Erratic Bosses

General Custer

Erratic bosses are a disaster in the workplace. Occasionally they are deadly as some cavalry troopers learned in the summer of 1876.

In the summer of 1876, three cavalry columns chased Lakota, Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians across the northern Plains into modern-day Montana. The goal was to confront the Indians, beat them in battle, and force the survivors back to their reservations.

One of the columns was led by “General” George A. Custer whose actual rank was lieutenant colonel. Custer had been temporarily promoted to general during the American Civil War and was a bona fide hero of that war. But by 1876 his antics had severely dented his career prospects.

He was a shameless self-promoter which irritated his military bosses. His troops were disenchanted with his habit of ignoring the rules personally while enforcing them against his subordinates. Then he annoyed President Grant by testifying to Congress about corruption in the Grant administration. (Publicizing dirty linen never wins favor with the boss, especially when it’s true.) Grant fired Custer as commander of the 7th Cavalry and Custer had to beg friends to help him get reinstated.

So when Custer went on patrol a few months later he was trying to restore his career prospects. Custer arrived at the Little Bighorn River (a/k/a the Greasy Grass) near the Indian encampment and immediately disobeyed his orders to wait for the other two cavalry columns. He also ignored the reports from his Indian scouts about the size of the Indian camp. Indian warriors numbered between 1000 and 5000, depending on which source you read.

On June 25, 1876, Custer ordered an attack on the Indian encampment and rode into history. Cavalry forces totaled 500 men and 208 died with Custer. News of the defeat ruined the July 4th centennial celebrations back east.

Custer is a hero today because his widow lived until the 1930’s. She spent every waking moment blaming others for the defeat and insisting that Custer was the greatest hero of all times. She ensured that Hollywood’s version of the tale would show Custer as the hero.

What’s the moral of the story? Erratic bosses are bad for employee health, although, fortunately, it doesn’t usually get them killed these days. Erratic bosses damage a company’s bottom line by destroying employee morale and lowering productivity. They also thin the ranks as top performers vote with their feet, leaving only demoralized or unmarketable employees.

About Norma Shirk

Norma started her company, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor, to help employers create human resources policies for their employees and employee benefit programs that are appropriate to the employer’s size and budget. The goal is to have structure without bureaucracy. Visit Norma’s website:

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Filed under Business Savvy

2 responses to “Erratic Bosses

  1. Karin Bolland

    Link to article is not working!



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