Updated: Mar 22
Firstly, lets get this straight.... It’s not you, it’s them. A bad boss is the worst feeling ever. Working with them is like drinking black sambuca, knowing a raging hangover is coming. You go to work with a bad boss, knowing your day is starting ok, but definitely going to end up stinking. Rest assured though comrades... We have all had them. Statistically speaking, 100% of people I asked about this subject agreed with me. I have told numerous professionals colleagues about my experiences with bad bosses, and all of them used the word 'wanker' at some point.... they cannot all be wrong.
So, in summary, you’re not alone. We’ve all dealt with a bad manager at some point, and It is crap.
Sorry, let me rephrase that...
Its really crap.
There’s no sugarcoating it. Bad bosses will leave you feeling angry and frustrated. All you want is to do a good job and go home. The majority of us, never go to work, in order to do a bad job, we never act in a way to intentionally 'wind up' the boss and we never intentionally do anything to put our job at risk... unfortunately there exists a steady undercurrent of bad bosses that will disagree. These are the sort of people that you can hear saying 'I will be the fucking judge of that' under their breath.
So the signs of a toxic boss are many, and the descriptors too many to write down in one blog. If you are unfortunate enough to still work in a business with one of these people, then here's a game for you to play with your colleagues - starting with A for Arsehole, fill in the descriptors for B to Z.
Given that plethora of types and the strength of feeling you clearly have towards them - how can you handle them? Well let’s start here, by deciding a) is it the job that makes them 'bad' or b) are they genuinely a first rate bad person, with no redeeming qualities.
Bad Boss vs. Bad Person
First, let’s figure out which category your boss falls in.
We can classify a bad boss as someone who doesn’t give the direction, guidance, or encouragement you need to do a good job... a person who is sorry for their existence, and actually, because of their own skill shortages, cannot lead you the way you should be led. These people fall into the 'they're a nice person but...' category.
A bad person, on the other hand, could be someone you don’t get along with due to more personal reasons. Such as, God forbid, the letch who makes you feel uncomfortable due to sexual advances, a boss who bullies you at work, or a boss that overworks you to cause failure or pain, or indeed a boss that absolutely has no time for the team ethic required by the modern business to succeed. These people fall neatly into the 'wanker' category, as mentioned earlier.
If you are in any doubt mind you - Click here for the urban dictionary definition of Wanker....
These distinctions are crucial, because if you’re looking for tips on how to deal with a toxic boss, then my advice is firstly this - You need to decide whether staying at that job is in your best interests.
"Having a bad boss isn’t your fault. Staying with one is" ☠
I have never recommended anyone to stay in an unhealthy work environment. It happened to somebody i was close to once, believing in the power of change and redemption following a grievance procedure. Their trust was decidedly misplaced, and it's one of the biggest career mistakes anybody can ever make. What they found out to their cost, is that through a grievance process regarding subjective behaviour issues, a company will protect itself from harm mercilessly. Even if that means blindly protecting the twat of a manager they have working for them. This doesn't mean that nothing will happen in the long run of course, you may have opened a can of worms - but as far as your grievance is concerned, right here, right now, forget it.
Now, if your boss is just a bad manager, I can help you fix that.
A healthy, confident, well-adjusted manager knows their job is to do three things:
Hire thoroughbreds, point them at the finish line, and get out of their way unless they truly need help, or ask for it
Coach, teach, encourage and position ordinary horses to maximize their potential and approximate thoroughbreds in some of their work.
Dismiss those who can never do the work needed without your constant involvement to make room for those who can.
So with that in mind, let’s address the common management mistakes that some bosses make. By the way - I would love to know your stories - let me know in the comments, what type of boss are you dealing with.... Is it one of the irritating 7?
1. The Micromanager
We all know this one. This is the boss who makes you feel like you’re being watched 24/7. The constant hovering can be uncomfortable. They closely check out your work, often making you redo or tweak it to meet their standard and their management style leaves you wondering what am I doing wrong?
But here’s the thing: It’s not about you as an employee, it’s more about them as your boss. Whats wrong is their inability to trust, not your work. Steve Jobs, co-founder and leader of Apple, was a well-known micromanager. When Fortune magazine profiled America’s toughest bosses, it said of Jobs that his “inhuman drive for perfection can burn out even the most motivated worker”.
How to Handle it
A micromanager is only happy when they’re constantly watching you – and that’s one of the clearest signs of a toxic boss. Rightly or wrongly, You have to prove yourself as independent and capable. To do that, you’ll need to get rid of any reason for them to micromanage you. Bizarre isn't it... go to extra effort and time, to prove to your incapable boss, that you are capable... the irony is absurd.
