Everyone loves a good boss, right? The kind that’s always got time for you, encourages you, publicizes your successes? But what happens when you find yourself working for a bad boss – the sort that’s unhelpful, shifts the blame, or is just downright difficult.
Bad bosses aren’t good for a company, and they come in all shapes and sizes, but at some time or another you’re bound to end up working for one. So how to you handle it when things get tough?
Here are 10 kinds of bad bosses and how to deal with them.
1. The boss who gives unclear or limited direction
Imagine the scene. Your boss strolls in and says: “I want a new consumer feature built on our software platform.” And you don’t know, what that looks like, what it should do, or when you need to produce it. They make high-level comments or demands without understanding the whole picture.
My advice? Go back and ask “What does success look like to you?” Just sit down and take ten minutes to understand what’s in their mind, or you’re going to be off-target. You want to understand what the success criteria is, how you’re going to be measured on this, and what success looks like.
2. The boss who’s the micro-manager
The micro-manager is the boss who believes they can do it all. They’re not willing to delegate and they’re not willing to trust. They may have done it before or they may have something hyper-specific in their mind, so they have a hard time letting go.
Start by having a pretty honest and direct conversation: “You don’t need to micromanage me – I think I’ve got it covered. But if I need your help, I’ll definitely ask you to step in.”
With someone who’s leery to let go, fix periodic check-ins on the way, to make sure you’re still on track. And at the end of the day, if you can demonstrate the desired outcome and show the boss that you were able to achieve what they wanted to achieve, they’ll likely let go more easily next time around.
3. The boss who has unrealistic expectations
This is the boss who says “I want this whole product built and ready for release in a week!” And you know in reality that it’s going to take at least a month.
So you need to dial them back. Start with your belief that you CAN get there, but here’s the flow and here’s how long it’s going to take to get there. You may want it on Monday, but in reality that’s going to take three months.
It’s about having confidence and pushing back a little bit, but your argument is fact-based. You’re still demonstrating the enthusiasm for where you want to be, but realistic about the time it will take to get there.
4. The boss who takes the glory but deflects the blame
Some bosses have this giant bucket of insecurity – they love to bask in success and they shy away from the failure. And the reality of being a good boss is the willingness to do the exact opposite – take on all the failures, shield the team, and distribute the success.
People definitely don’t trust this kind of boss at all, and the more junior team members often bear the brunt of some of these issues. They tend not to have the confidence or the wherewithal to have a direct conversation with the boss.
But it can be done in a non-personal way. In the past, I’ve said to bosses like that: “ Hey, it’s really important to engage the team who were responsible for a lot of this, and make sure that they’re recognized as well. That gets them excited and makes them more committed – it helps boost the energy.”
5. The boss who lacks trust in the team
Some people are stingy with trust. Some people give you trust at first, and that’s then either cemented or retracted to a degree. And with other people, you’ve got to earn their trust first.
You overcome this like the micro-manager – start with small steps and regular check-ins, and build on your successes. Show them that the end result worked and you met their success criteria. Over time, you can build on that trust and prove yourself reliable. That will boost their confidence in your ability to get things done on time and to a high standard.
6. The boss who’s disrespectful of individuals, the team or the company
This kind of boss creates a really unhealthy environment. It’s maybe their sense of humor or how sarcastic they can be (which is where I’ve gotten in trouble in the past!), all the way to maybe some kind of gender issue.
There’s a ladder with issues like this. For the less serious ones, if you’ve got the confidence, you could say: “Hey, you’re making the team uncomfortable. You may want to dial back on the crude humor or the bad jokes, right?”
But as you move up the ladder of seriousness, you’ve got to involve HR. As the employee, things can go sideways on you, but if HR is charged with delivering the news, it tends to be heard more.
7. The boss that doesn’t enforce accountability
Think about football. Everyone’s got their position. The team will not win unless everyone’s fulfilling their role.
This means two things:
- Number one – they know what their role is, so they know their responsibilities
- Number two – they’re held accountable for that role
If people don’t know their responsibilities, or they know but it doesn’t matter to them, the team’s going to fail. If I’m tasked with shipping a product on time, but I’m reliant on others to achieve it, everyone needs to play ball.
The solution to this is communication. Define the dependencies and the the issues, and decide who’s doing what and when. Then you’re safeguarding yourself against being at the receiving end of criticism. Let people know as those deadlines come up and pass, then you can cover yourself.
8. The boss who plays favorites
This is a people thing. There will always be people that are a better fit than somebody else, and if you’re on the downside of that, it can be difficult.
Maybe you’re not the favorite, but you still need to work and develop your relationship. You don’t have to be friends, but you can meet for coffee sometimes and talk about the job, your career, and ways you could improve.
If you can’t join the Friday night drinks crowd, take a little time to counteract that and develop your own relationship: “I’m not a big drinker / I have kids. I can’t go out late at night – but let’s grab lunch once a month.”
9. The boss who creates an uncomfortable or unsafe working environment
Again, there’s that whole ladder of issues that can make you uncomfortable. Some things that you can speak about yourself, in a safe way. But as you move up that ladder (for example, some sort of harassment), then you really need to talk to that HR team and get people involved.
10. The boss who doesn’t go to bat for you
Everyone slips up from time to time, but a good boss will know that protecting individuals or the team comes with the territory. A boss who really cares about how well his team performs, will take the bullet when things go wrong. This boss understands that you don’t go anywhere without your team. If they succeed, you’ll succeed, but if they sink, you’ll sink. Being a great boss is as much about nurturing the team as it is about delivering outcomes.
Author: Chris Bolte