Bad Bosses Are Common. What We Do About Them is NOT

Bad Bosses Are Common. What We Do About Them is NOT

The following is excerpted from The Compass Solution: A Guide to Winning Your Career.  This is the definitive manual for navigating the greatest investment of our lives – our careers. Now available on Amazon.


“A leader is admired, a boss is feared.” – Vincente Del Bosque

Live long enough in corporate and you will encounter the nemesis of career development.

The Bad Boss.

Now before we talk about how you can survive one, let’s take the time to dismiss a couple of fallacies that are common when we talk about the subject of bosses.

They include:

  • Our perception of what constitutes a bad boss varies greatly. What I need and what you need will not be the same. And our standards for our manager will be just as different. There is no absolute mold that can be pressed and shipped out from the home office.
  • The tendency to label someone whose style, approach, or character differs from our own as a bad boss is pretty high. The roadways of corporate are littered with the bodies of “wash-outs” who blamed their problems on the person they reported to. More often than not their accusations are woefully misplaced.
  • It is very easy to invest a lot of energy on looking at the boss and less on ourselves. Just saying.
  • Very few “bosses” get up each day and think, “How can I screw somebody’s life up today?” (Well, there may be a few.) The reality is that all of us are consumed with doing what we believe is important; sometimes less so with considering what might be important to others. The message for each of us as followers is equally simple – even bosses may not know what they don’t know. What’s more, many live in a cocoon that limits their insights – or operate with little to no direction or training for the role they have been asked to assume. Doesn’t diminish or excuse poor leadership but it can sometimes explain some things.
  • Know what they call the absolute worst boss in your company today? They call him (or her) boss. The spectrum of performance is not limited to the every day employee. There are great leaders and there are horrific leaders and by the luck of the draw if you play the game long enough someday you will draw the short stick.

So, they’re out there. And when your day comes, you have choices to make. You can’t kill them and still continue your career. That leaves you with three options and three options only:

  • Resign
  • Transfer
  • Learn to live with them

In that vein, here are five Bad Boss Survival Tips to consider:

  • First – ask yourself if you have a clear and relatively unbiased vision of what a great boss should be. A great many are very good at saying what’s wrong and far more ambiguous in articulating what should be. Is your vision clear or is it colored by personal feelings?
  • Second – are you prepared to challenge your level of objectivity? You have biases – I have biases – all God’s children have biases. Has your opinion been shaped by events that don’t allow you to enjoy an accurate picture?
  • Third – have you talked to your boss? Has there been a clear discourse on mutual expectations?
  • Fourth – Do you have a vivid understanding of what great looks like by both of you?
  • Fifth – Is there an agreement on how you will be able to best work together? Remember – it’s not a love fest, simply an agreement on how you make this a tenable relationship.

There is no textbook example of how to survive a bad boss. But you can learn from even the worst.

I know, like a lot of other Corporate Survivors I’ve had my share of mediocre ones to balance against the true greats.

So when your day comes and you find yourself aligned with a Bad Boss it is up to you to decide which of the three options you will pursue. Remember, option four, killing them is not conducive to long-term career growth. If you decide to make it work then consider the five points outlined above.

Thriving during these leadership voids is a part of almost everyone’s career journey even though all of us assume our situation is truly unique. Occasional Bad Bosses are a crisis that is universal.

And like other moments of adversity it’s what you do with the challenge that is most important.

Remember, this too shall pass.

Straight Talk – The Bad Boss Survivor Tips are battle-tested. Never allow a bad boss force you out of the company. Sometimes you just have to decide to outlast them.

I can tell you I’ve done that more than a few times.

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