From the camaraderie to the coffee, you love your job. There’s just one problem: Your boss is more of an impediment than an inspiration. Whether you’ve got a bad boss or a bad manager, sub-par leadership comes in all shades of problematic. The good news is, there are plenty of ways to make it work.
Click through to learn the true cost of having a bad boss and how to make the most of it and work with one.
Last updated: August 2, 2021
The Bumbling Boss
A bad boss isn’t necessarily a bad person, but sometimes your boss’ lack of experience can manifest as frustrating ineptitude. For example, you might know the history of every account, but your boss seems to be totally in the dark.
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The Fix: Help Out
If your boss comes up short in the experience department, politely and calmly bring him up to speed without demeaning him. Try approaching him in private to avoid embarrassing anyone.
Career and executive coach Kathi Elster of K Squared Enterprises and author of books such as “Working for You Isn’t Working for Me” and “Mean Girls at Work: How to Stay Professional When Things Get Personal” said you should “remember bosses are coming from a place of unknowing, not a place of meanness. You have an opportunity to help this person and in return be rewarded for your efforts.”
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This type of bad boss takes all the credit for her employees’ success. Bosses like this often don’t realize how much of a toll their egos take on their employees.
The Fix: Humor Them (For Now)
In a 2017 piece for Fortune, LaSalle Network CEO Tom Gimbel said the best way to deal with narcissists is to “do your best work and humor them,” as “others will eventually realize your boss is not doing the heavy lifting.” That means you’ll eventually rise as your boss stagnates or sinks.
Narcissists don’t hold up under scrutiny, but consistently good work does. Elster said, egoism “ultimately becomes tiresome and this kind of boss has a high level of turnover.”
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The Negative Ned
A different beast from the egomaniac, the Negative Ned or Nancy just can’t find a good thing to say about anyone, or any project, in the workplace. Broke profit records in Q4 as you’re on track for your biggest sales year yet in 2018? Not good enough for Captain Negative, who’ll always find something to nitpick about.
The Fix: Defuse Them
The Harvard Business Review’s Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic had it right when he said, “Don’t be a source of stress yourself,” which “tends to bring out a manager’s dark side.” Instead, fight darkness with light. Make yourself the most rewarding person to interact with in the whole office, and shout your team’s successes from the rooftops. Compensate with emotional smarts.
The Hands-Way-Off Boss
This boss just seems to be missing in action. He doesn’t give much direction or feedback, or just plain ghosts you when it comes to communicating.
The Fix: Pick Up The Slack
If your boss is like a fleeting Yeti sighting, take the reigns by communicating that much more with your team. As Gimbel said, “Lack of direction can be frustrating, but it’s a chance for you to excel.”
There are bad managers, and then there are bad micromanagers. The latter is a helicopter boss with major trust issues that, according to Elster, “will not let you make any decisions without their approval, even on buying paper towels.”
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The Fix: Anticipate Them
Micromanagers like predictability, which makes predictability your secret weapon. Over time, identify the patterns in your boss’ constant requests and criticisms and anticipate them proactively. The micromanager will eventually find that she has nothing to micromanage. Beware: If your boss starts micromanaging, it could be a sign your boss isn’t happy with you.
“I suggest that you do it their way and eventually they may trust you and loosen the leash,” Elster said.
The Mood Swinger
You might as well use an Ouija board to predict this one’s next move. No one knows what this unpredictable boss will do next, and that can be super stressful.
The Fix: Strategize
Answer chaos with control. The Harvard Business Review recommends a multi-pronged approach to unpredictable bosses. Identify the patterns that cause their mood swings and rally around common positive causes to preemptively defuse negative behavior.
The Best Friend
Relationships at work are crucial, but this type of boss doesn’t know the line between “leader” and “friend.” From diving into water cooler gossip to drinking with the crew after work, this one is your boss-buddy.
The Fix: Use It
Rule No. 1: If your boss makes you uncomfortable by being too friendly, set polite verbal boundaries and let him know you need his professionalism to help you grow. If you don’t mind a friendly boss, turn the camaraderie into an asset. Your boss may just be your biggest advocate, and you’ll benefit from having a meaningful relationship at work.
The Distant Leader
Usually, you can tell when your boss isn’t happy with you. But not with this boss, because she is unapproachable all the time — the opposite of the “best friend” boss.
The Fix: Find Allies
Rally with your peers to find common ground and unify your voices. Unapproachable people often lose their powers of intimidation when faced with numbers.
This boss is as inflexible as brick, No matter how good your ideas are, he just won’t budge. When it feels like your best account pitches are rubber bouncing back at you, you’ve encountered The Wall.
The Fix: Soften Them Up
Often, inflexibility results from a desire to control. Remind your boss of the old idiom “perfection is often the enemy of good,” and encourage her to take breaks. This type of boss needs extra reminders that you and your team have things under control. Reward her trust with results and there’s a good chance she’ll become less rigid over time.
There’s no way around it — bosses are people, and some people are just belligerent jerks. If you behaved like this type of boss, it could cost you your next raise, but your boss’ position allows him to get away with it.
The Fix: Caution
You don’t have to accept constant negativity, but in a 2017 interview with Business Insider, Stanford University professor of management Robert Sutton suggests that you “assess the political environment” before you “go to war with a boss.” Make sure the HR deck isn’t stacked against you before you file a complaint.
The Desperately Disorganized Boss
This type of boss is like a walking tornado of incomplete sentences, halfway between his phone and his constantly spilled coffee. And it’s really hard to get direction from a tornado.
The Fix: Make Yourself an Asset
In a 2017 Psychology Today article, executive coach Victor Lipman encourages employees to make themselves indispensable as a constructive way to deal with a bad boss.
Put yourself in your disorganized boss’ shoes. Try to understand the pressure he’s under and make yourself a valued ally. Taking some of the burden off the boss might just smooth out his workflow.
No job is worth harming your mental or physical well-being. Whether the abuse comes in the form of inappropriate advances or personally insulting emails, this is the most serious and potentially dangerous type of bad boss.
The Fix: Protect Yourself
The first step to safely extracting yourself from a potentially abusive situation, Sutton says, is to document your boss’ behavior. Take screenshots, write memos and — if you’re within the legal rights unique to your state — make recordings to ensure you have ground to stand on in the case of a legal battle.
As Lipman puts it, don’t be afraid to leave a toxic situation: “Vote with your feet […] there’s no percentage in being a victim.”
No matter what flavor of bad boss you have, when you take it upon yourself to a turn a bad situation around, that’s you taking initiative and making your workplace a better place for those around you. When you manage the management, you’re not just navigating around your boss — you’re on your way to becoming your own boss.