, but he doesn't run it. That honor belongs to the queen of Hypercompetent Sidekicks, Pepper Potts. A couple sequels in, he recognizes this reality and makes her the official boss.
- This is a major theme in Atlas Shrugged. Alleged Bosses are among the book's prime villains, and they are villains precisely because they fail to act like bosses. Case in point: Jim Taggart, who is the president of a large railroad company but is so spineless and incompetent that it's his sister Dagny, the company's Vice President, who actually runs things. James has actual power but it's tempered by not being competent enough to get anything useful done. Basically he's a boss until his sister convinces him that he's heading for disaster and only she can save him.
- At the beginning of Brothers in Arms, Miles Vorkosigan faux-modestly claims to be this, saying that he just plays the part of the Admiral while Commodore Tung does the real work. This isn't complete rubbish - originally Miles relied on Tung's experience a lot - but it's not the whole truth, and Elli immediately calls him out on it. It's strongly implied that part of the reason that Tung eventually decided to marry and retire was that he'd come to the conclusion that Miles didn't need him any more and was ready to be the boss in truth.
- Warden Tim White in Hollow Places. As per the intentions of his corrupt employers, he pretty much lets the prison run itself, allowing the guards to become increasingly abusive. He only intervenes when the abuse goes a little too far and starts to leave marks. Asides from that, his job basically consists of bribing local judges and managing logistics. Austin notices popular media websites reflected in his glasses more than once, heavily implying he spends most of his days surfing the web.
- The Space Trilogy: Jules is nominally the director of N.I.C.E., but he's only a pompous windbag who's clueless about what really goes on there. Wither and Frost are actually in charge.
- One Nation, Under Jupiter: Turbidus, the editor for the New Antioch Tribune, who seems to be subject to Diagoras' whims.
- Mustrum Ridcully, Archchancellor of Unseen University in the novels, actually zig-zags between two and three; how much authority he commands seems to be inversely proportionate to how much he acts like a university administrator. Usually he's a loud, informal authoritarian who replaced his desk with a pool table and thinks any problem can be solved by shouting at people. And the wizards know where they stand with this, even if it's as far away as possible. Occasionally, however, he starts worrying about management styles and dynamic leadership qualities, which triggers mild rebellion among the faculty. This leads to Ridcully shouting at them, and everything goes back to normal... for the moment.
- Unseen Academicals adds another wrinkle in this arrangement with the reveal that Ponder Stibbons, Ridcully's Hypercompetent Sidekick, has been picking up the slack in so many roles that he now single-handedly constitutes a majority vote of the college council and thus has the authority to overrule Ridcully if he chooses. He only pulls this card once, though, since he generally trusts Ridcully's judgement.
- Nominally, they can act as a check for each other. For Ridcully, if someone's still trying to explain something to him after several minutes, it might actually be important: for everyone else, the question is, "Is this worth the time trying to explain it to Ridcully?"
- In military thriller Victoria, President Warner of the late-stage United States is generally presented as a rather well-meaning but weak ruler, usually under the thumb of the extremists and corrupt insiders in his administration. However, he does show decisive and effective leadership on a few occasions, notably when forcing his hawkish military advisors to stand down in the escalating conflict with Russia.
- The Fold has two examples.
- Protagonist Mike is preparing a report on the project to its oversight board. Whether the project gets funding or not depends entirely on whether he says so. Nonetheless the project team mocks, blocks, and slow-walks him until he figures it out on his own.
- Mike's boss Reggie expects Mike to submit regular progress reports to him as Mike is drawing up his recommendation. As soon as Mike gets useful information he stops reporting to Reggie and asks for more resources without answering questions.
- Bones: Cam may struggle — and occasionally succeed — at maintaining her authority, but it doesn't always work. Generally Type 4 or 2.
- Beckett from Castle is a Type 3 or 4. Her team loves her, but doesn't always obey her orders. Summed up when Ryan and Esposito pull a risky and illegal stunt and are surprised when she chews them out.