So three things are important here:
1. You should learn to understand what they’re looking for – and act on it
2. You have to regularly communicate what you’re up to
3. You need to recognize trends in their behavior
So let’s start with the first one:
I’m willing to bet that most of the things you do at work are things you already know you’re supposed to do. That is why it gets frustrating when your boss always reminds you about the report due (because you do it every week)... "Fuck sake, I wish they would treat me like a grown up"
You should know what you need to do and get it done early. If you tell your micro-managing boss, “I actually already put the report on your desk,” enough times, then it’ll send a clear signal that you don’t need babysitting. They’ll start to realise that you don’t need them to watch you 24/7.
The next thing you’ll want to do is routinely check in with them. In other words, beat them to the punch. This might mean telling them; “I went put that report on your desk” or it might mean sending an email that says, “I’m sending the report over.” in the subject line... no text you really don't want to give this fool any reason to believe that you have spare time on your hands. This reinforces that you can handle your work and your time on your own.
Lastly, you’ll need to recognize patterns in their behavior. Also to be seen as, how they treat you and other employees. What things are they most likely to criticise? For example, if your boss is picky about what does and doesn’t need to be included in a report, make sure you know about it. Do it their way. However unpalatable it may seem - you only have one job - you don't need to be worrying about fixing theirs.
Of course, these are all rational ways of handling the micromanager, but we all know that not all people are rational. After all, it’s one of the warning signs of a bad boss. It is highly likely, that your loosely wired, highly strung and semi clueless boss is irrational, or even worse than irrational – neurotic.
If that’s your situation, you either have to learn to gain your satisfaction from within or search for something better. You can’t let your boss’ obsessive behavior make you feel incapable and discouraged. That’ll only lead to more stress and lower your own performance.
Always remember though, that a good report without a staple is still a good report.
Know your worth even when someone tries to pick you apart.
2. The Under-Qualified
This one is tricky because it’s not one of the clear signs of a toxic boss, however, it is an issue that many people face.
You know the ones, It’s the boss that got promoted to their position without much thought. Promoted to incompetence, usually because their face fits a behaviour profile of their boss. They very obviously cannot handle their job, they clearly have little headroom to offer, and they usually live in fear that they will be found out. Through this fear, their behaviour manifests itself as anger and bullying - as they wrestle with a conscience they cant control.
It doesn’t make them totally incapable, but, there’s every chance that people who work underneath them could do a better job than they can. I mean, EVERY chance - and if you’re one of those people, this can be a hard pill to swallow. How do you think the England team felt playing for Steve 'the wally with the brolly' McLaren ? The most under-qualified manager (outside of Peter Taylor) who took the golden era of English football team, from World Cup quarter finalists in 2006 to failing to qualify for Euro 2008, finishing level on points with Israel in the qualifying group... I mean Israel FFS, hardly a well known force in world football.
It’s demotivating and makes you feel like hard work and experience mean nothing. Which of course they don't when faced with this lazy 'jobs for the boys' 1940s attitude to modern leadership recruitment.
How to Handle it
When you find yourself getting annoyed with this type of manager, it’s usually because you have the expertise that they don’t. I want you to swallow your pride. You should never undermine your boss... I really can't believe I am saying that, because it is so tempting to take the opportunity to make this imbecile look like the imbecile they are.
Instead, try to share your experience and tips to genuinely help. Offer your guidance in a way that doesn’t come across as demeaning or condescending. Consider this as information that your boss should have to succeed at their job. You never know, this may allow you to become their right-hand person. It could mean they’ll return the favour for you somewhere down the road ?...
...Who are we kidding they would never want to appoint somebody that they believe better than they are, it's not about balance with these boys and girls - it's about self preservation.
Just make sure that you learn the lessons of their mistakes - they’ll make a lot of them. Remember those as you become the boss yourself.
3. The Overly Friendly
This is the boss that’s too “matey matey.” And I don’t mean in the cool, team-building sort of way. This is David Brent from 'The Office', with his field sales rep, his senior sales rep and his Assistant TO the Regional Manager - down 'Chasers' on a Thursday night. Trying to fit in to a social scene he doesn't belong to. These people love themselves more than they care for others, they love to have a mirror hanging around them, and fear rejection on a very deep personal level.
