How to Deal with a Bad Boss

Illustration of a big bad boss.
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How many times have you witnessed someone working in a supervisory position without the necessary supervisory skills? How many times have you questioned why some leaders get the roles that they do? Probably often. It should come as no surprise to you, then, that at least once in your working life, you will be the victim of a bad boss.

Stanley Bing recently updated his 1992 book, Crazy Bosses. In fact, there are several popular books that address wicked, mean, dysfunctional or just plain bad bosses. But what if your boss isn’t that bad? What if all your boss needs is a little supervisory skills training?

You have come to terms with the fact that your boss will never be the leader he appeared to be during the interview. You reluctantly realize your boss prefers golf or shopping to mentoring you. She stole your ideas. He even assigned you a couple of high-profile controversial projects that went bad. Naturally, when this happened he went missing.     

Signs of a Bad Boss

How can you tell if your boss is mean, dumb, toxic, out to get you, or if he simply never had the advantage of Supervisory Skills 101? You know that promotion to a supervisor is often a reward for a good worker.

Remember that the Peter Principle suggests that people are often promoted to their level of incompetence. The Principle is still alive and well in corporate America. Here are a few clues that your boss could use some basic supervisory skills training.

  • He ignores the classic, time-honored cliché, “Praise in public, criticize in private.”
  • She gives you assignments and doesn’t follow up.
  • He doesn’t support you when something goes wrong.
  • She thinks everything is fine when it isn’t.
  • He constantly claims that he is empowering you, but isn’t.
  • She micro-manages and needs to know everything.
  • He acts paranoid.
  • She jumps to conclusions.
  • He doesn’t know how to plan, prioritize or organize.
  • If it isn’t her idea, then it can’t be good.
  • He implements two-faced attacks.
  • She tells sarcastic jokes or teases.

How to Deal With Your Bad Boss

Now that you've come to the conclusion that your boss doesn’t lie awake at night thinking about how to torment you, is there anything you can do? One activity that may be a cathartic experience is to make a list of the supervisory skills you think he or she is missing.

Next, rank the list from most annoying to least annoying. Pick the top two or three worst offenses. Recognize that these are your hot buttons and start developing a strategy. Don’t wait for these things to happen again without having a plan for your own actions. The worst thing you can do is nothing, hoping the problems will resolve themselves.

Don’t sacrifice your health or self-esteem. Polite confrontation should always be your first move. However, a bad boss lacking supervisory skills may not recognize your attempt and this tactic may backfire. Limiting contact may help you personally but isn’t usually a good professional move. However, putting some distance between you and your supervisor might be a temporary solution.

Action Plan: Deal With a Bad Boss With Poor Supervisory Skills

Here are a few other suggestions for dealing with a bad boss with poor supervisory skills:

  1. Find someone you can trust for a sanity check. It is probably better if this person does not work in the same environment as you.
  2. Make a pact with yourself that you will use the time to adopt good supervisory skills yourself.
  3. Remember that the best employees don’t always make the best supervisors.
  4. Do not fret if you have experienced a total meltdown with this person; it is time to try a new strategy: forgiveness. Regain your strength and move forward with confidence and professionalism.
  5. Start identifying other sources of positive reinforcement for doing your job to the best of your abilities. We all want approval and recognition for a job well done.
  6. Read and learn from the experts. Just make sure you are reading the right material. If you have decided that your boss simply lacks supervisory skills, try Managing Up: How to Forge an Effective Relationship With Those Above You.