The bully, the narcissist, the know-it-all, even the psychopath.
We may not like them, or want our children to be like them. But chances are, almost everyone who has worked long enough has a horror story about a superior who generally behaved like Homer Simpson's boss, Mr. Charles Montgomery "Monty" Burns.
A growing number of researchers are looking into what makes a real-life Mr. Burns, and what they are finding isn't always pretty.
(Slideshow: Bad bosses from TV and film)
"There are whole climates and cultures of abuse in the workplace," said Darren Treadway, an associate professor at the University at Buffalo School of Management. His recent research looks at why bullies are able to persist, and sometimes even thrive, at work.
He said many people have either seen or experienced bullying at work because some bullies are skilled enough to figure out who they can abuse to get ahead, and who they can charm to get away with it.
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"The successful ones are very, very socially skilled," he said. "They're capable of disguising their behavior."
Both popular culture and real life are rife with examples of alleged bullying. Just this week, San Diego Mayor Bob Filner was accused by his communications director, Irene McCormack Jackson, of harassment including dragging her around in a headlock and whispering sexual advances. Filner has rejected the claims.
2 in 10 workers: Boss hurt my career
Experts say a good boss can really help your career, but a bad boss can be devastating. A survey of 2,000 adults released earlier this year by Glassdoor found that about 2 in 10 workers say a manager has hurt their career.
Smart bad bosses can be hard to spot, some experts say, because they are extremely good at manipulating and charming some people, while abusing others.
Industrial organizational psychologist Paul Babiak first grew interested in studying psychopaths at work after he was called in to consult for a dysfunctional team. He found an abusive, lying boss—and a team that was staunchly divided into two camps.
"(There was) a subset of the team that really loved this guy— idolized him—and then there was another group of people who thought he was a snake," Babiak said.
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Very few companies will admit that they want a bad boss in their corporate ranks. But experts say that bad bosses do have some aspects of American corporate culture working in their favor.
That includes the results-at-all-costs mentality that pervades many publicly held companies and the stereotype that a good boss should be aggressive and bold.
When Babiak presents the first part of his research on corporate professionals who are psychopaths, he said he often hears from senior leaders who wonder why psychopaths are so bad. That's because they would actually like to have a manager who comes across as strong, decisive and aggressive.
(Read more: Why bad bosses are bad for business)