These bosses, are always asking you to hang out or grab a drink. They text and call employees for non-work related stuff. They’re a little too involved in office politics - and far too liberal with their opinions in the wrong environments. As a result of these personal failings, this boss usually picks favorites. Then, as a result of that, divides employees and kills morale.
They let their favorites get away with more and hold others to a higher performance standard. Sometimes it even means they keep employees that should’ve been let go. They start to have double standards, believing popularity will get them through, they avoid making tough choices for fear of upsetting their 'friends'.... While this might not be one of the obvious signs of a toxic boss at first, it certainly is one.
The sad thing for these bosses is, the end nearly always comes in the form of performance failure on their part.
How to Handle it
You have to set boundaries. Setting your limits will allow you to take control of the situation. If you become too friendly with this type of boss, then you may never get rid of them.
So, The trick is to be friendly but not too friendly to the point where you feel like you can’t say “no” to drinks after work. Be consistent with your boundaries, even when they’re overly pushy. Note that there’s a fine line here. You don’t want to take it overboard and become standoffish. Don’t create an enemy where you don’t have to.
You can be friendly without being a friend, and you can impart some personal details, without sharing too much personal information about yourself. To get the best out of this situation it is important that you listen more than you speak.
Focus on getting your work done and being busy. If they invite you to something outside of work, don’t be afraid to come up with an excuse on why you can’t make it. Or be honest, and politely tell them that you don’t want to muddle the waters between business and personal life.
4. The Dictator
The Dictator’s main concern is having power and keeping it. The decisions they make are to feed their ego. They don’t mind using intimidation tactics and negative reinforcement to shape behavior. Hear the phrase "there's going to be consequences", or "I tell it like it is" or "do you know anything about me" coming out of your boss - run for the Caterer and your friendliest head hunter - this person is a first rate dictator and because of that arrogance, a top class bully to boot.
If someone challenges their decisions or does something different, they’re seen as a direct threat. It’s not hard to end up on the chopping block with this type of goon in charge. Of all the career questions I get, how to deal with a demanding boss is one of the most common.
In this case, as I said earlier, I recommend that you find another job. It’s not worth staying at a job with a boss who makes you miserable, and kicks your self esteem to the weeds.
I once worked somewhere where the boss described himself as a dictator. He brought it up frequently in meetings and wore it like a badge of honor. Used to describe himself as an enforcer. Surrounded himself with sycophants and half wits to aid his thirst for unchallenged power. He expected nay demanded loyalty and engagement.
Finding a new job takes time, but there are ways to handle this situation in the meantime.
How to Handle it
This strategy may hurt a little; but, the best way to deal with a dictator is to present your ideas in a way that lets them take credit.
Why? Because it protects their ego.
So be generous with giving credit, even though they probably won’t return the favor. This will put and keep you in their good graces until you find something else.
And make sure you pick and choose your battles wisely. A dictator can be short-tempered and rude. So be self-aware and keep a tight rein on your emotions.... They often look for a good reason to let someone go. This means the company tends to have high turn-over rates.
So keep calm and carry on until you land a new job. Do as I say not as I do, and you will be fine. I ended calling my dictator boss, a 2 bit manager and a World class twat.
5 The Impersonal
In the mind of the impersonal boss, you’re just a number. You’re employee 16 out of 28. You are a pair of arms and legs, but definitely not a brain.
Out of all the customers you’ve talked to today, you’ve made sales with 2 of them.
Your last performance review was 88 out of 100. You’ve called in sick 3 times in the past 6 months.
See where I’m going with this?
This boss makes decisions based on data. And when it comes to making a decision without numbers, they self-destructive. They make little to no effort to develop a rapport with you or others. They simply look to their data to decide who gets a payrise, a bonus, or let go. In fact I would go as far as to say, this boss doesn't like the human interaction required to be a leader, preferring their keyboard interaction.
And if being overly friendly is one of the signs of a toxic boss, so is being impersonal.
How to Handle it
To deal with this type of person, you need to learn their language. The don't do human, they do statistics When you have a new idea to bring to the table, make sure that you have the data to back it up.
The same thing goes with performance reviews – make sure you bring value that can be expressed in numbers. For example, mention the fact that you’ve increased sales by 22% in the last 6 months. Or scored 92% on your customer reviews. Believe me, this boss has zero interest in how your personal life is suffering, because you haven't had a pay rise in 4 years. This boss has zero interest in resolving any individual problem you may have. No, this boss is interested first and foremost in one thing - proving to their boss what a great job that they do. Your performance stats will help with that, your pesky emotional wellbeing that create those results... Well that's just an irrelevance to this boss.