Ryan: Wow, you actually sound like our boss.
Beckett: Just tell me ahead of time next time so I can help!
- Who runs NCIS again? Morrow, Shepard, and Vance, or Gibbs? Hint: he can only be killed by silver bullets. Maybe. Type 3, and with Vance it seems to be diverging into Type 4.
- On NCIS: Los Angeles Hetty is firmly in charge of the LA office and the agents know that she will punish them if they get out of line. However, the feeling among some NCIS higher-ups is that she oversteps her authority and treats her superiors as Alleged Bosses (similar to Gibbs). On a smaller note Callen is the senior agent-in-charge and technically the boss of the other agents on his team but while he is the leader, he lets Hetty handle all the boss duties.
- In Plain Sight: Stan thinks he's in charge. He really does. He's slowly graduating from Type 3 and 4.
- Type 2. Station owner Jimmy James in NewsRadio. While he occasionally comes down for serious business, most of the time he just hangs around and shoots the breeze.
- The Office (US):
- Michael Scott. His main concern is that his employees love him like a friend, and thus goes to great lengths to avoid being the 'bad guy'. Combine this with being generally awkward at social interaction and not very good at managing employees, it's a wonder that the Scranton branch functions at all.
- Over Michael's head, there's Jan, who before her Flanderization into a complete lunatic was a somewhat decent boss capable of reining in Michael's excesses, if unable to rein in her inexplicable attraction to him.
- Above Jan is David Wallace, who gives the outward appearance of being a competent boss, but in reality has an extremely difficult time saying no to Michael, preferring to use double speak and mealy mouthed phrases. He also is quite quick to walk back his orders at the slightest pushback. Of course this may be necessary in dealing with Michael Scott, lest he run off to found his own paper company and tank the sales numbers of their most profitable branch.
- Charles Miner seems to be the only person they ever hired who's capable of exercising actual authority, and even then he doesn't have the best judgement. Karen does a decent job of holding down the Utica branch as of Season 4.
- Jack of Just Shoot Me! is a Type 2, hanging around and being friendly with his workers, but willing to assert his authority when necessary.
- The Office (UK) has David Brent who wants to be everyone's friend, isn't actually any good at being a manager and seems more interested in the fact that there's a TV documentary film crew in his workplace.
- On Leverage the team go after a standard Corrupt Corporate Executive target, a CEO embezzling from his company. However, once they infiltrate the company they discover that the guy is incompetent and so overwhelmed by his responsibilities that he has no control over what is happening in the company. He is a former football star who inherited the company and the position. The team now has to discover which of the employees is manipulating the company from behind the scenes and setting up the CEO as a patsy. Later subverted when it's explained he's a decent executive ... when everything is explained in football metaphors.
- The Closer: Brenda pretty much gets her way, regardless of Chief Pope's opinions. Occasionally subverted, but usually not.
- Type 4. Within The West Wing True Companions, hierarchy and rank tend to get blurred. But ALWAYS Averted with President Bartlett.
C.J.: I'm assigning an intern from the press office to that web site. They're going to check it every night before they go home. If they discover you've been there, I'm going to shove a motherboard so far up your ass... What?
Josh: Well... technically, I outrank you.
C.J.: So far up your ass!
- Han from 2 Broke Girls, who gets no respect from any of his employees. They also get away with a lot, including being rude to nasty customers—which is entertaining and funny, but likely to get you fired under a good boss.
- Col. Henry Blake from M*A*S*H was supposed to be in charge of the 4077th, but outside of the Operating Room most of his time was spent boozing, recreating, or philandering. His Hyper-Competent Sidekick was well understood to be the person actually running the camp. Also, the dueling doctor factions who were supposed to be Henry's subordinates were frequently overstepping or walking all over him in order to carry out their zany schemes. Blake's replacement, Col. Potter, was able to command a lot more respect and thus appear more in charge.
