top of page

6 Steps to Dealing With A Horrible Boss

Horrible bosses – All of us have had them, a movie has been made about them, most of us know the negative impact they can have, yet few of us know how to handle them.

If you do a Google search on the topic, there are literally hundreds of articles about how people quit because of their bosses, such as ‘9 Things Managers Do That Makes Good Employees Quit’. However, I see fewer articles that actually suggest what do when faced with either a bad manager, or one that you perceive to be bad. I’m going to try and answer that question in this article.

Let’s start off with asking, what makes a horrible boss? For many it would include a selection from: dictating management style, lack of empathy, lack of communication, mood swings, micro-management, no delegation, condescending tone, throws you to the wolves. I could go on but you get the point. Now, put yourself in that situation – what do you do?

I’ve been pretty fortunate in my career to mostly work for good bosses; ones who push me but have my back, who give me challenging tasks with increasing responsibilities.

Yet, like most, I’ve had my share of, let’s say, underwhelming managers who made me feel like giving up and going to ‘find myself’ in Goa.

In those situations, it’s rare that you’re in a position where you can change your manager’s behaviour. Therefore, you’re left with two options; quit (not the best option in a weak job market), or do something about it. By doing something about it, I mean change your behaviour and attitude to make your work more bearable.

Step 1: Start Asking Questions

If your boss isn’t communicating downwards, or providing you with the information you need, just ask. I’m always amazed at how many just accept the situation and then complain to their co-workers. If your boss is too busy, or just ignorant, to what your needs are, then start asking questions to the get the answers you want. It might not be malicious on their part.

Often, it’s a blind spot they’re unaware of, and the best way to overcome a blind spot is feedback. You’ll be surprised just how many managers actually welcome feedback.

Step 2: Reframe Their Annoying Behaviours

‘Reframing’ is a technique often used by coaches or trainers to help clients see situations in a more positive light, rather than the negative way we tend to frame difficult or challenging situations. In relation to horrible bosses, rather than being constantly frustrated about their lack of communication, you could reframe it to seeing them as being so busy they forget to inform their team. Or, maybe some information needs to remain confidential, and they’ll tell us once they can.

Maybe you could see a micro-managing boss as someone who cares about accuracy and high standards, who is just trying to impart their knowledge. Does it resolve the situation? No, but it takes away some of your own anxiety, and then you focus on others steps to improve the situation.

Step 3: Set Your Own Goals and Find Your Intrinsic Motivation

Sometimes your manager is just never going to be as focused on your own development as you are, and you shouldn’t be relying on them to motivate you. If your boss isn’t pushing you to set and review goals, then take control and set your own. Have some year-long ones, and then set some shorter-term ones, and review every three months. In these situations, take a self-leadership role, rather than waiting for someone else to do it.

Many people think that it’s their managers job to motivate them, but most focus on extrinsic motivators like bonuses or work-life balance, which tend to only have a short-term effect. For me, it’s more important to focus on intrinsic motivators, such as passion, drive, or fulfillment. These are what will drive engagement and long-term happiness, and I do see it as the manager’s role to find out what drives their staff and create an environment that leverages it. If that’s not the case, work out what your intrinsic motivators are and see how you can connect them to the work you do.

It’s unrealistic for everyone to have their dream job, but there are normally certain aspects of your job that you will find more fulfilling. Focus your energy on those and your motivation levels should start to rise.

Step 4: Seek Advice

If you’re still at a loss as to how to connect with your boss, seek advice. There is nothing wrong with doing this if you go about it the right way. By this I mean, don’t just go to the CEO and start complaining as that won’t get you very far! There’s a hierarchy in most companies that you need to respect, and if you go over your boss’s head without talking to them first, then you’re going to end up looking like the bad one.

Try to discuss your issues with your boss first, then if there is still no change or willingness to discuss, then you can talk to their boss. Remember not to make it a personal attack, focus on the issues and their impact to you, together with some suggestions for improvement, and you’ll have a more fruitful conversation.

The other way is to seek out a mentor who you can trust to discuss your issues with. I advocate that everyone should have a mentor at work, who is outside their team, as someone to bounce ideas off or to share their frustrations with.

Mentors, by their very definition, are normally more experienced employees who have gone through most of the issues you’re facing. Another option is to employ an executive coach who can help guide you through the challenges you’re facing.

Step 5: Look for a Lateral Move

If you enjoy the company, but just can’t get along with your boss (after trying all these steps of course!), then rather than quitting, seek a lateral move into a different team or department. Too many quit in frustration without discussing internally first.

If you’re a mid to high-performing employee, most companies will jump through hoops to keep you within the firm, and will help facilitate an internal move. That way, you retain your intrinsic motivators that keep you at the firm, yet get a chance to build a better relationship with your new boss. That said, the grass isn’t always greener, but it’s normally still worth giving it a chance.

Step 6: Quit?

I never like to encourage anyone to quit, but even I have to admit that sometimes the best move is to look for a new job at a different company. With some companies, the horrible boss you have is just a manifestation of a rotten leadership core.

In these cases, start tidying up that CV, update your LinkedIn profile and start searching!

bottom of page