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Tutorial: How to Manage a Bad Boss

There are only three certainties in this world: death, taxes and bad bosses.

If you've got a lousy boss, this post provides some valuable pointers to help you cope.

TO START: Click the statement below that best describes your boss:

Note: For simplicity's sake, I made all the bad bosses male. However, ALL varieties of bad boss come in both genders.
Now that you've learned how to cope in a basic way with your bad boss, you and I need to have a heart-to-heart talk.

Let me tell you a little story. I used to work for an awful boss in an organization full of terrible bosses. I was completely miserable, but coping. I complained a lot. One day, I was talking to a guy who had once worked there but had since started his own business. Here's what he said to me:

Geoffrey, you've only got a limited time in life. If you're in a company that makes you miserable, or working for a boss who makes you miserable, you'll never do your best work, and you'll be wasting precious time that could be spent building a career and doing things that you truly enjoy.
That statement was a pivotal moment in my life, and I'm hoping it will be a pivotal moment in yours, too. Seriously, life is too short to waste hanging about with dumb-ass bosses and dealing with their BS. If you have a bad boss, you need to find another job.

Honestly, it's not that difficult, even in hard times. The advice I can give you at this point is to get on the Ask The Headhunter website and buy Nick Corcodilos's book. In the near future, I hope to post a "How To Find a Great Job" post, and that should help, too.

Meanwhile, the classic textbook for dealing with bad bosses is Stanley Bing's Crazy Bosses. Buying a copy is one of the best career investments you can make. Trust me, Bing is simply the smartest guy alive when it comes to things like this.

The main thing is to conquer your fear and to separate yourself from your bosses insanity -- short term by following the advice elsewhere in this post, but long term by finding a job (and boss) that suits you and who isn't insane.

You've got a GOOD BOSS!

However, this post just discusses bosses who are a royal pain in the tuchus.

This isn't to say that you shouldn't figure out how to manage your boss, though.

Check out the post "Tutorial: How to Manage a Good Boss".

Uh, oh. You've got a bad boss. You have my condolences.

Before I give you specific advice, I'll need to know a bit more about the specific kind of bad behavior that you're boss is inflicting on your and your co-workers.

INSTRUCTIONS: Click the statement below that best describes your boss:

READERS: If there are some bad boss behaviors I've missed, please post a comment.
Your boss is a TYRANT.
Here's exactly what you do:
  • Step 1: Remember that you're not alone. This type of boss is easily the most common bad boss in the world. It's a sad truth about human nature that many people, when put in a position of authority, behave like bullies.
  • Step 2: Don't take it personally. Whatever he says and does when he's upset has nothing to do with you. It has to do with his own inability to deal with frustration and his own lack of control. He suffers from a serious personality flaw. It's not you.
  • Step 3: Find your center. When the boss is yelling at you, imagine that you're surrounded by an invisible force field. Nothing he says can actually penetrate it. Don't let his anger affect you, even if he's yelling in your face.
  • Step 4: Notice the absurdity. People who are angry look really, really funny. Imagine your boss in a diaper crying like a baby. After all, he's acting just like toddler throwing a fit. How can you possibly take that red faced infant seriously?
  • Step 5: Wait until the fit subsides. If you don't react, the idiot will eventually run himself out. It's important not to act either submissive or defensive. Just listen, impassively and objectively. Don't react to his emotions; listen to the content.
  • Step 6: Address the issue. Somewhere in the fuss was an issue that probably needs addressing. Calmly address the issue, without reacting to the way the issue was delivered. This is how you handle a toddler who's throwing a fit.
Your boss is a MICROMANAGER.
Here's exactly what you do:
  • Step 1: Understand the dynamic. Micromanagement comes from one place, and one place alone. Fear. Your boss is afraid of screwing up, and is therefore afraid that you will screw up. As a result, he's trying to control everything.
  • Step 2: Do a self-assessment. It's time for some self-honesty. Is your boss's fear justified... in your case? Are you, in truth, a bit of a screw-up or a goldbrick? If so, then change your attitude about your job... and your boss will eventually lighten up.
  • Step 3: Create a reporting system. If you're sure the micromanagement is NOT justified, then your job is to allay your boss's unreasonable fears, as far as that's possible. Your first step is therefore to make sure your boss is informed about your progress.
  • Step 4: Build detailed plans. You need to explain exactly what you're going to be doing, how you're going to do it, when you're going to do it, and how the boss will know it's done. The mere fact that you're doing this will help the boss relax a little.
  • Step 5: Get the plan reviewed. You want the boss's micromanagement to focus on the plan -- not your activities. Asking for inputs on the plan creates the illusion of control, thereby giving you more freedom form oversight later.
  • Step 6: Measure and report. Provide regular status reports as you achieve each step in the process. The more proactive that you are in doing this, the less the boss will feel that he needs to intervene and monitor your activities himself.
Your boss is an ADDICT.
Here's exactly what you do:
  • Step 1: Confirm your suspicions. Many people who enjoy booze, drugs, gambling and sex are not addicted. The key element here is whether the "addiction" is getting in the way of the boss's ability to do his job. If so, he's an addict.
  • Step 2: Assess the situation. If your boss is the CEO or if the entire upward management chain is similarly addicted, you really only have three choices: become an addict, become an enabler, or leave the company. Assuming the first two are non-starters, click here for your next step.
  • Step 3: Start keeping records. You'll need a record of every time the boss misses a meeting, shows up with alcohol on his breath, makes an inappropriate sexual remark, etc. Document the time, who was present, and exactly what happened.
  • Step 4: Surface the issue. When you've compiled sufficient evidence that shows the pattern of addiction (i.e. like 10 incidents) go to the head of your HR group and surface the issue. Express your concern for the company and for the ability of the gorup to achieve its goals.
  • Step 5: Prepare for disappointment. Chances are nothing will happen. However, there is a possibility that HR will intervene and either get the guy fired or into some kind of rehab program. Either way, you're still compromised, so...
Click here for your next step
Your boss is a NARCISSIST.
You truly do have my condolences because this is the absolute worst kind of boss to deal with because they'll often exhibit all the qualities of the other bad bosses -- because they don't give a crap about other people.

Even so, here's exactly what you do to cope:

  • Step 1: Realize the Truth. No matter how charming your boss can be, you are not real to him. You do not really exist, except insofar as you are feeding his narcissism. No matter what happens, you are no more important to him than a bug on the wall.
  • Step 2: Decide What You Want. Why are you working for this person? What are you learning? Where is it taking your career? If you can't come up with good answers to this question, then there's no reason for you to be working for him, so click here for your next step.
  • Step 3: Observe The Foibles. Since you've decided that it's worth your time and effort to remain, you need to study your boss and figure out what makes him feel good and loved and wanted. This will vary from person to person.
  • Step 4: Feed the Foibles. Whatever it is that makes your boss feel good, make it your job to provide it. Meanwhile, keep focused on what you're trying to accomplish, so that you can get out of the relationship as soon as possible.
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