- Henry Blake was a bit of a mix between varieties 1 and 4 of this trope: He was (mostly) a genuinely nice guy, and meant well, but had no idea how to run things, would do anything he could to dodge responsibility, and would openly defer to his subordinates whenever any decision had to be made. He was still a fairly competent doctor, however, and would even go out of his way to do the right and decent thing on occasion. Because of this, and because, after all, he never asked for the command that he was so woefully incapable of handling, many of the other characters on the show felt true affection and comradeship towards him. His Hyper-Competent Sidekick even saw him as a bit of a father figure.
- House: Type 3. Even though Cuddy is the one in charge, House tends to walk all over her to get what he wants. She is still an incredibly competent boss, however, and is usually able to stop him from going too far.
- A mild example is Colonel Mitchell in the last two seasons of Stargate SG-1. While he's nominally the team leader, as he points out to General Landry, Daniel and Teal'c are civilians and Carter's the same rank as him, while he's the new guy on a team of living legends, so getting them to do something they don't want to is a little tricky. Type 4.
O'Neill: Does it say Colonel anywhere on my uniform?
- In "The First Commandment", O'Neill lampshades this in reference to himself when first Carter and then Connor refuse to follow an order in quick succession, leading to the infamous line:
- On The X-Files, Walter Skinner is type 3. He eventually gets replaced due to his inability to make Mulder and Scully obey him. Alvin Kersh, the new boss, would be the same type, since it's not like Mulder, Scully and/or Dogget and Reyes listen to him any better, except for the fact that he plays dirty and has better connections within the Bureau than Skinner.
- The Wire, episode "Boys Of Summer": Lieutenant Jimmy Asher is the head of Major Crimes Unit. On paper, that is. He's really just a hands-off guy installed while Lester Freamon is the actual guy leading Major Crimes.
- On WKRP in Cincinnati, station manager Arthur Carlson. He only has the job because his tycoon of a mother owns the station and, it's eventually revealed, she's using it as a tax write-off. He's a good and decent man, he means well, and the staff all like him OK, but the station is actually run by program director Andy Travis and (in a subtle sort of way) the receptionist Jennifer Marlowe.
- Ron Swanson on Parks and Recreation is the director of the Parks department, but Leslie Knope runs the show more than he does. This is primarily because Ron is a staunch Libertarian who intentionally doesn't do his job in an effort to make the government more inefficient while Leslie is a Hypercompetent Sidekick who strongly believes in government services.
- At one point, he reminded Tom that he's the boss and Leslie isn't, and Tom responded by laughing. Another time, Tom tries to dodge work by stating (correctly) that Leslie isn't his boss and thus can't give him orders. Cue Ron walking by and, without missing a step and without even knowing anything about the situation, telling Tom to do whatever Leslie said.
- Doctor Who: The Fifth Doctor has shades of Type 3 and 4. He has an unfair reputation in fandom of being a doormat. This may be due to the presence of Tegan, who is regarded as one of the most difficult companions. The Ninth Doctor has shades of 2 and 4. He is often described as an "enabler", preferring others to act for themselves than giving direct orders. He also treated his companions more like members of a team with himself as just another team member. But he did come down hard on those who misuse his trust, such as Adam Mitchell.
- In Blake's 7, Roj Blake tried to be The Captain and succeeded for the most part. Although he appeared to be type 3 in his interaction with Avon, it should be noted that Blake was a very skilled psychological manipulator and understood Avon better than Avon understood himself. After Blake's departure, Avon, on the other hand, aimed to be type 3, since he had realistically low expectations of himself as a rebel leader (a job he didn't want and for which he lacked the neccesary leadership skills) and of the others as followers (especially newcomers Tarrant, Dayna, and Soolin). But as time went on, he deteriorated into type 1 due to paranoia and obsessive behavior regarding Servalan/Sleer. Avon had to deal with newcomer Tarrant in a similar manner that Blake used to have to deal with Avon, though not anywhere near as successfully.
