Book overview

How to manage a bad boss

Are you among those who have a difficult relationship with your boss? Have you asked yourself what your share of the responsibility is? As helpless as you think you are in such a situation, there are ways to manage even the most difficult of bosses.


Try to understand why your direct supervisor is so difficult
When overly obsessed with short-term goals, difficult managers do not give enough attention to new ideas, to the individuals that make up their teams, and to different points of view. Chronic stress can erode their ability to change and be courteous, kind, and effective. To better manage such a boss, ask yourself:
• What interests them
• What keeps them awake
• What they would like to have more or less of every day
• What scares them
• To what extent do they feel the need to impress others
• How they measure success and what they think of failure

Steps to follow if you have a difficult boss
1. Name the problem: You should be able to clearly explain what about your direct manager’s leadership style impedes his or her performance.
2. Talk openly: Shift your relationship from negative to positive by asking your manager questions like: “What is your ambition?” or “If we acted according to our values, what would our behavior be towards one another?” Give him or her the time to react and develop these interactions.
3. Help him or her to get help: Ask an HR manager if it is possible to find a coach.
4. Protect yourself: Preserve your physical and mental health by engaging in mediation, sports, volunteering, and so on.
5. Nothing works? Leave! Life is too short to waste it on managing a dysfunctional boss. But be careful to use your network, inform yourself, and obtain as much information as possible on your future work environment and leaders. You know what you are losing, but not what you will be gaining…

Based on “Managing a Negative, Out-of-Touch Boss,” by Richard E. Boyatzis (HBR Blog Network, May 2014); “15 Signs You Have a Bad Boss,” by Heather Huhman (LinkedIn, July 2014); “Second Thoughts about Bad Bosses,” by Susan Cramm (Strategy+Business, June 2014); “How to Deal With 3 Breeds of Bad Bosses,” by Robert C. Pozen (Fast Company, October 2012); “Are You Sure You’re Not a Bad Boss?” by Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman (Harvard Business Review, August 2012).

Watch the video:

Keys to leadership success

ESADE Visiting Professor and leadership expert Richard Boyatzis discusses the characteristics that distinguish effective leaders from non-leaders

Caroline Schuurman
Published by Caroline Schuurman