What’s Good About Having A Bad Boss?

So you have the boss from hell? Seems that lots of people have had this experience. A recent study claims that 65% of Americans would like a better boss – almost twice as many as would like a pay raise. Here are some typical “bad boss” complaints I’ve heard.

  • takes credit for your accomplishments
  • throws projects at you without explaining them, and then explains why your work is “all wrong” when you bring back the finished job
  • yells, attacks, bullies you
  • micromanages
  • inaccessible when you need help
  • plays favorites
  • overly demanding, doesn’t honor your work-life boundaries


A Different Way To Look At It

The experience of living with a bad boss may be frustrating, but there’s a silver lining – it’s also a valuable crucible for your own learning and growth as a leader.  If you’re stuck with a bad boss, here are some ways to take advantage of your situation.

Learn how NOT to behave – What do your boss’s behaviors and attitudes that you DON’T like tell you about how you DO want to operate yourself? What can you learn about your own leadership values?

Learn what qualities to reward and develop in your own reportsDecision-makers in your organization enabled your boss to get where he is. He was rewarded for his good qualities, and his bad behaviors were ignored. Don’t continue this pattern. Help the people you’re coaching recognize that behavior is as important as results, and give feedback/coaching when you see behavior that concerns you.

Gain insight into what pushes your buttons – What is it about your boss’s behavior that drives you crazy? How can this give you insight into your own growth areas? Usually, our buttons are pushed when our own needs are threatened. Perhaps your boss has an opposite style from your own, with opposite strengths and weaknesses, and you don’t value the qualities that are his strengths. Are you sufficiently tolerant of complementary styles to your own? Or perhaps you recognize some qualities in your boss that you don’t like in yourself.

Learn how to maintain your boundaries – For stressful interpersonal situations where another person’s behavior is aggressive and wounds you, clinicians suggest the “shield of invulnerability.” Imagine a plastic shield that comes down around you when the bad behavior begins, that protects you and reminds you that the boss’s behavior is about himself, not about you.

Learn you need to be your own self-advocate – This experience can be a gift if it teaches you that you need to rely on yourself to manage your career and advocate for your interests. This might involve learning to stick up for yourself on issues about which you feel strongly, or to surface your concerns with your boss in a non-suicidal way.

Learn to see things from the other’s viewpointIs it possible that your own behavior is contributing to our boss’s reaction?  Usually, executives’ bad behaviors are driven by some desired outcome. Try to understand his interests and what he is trying to accomplish, even if he is making bad choices about how to achieve those goals. Can you give him more help or support, or communicate with him differently, or ask more questions to make sure you understand his expectations?

Learn that authority does not confer special magic on a person – We can look at the research study I cited earlier through different lenses.  Is there really an epidemic of bad bosses? Though some bosses are truly bullies, usually, they are simply imperfect flawed humans, as we ourselves are. Might the real issue be that we expect our bosses to be perfect, to meet all of our needs for them?

Learn not to accept being powerless – Sometimes, part of us just enjoys having something to complain about.  But this keeps us from stepping back, figuring out what’s not acceptable to us, and taking action to address that. The action might involve negotiating a new way to work with your boss, or helping him see the impact of his behavior.


You might try all these strategies, and still ultimately decide to exit the working relationship with your boss.  But you will do so knowing you have done everything possible to salvage the situation, and learned some skills that are likely to be relevant in other work settings.



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