- In Kamen Rider Gaim, Takatora is a mix of the "clueless" and "powerless" types, as he acts properly boss-like but is oblivious as his team conspires against him behind his back. For his part, he thinks he's the fourth type and considers his co-workers his close friends. That said, they make sure to keep their activities hidden from him because they know that if they slip up, he will catch on and come down on them like a ton of bricks.
- Red Dwarf: Arnold Rimmer insists that being the highest ranking officer on board, he's in charge. He's the highest ranking officer because everyone else is dead, Dave. Of the other cast members, he had to threaten Lister into obeying in the first series by withholding his cigarettes, the Cat with bribery, and Kryten only obeys because he's programmed to do whatever a human tells him to, no matter how psychotic they are, and even then Kryten gets around that eventually. By series 5, Lister and the Cat are more likely to just ignore Rimmer until he sulks off.
Rimmer: Launch scouter.
[Cat and Lister sit there, doing nothing]
Rimmer: Launch scouter!
[The Cat and Lister continue to do nothing]
Rimmer: I'll be in the stern, collating the, uh... in the stern.
[Kryten walks past Rimmer]
Kryten: Uh, if you would be as so good as to launch the scouter?
The Cat: [shouting after Rimmer] Aye, aye, sir! Scouter launched, sir!
- Same episode also deconstructs this with the revelation that the Space Corp Directive not only outranks Rimmer's decisions, but it actually ranks holograms as having the least power, with the crew even mockingly making apparent they could deactivate him if they wanted to and he would have no say on the matter. This backfires on them however when Rimmer actually studies the Space Corp Directive and uses it to actually gain authority by becoming a Rules Lawyer, knowing Kryten will have to defend whatever he says through it.
- Warhammer 40,000: Orks think humans employ this trope. For orks, the biggest ork is automatically the leader; there is no easy way for them to tell one human from another, save their clothes. Fortunately for the orks, they've figured out that the most Bling of War / biggest hat is a very good way for commanders to identify themselves, and loot Commissar Caps to copy the effect.
- Instructor Quistis Trepe from Final Fantasy VIII is mostly a type-1, with shades of type-2 due to her defining character trait—that is, her exceedingly unwelcome and unrequited crush on Squall. Despite being one of the teachers at an elite paramilitary academy, many students don't particularly like or respect her. Even her trio of obsessed groupies seem to be interested in her only as an object of lust rather than an authority figure. And even if she hadn't quit, she probably would've been fired for letting Seifer escape from the discipline room after Dollet.
- Rinoa Heartilly, "princess" of the Forest Owls, is another type-1.5 for most of the first disc. Squall chews her out for not taking her role as leader of a resistance movement more seriously pretty early on, and even Quistis gets fed up enough with her bubblegum rebellion and half-baked plans to give her a tongue-lashing. As leaders go, Rinoa actually makes Quistis look competent.
- Laguna Loire is a solid type-4. While it can be presumed he was officially the leader of whatever squad he, Ward, and Kiros were in the Galbadian Army, the other two remain loyal to him even after they leave the military because he's their friend, first and foremost.
- Mr. Santello owns the local hardware store in Night in the Woods, but entrusts all of its operations to his daughter Bea and is never seen on the premises. He used to be more active before his wife's death and his resulting mental breakdown.
- Rean Schwarzer from The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel III and IV is mostly a type-4 with elements of type-2 where he treats his students as friends and try to get closer with them. While they do respect him, they also are not above disobeying his orders and actually go after him when he tells them to stay put or go with their other fellow students on their exercises while he's off doing jobs on orders from the government.
- Ambassador Palaeno is this to his subordinate Manny Coachen in Ace Attorney Investigations: Miles Edgeworth, to the point at which Edgeworth muses that orders go up the chain of command in the embassy. In fact, this enables Coachen to run a smuggling operation out of his embassy.
