Three Secrets to Managing A Bad Boss

I hope you have a great boss who sets clear expectations and trusts you to do your best work.

Just in case you don’t have that boss now, it’s crucial to have the right tools and resources for managing the less-than-perfect or flat-out awful boss of today.

Talented employees who put their needs ahead of their colleagues and the company are dangerous.
~ Robert I. Sutton, author

Let’s start by defining the bad boss. He or she will display one or more of these behaviors:


  • Throwing tantrums when things don’t go their way
  • Bullying you or using coercion to gain compliance with ill-formed or unethical ideas
  • Shaming you or team members publicly for mistakes
  • Driving unrealistic goals and expecting you to work an unhealthy amount of hours
  • Changing direction abruptly and frequently, before you have a chance to complete the last task
  • Stirring up discord between you and team members to keep you off center
  • Stealing your ideas and taking credit for them while pressuring you for more ideas

Now, let’s set an essential caveat about bosses. The boss who regularly challenges you with stretch goals and sets high standards is not what I mean by a bad boss. Being challenged might feel uncomfortable, but that’s a good thing, as long as communication is respectful.

      1. Find The Motivation of Your Boss
        The bad boss doesn’t have your best interests at heart, or anyone else’s for that matter. Step back for a moment and ask yourself: What is her motivation? What is his underlying goal? What is her story? Why do you suppose he behaves this way?Asking these questions doesn’t mean you condone the bad behavior. Instead, asking these questions will lend clarity to the behavior and help you manage the situation. For instance, if your boss craves power and control, you will manage her differently than if she only cares about looking smart. Either way, don’t challenge the bad boss publicly. That’s a losing battle.


      1. Don’t Allow The Bad Boss to Trigger You Emotionally
        The bully likes to seem tough and intimidate people. The unorganized and scattered boss is likely overwhelmed and perhaps incompetent. The boss who always wants to be right will go to great lengths to avoid looking stupid. The trick is to detach from pleasing these bad bosses and give up on any idea you have of correcting them. Whatever reaction they seek, don’t give them that. If they want to intimidate you, stay safe, but don’t cower. Don’t give the insecure boss all your ideas. Carefully funnel your best ideas to someone up the chain who is stable and sane.


    1. Come Up with a Plan for Next Time
      Sometimes, your best option is to move on to a company with a healthier culture and boss. Until that time, expect more bad behavior. Remain calm and stay above the fray. If you can find a culture champion who doesn’t tolerate bad behavior, make them your ally.

Practice detachment and set boundaries wherever possible. In the meantime, you will need to do your best to fulfill your duties, keep your promises to customers, and shield your team from the bad boss.  Finally, learn to identify the signs of the bad boss early, so you don’t willingly join their team next time.