You will know once you’ve proved your worth, because the emails will slow, and they will begin to offload the emotional baggage, that they cannot be arsed with, on to you to sort. Emotional intelligence don't forget, is a foreign concept to these people.
You can try to bring them out of their awkward shell, try connecting with them, try to get face-to-face with them to develop rapport. Respond to their emails by knocking on their office door, maybe this will put a face to your name and make you more than just a number.
Just make sure to do these things in small increments so you don’t overwhelm them. Over time, usually a lllloooonnnggg time they’ll start seeing you as more than just a number.
6. The Dreamer
Their biggest strength is that they’re full of ideas.
But, they’re unable to focus on one thing long enough to do anything about it. They can’t focus on what needs to be done because they’re focused on the next big thing.These people are not completer finishers... These people actively need completer finishers in their team, or their team will fall apart.
Completer-Finishers are the people who see that projects are completed thoroughly. They ensure that there have been no errors or omissions and they pay attention to the smallest of details. They are very concerned with deadlines and will push the team to make sure the job is completed on time.
It is well worth understanding what qualities these possess - click here for the official Belbin definition.
So the upshot is this - when the opportunity comes for your team to put the dream into action, the dreamer is already thinking about something else, and you’re left to handle everything by yourself.
How to Handle it
You have to reverse their train of thought. The dreamer’s motto is, “I don’t like getting bogged down by the little details.”
They take a broad brush approach to everything, so you have to be Johnny on the spot with the filler. Try to make things practical for them - Here’s what I mean:
Ask a lot of very specific questions that force them to develop a rational approach. This will help identify any bumps in the road – and ways to handle them. The dreamer has an idea in their head, where everything works out just dandy, their big idea works seamlessly, and everybody gets rich... Correction, they get rich, this is after all their dream. So you are the antithesis of their dream - you are the rational CF that they cannot win without. You should paint scenarios of their big idea in practice, describe it in all its multi coloured glory - pitfalls, warts and all. You will give the idea some real world context, taking the idea out of their head on to paper (or the back of a fag packet, whichever size is required).
Focus their attention on what needs to be done in order to actually put the dream into action. More often than not, your questions will help calm them down and allow them to see another perspective.
As long as you be careful not to directly discount their ideas, thus insulting them. This should make them more likely to commit to something instead of leaving you with all the work.
7. The Around-the-Clock Boss
This boss has no life outside of work.
They will not hesitate to call, text, or email you after work hours and on the weekends. Everything is usually an emergency on their part. It leaves you thinking: "Couldn’t you have waited to tell me this tomorrow at work?"
Meanwhile, they’re wanting to tell you every little work-related thing that pops into their head. They are the chatterbox, the dreamer running on LSD (metaphorically) - they cannot rest until they have unpacked their train load of problem monkeys off their back on to yours.
How to Handle it
The manager that never leaves you alone is one of the common signs of a toxic boss, however, here’s the good news: They know you’re valuable. Why else would they care about reaching you after work? They need you, they know they need you, and by some bizarre twist of reason in their own head, they need you right now! I mean right now!
So you should continue to cultivate and reinforce your role as a valuable employee. The more this boss needs you, the more willing they’ll be to respect your privacy when you talk to them about it. You should politely tell your boss that you’re busy after work - remind them of the gym you go to, or the weekend away you are taking, the boyfriend at home or the Mother you visit.
Meanwhile, make it a point to stop by their office or phone them in the late afternoon and on Fridays to check in. You're not being a pest, you're trying to divert their attention away from needing you, at a time you don't want to be needed.
So you may say: is there anything you and I need to go over before we leave for the day / weekend? You may talk about effective progress on what you’ve done. This will let them know what you’re working on, what you need to do next, and help ease their behavior. By the way - this can also help with micromanagers since they both share this type of behavior.
At the end of the day, business is like a game. It’s about who needs who more.
Does your boss need your services more than you need the job? If so, you’re in the power position.
Do you need your job more than your boss needs your services? If so, you’re in the weaker position.
Here’s the bottom line:
There are a million ways to handle bad bosses. So the best piece of advice I can give you is to always search for better.
Better benefits, better pay, better hours, and better work-life balance.
Even if you like your job, I would say always search for something better. This will ensure you’ll always come out on top. However, at some point you will reach the point of comfort, where everything falls in to place. The game then changes from 'search for better' to 'make it the best'.
Then the boss changes, and you get some wanker in charge.