- Kiyotaka Ishimaru tries to be The Leader of the students in Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc, but hardly anyone takes him seriously. While his overly serious personality is a factor, it isn't entirely his fault, since the fact that it's a killing game makes it difficult to trust anyone, and several of the students aren't willing to listen to anyone claiming to be an authority figure, so it's a mix of Type 1 and Type 3.
- The main cast of Between Failures works at a chain store that goes through managers so quickly that none of them ever get the chance to be real bosses, letting Thomas effectively run the whole store the way he wants to.
- Cole from PvP is treated with little respect as a boss since he lets his employees get away with their zany hijinks. Recently the office had a new employee hired to help with finances, which Cole was not consulted about and was mocked when he complained.
- In Questionable Content, Beepatrice, aka Beeps, is a solid type 1. Very nice, brimming with enthusiasm and good intentions. It took her over two hours to figure out changing the printer's toner cartridge. She's a robot, with full connectivity for things like looking up user manuals, but it doesn't seem to occur to her to do so. Her newest actual employee, ex-cop Roko, has pretty much taken over running their office, mostly in self-defense. Someone needs to get something accomplished, after all. Beeps, fortunately, is so easygoing she doesn't mind taking instructions from Roko. In fact, she ends up begging Roko to formally take charge. It works. Then we learn that Beeps didn't even want the job, she just drew the short straw after everyone with seniority left.
- Noob: Later in the story, things get so bad in the titular guild that the person in charge ends up being the Kindhearted Simpleton Man Child. At the beginning, the only things he really has going for him as a guild master are his seniority in regards to the other remaining members and that he cares deeply about them. Fortunately, the responsibility turns out to be just what is needed for him to mature a little.
- In If the Emperor Had a Text-to-Speech Device, The Custodian who interacts the most with the Suddenly Speaking Emperor of Mankind is a Type 3 example. He is in fact is the Captain-General of the Adeptus Custodes, making him a High Lord of Terra and (theoretically) one of the most powerful figures in the Imperium. He's also the Only Sane Man of a bunch of Macho Camp, Stripperiffic lunatics who bully him and ignore his commands, and affectionately refer to him as "Little Kitten."
- Rebecca Cunningham of TaleSpin plays with this. She has Control Freak issues and is perfectly willing to push Baloo and others around in her schemes; however, she is usually all bark and no bite, and usually acts more as a bossy childish friend than an authority figure, something Baloo takes advantage of time and time again.
- In The Simpsons, Carl is apparently Homer's supervisor. He mentions this only once matter-of-factly simply to get Homer to stop insulting him, and for the rest of the series acts as Homer's drinking buddy and even joins in on some of his antics. In the episode in which he gets the promotion he runs Homer beyond ragged by calling him at all hours with an endless barrage of inane requests but Homer eventually forces him to back off and let him be with Marge in peace thanks to Carl sleeping with the wife of the President of France (who Carl is trying to please) earlier in the episode.
- Pops from Regular Show is technically higher in position compared to the other park employees due to being the park owner's son. However he rarely asserts his position, lets Benson run things, and pretty much acts more like a regular co-worker.
- In the US Acres segments for Garfield and Friends, Orson takes so many shenanigans from the other animals on the chin (and in some cases joins in on them), you'd be forgiven for thinking his only seniority over them is being the Team Dad. Odd episodes however reveal he is actually second in command after the unseen farmer. It was treated as a case of OOC Is Serious Business when on at least two occasions, he finally got sick of Roy's heckling and laziness, and angrily made clear he's his boss, and can and will fire him if he pushes him too far.
- Acting like this in real life (as a wimpy boss or insubordinate employees) is an excellent way to get fired. There are some places where hierarchy gets blurred, but you have to be careful.
- That being said, many academic studies of leadership consider type 2/4 to be very effective in moderation.