Responding to the Toxic Boss

Last Updated Oct 1, 2008 3:52 PM EDT

We've heard a lot recently about what to do with toxic assets, but perhaps a closer-to-home question is, how should we handle a toxic boss?

You know this creature from a hundred yards away-- their yelling at subordinates usually carries that far. It's the boss who dumps grunt work on your desk, usually at the last moment, then micromanages your progress. It's the "leader" who criticizes fellow managers, peers, your co-workers, and partners behind their backs at every opportunity. It's the person who takes full credit for successful projects and reassigns blame for the failed ones.

How do you deal with this person?

In an insightful blog post on Harvard Business Publishing, Annie McKee notes that tempers are running thin these days what with economic chaos, environmental meltdowns, and global pressures. The worst thing you can do, she says, is react in kind, which spreads the toxins even further through the office.

Instead, she says:

  • Don't take it personally
  • Don't compromise your values
  • Be mindful of the urge to fight back
  • Fight the temptation to feel victimized
Read her post for more details.

How do you combat (or not) a toxic boss?

  • Sean Silverthorne

    Sean Silverthorne is the editor of HBS Working Knowledge, which provides a first look at the research and ideas of Harvard Business School faculty. Working Knowledge, which won a Webby award in 2007, currently records 4 million unique visitors a year. He has been with HBS since 2001.

    Silverthorne has 28 years experience in print and online journalism. Before arriving at HBS, he was a senior editor at CNET and executive editor of ZDNET News. While at At Ziff-Davis, Silverthorne also worked on the daily technology TV show The Site, and was a senior editor at PC Week Inside, which chronicled the business of the technology industry. He has held several reporting and editing roles on a variety of newspapers, and was Investor Business Daily's first journalist based in Silicon Valley.