How To Deal With 3 Breeds Of Bad Bosses

Because sometimes you have to manage your manager.

If you and your boss disagree over a course of action but share a solid working relationship, you might be able to respectfully make your case by presenting data and engaging your boss in debate. However, what if your problem with your boss is more serious, resulting from repeated clashes rather than a onetime disagreement? In other words, what if you work for a bad boss?

The answer is that you need to take the initiative in solving the problem, because your boss almost certainly won't. Here are a few types of bad bosses and suggestions on how to react to each of them.

The micromanager

A micromanager plays an overly large role in the projects of his or her subordinates. Instead of letting them use their own judgment, the boss makes every decision or dictates every step to take. This can be especially frustrating to capable workers, turning an interesting task into boring grunt work.

If you think your boss is a micromanager, first make sure that he or she isn't merely responding to your own poor performance. If you have shown that you cannot perform good work without heavy­handed supervision, your boss may feel that he or she has to constantly look over your shoulder. In that event, try to regain your boss's confidence through a small project. When a relatively unimportant project comes up, ask your boss to grant you additional responsibility "just this once." If he or she agrees, put forth extraordinary effort to ensure that the project exceeds expectations.

If your boss micromanages your entire team, you can be confident that it's not just you. Your next step should be to sit down with your boss and talk about his or her overbearing supervision. Admittedly, initiating such a discussion is a difficult task. You may fear that your boss will take your criticism as an attack or otherwise identify you as an "enemy." Many micromanagers aren't fully self­ aware; they don't realize how intrusive their actions are. In my experience, bosses like these often respond well to constructive criticism from their subordinates.

After having this discussion, try to ease your boss away from his or her micromanaging tendencies. Many micromanagers have an underlying fear that something will go wrong if anyone is given managerial discretion. You can address this fear by frequently sharing information throughout the course of a project. Don't wait for your boss to ask how things are going; instead, send a daily email with status reports and next steps. This helps reassure your boss that, in fact, everything is under control.

The neglecter

Some managers are on the other end of the spectrum. Instead of micromanaging their subordinates' projects, they fail to give any directions at all. In an extreme case, their subordinates may feel that their boss is ignoring them. As a result, they feel that they have to guess what their bosses want.

To fix this problem, you'll have to be very assertive to get your boss's attention. If you receive an assignment with unclear goals, ask for clarification right then and there. Don't leave your boss's office or hang up the phone until you are satisfied that you know what you need to do.

During the course of the project, you should also communicate more frequently with your boss. For instance, if you send your boss a key email every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 4 p.m., he or she will know that it's important—and be more likely to respond to it. If that doesn't work, try to speak face­ to­ face with your boss about getting more direction. Be specific about what you need and how your boss can be helpful. If your boss still ignores you at this point, look elsewhere in the organization for mentors who can provide you with some form of guidance.

The yeller

A boss who gets angry and abuses his or her workers is probably the worst type of "bad boss." By yelling at or otherwise belittling his or her employees, an abusive boss fosters an environment of fear. There is no excuse for this behavior—yet abusive bosses can be found in all sorts of organizations.

The only way to deal with an abusive boss is not to take personally the fact that he or she regularly loses self­ control. The boss's unacceptable behavior has nothing to do with you. It has everything to do with his or her own problems, which you can't fix.

Nevertheless, your behavior may unwittingly push your boss's "hot buttons" and trigger a stream of abuse. If you want to stick it out with such a boss, try to identify what those triggers are. Does your boss go ballistic if you arrive five minutes late or if your desk is slightly messy? If so, the simplest solution is to avoid behaviors that invite your boss's wrath.

But this strategy won't work if your boss plays the blame game and gets angry whenever a project turns sour. You can try to explain the key causes and suggest how you will address them in the future. You can try to brush off abusive behavior with a joke—as the comedian Bill Cosby said, "If you can laugh at it, you can survive it." But if you stop laughing after repeated incidents, you should have a frank discussion with your boss about his or her behavior.

If you're lucky, your boss will not be aware of how outrageously he or she is acting. If you provide calm, constructive feedback, your boss might have an epiphany and change his or her ways. Unfortunately, many abusive bosses know exactly what they're doing. They'll push and push until they meet resistance, at which point they're likely to retreat. The only way to succeed with such a boss is to stand your ground. Insist that your boss treat you with respect. Be specific about how his or her abusive behavior is affecting your work and which particular actions are intolerable. But whatever you do, keep your cool; nothing good can come from a yelling match.

From the book EXTREME PRODUCTIVITY: Boost Your Results, Reduce Your Hours by Robert C. Pozen. Copyright © 2012 by Robert C. Pozen. Reprinted courtesy of HarperBusiness, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

What else makes for a bad boss? And how do you deal with them?

[Image: Flickr user Gary Martin]

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  • skyla2202

    I left my 8 year job nearly 2 years ago. It wasn't my job that was the problem - really it was because my illness made me incredibly poorly and my boss didn't let me see a doctor who would have diagnosed my illness (which is long-term). So since the company was handing out redundancies I decided to take the money and leave. I found work somewhere else and it didn't work out however soon after I left that job I bumped into my old boss and I tried to come over really confident and happy that another company took me on. I saw her eyes glaze over.

    Undeterred I kept looking and I secured an interview somewhere else. The employer said if I could get a good reference from my old boss I would be offered the job. I then get a letter 2 weeks later saying that the job offer was not available. So I applied to work at my old company. A day later I had a missed call from my old boss's number. Why...?

  • I am doing an Internship to get my Bachelors in Business Administration. This is my first real boss, so I thought hmm this should be interesting. I hope he is somewhat nice. Nope, not at all! I got "The Yeller" and "The Micromanager" What a combo!?! It is totally ridiculous. Everyone fears him, and he is very demeaning, sarcastic and rude. Even when he is so called NICE, it's fake. I stood up to him regarding an issue with the company credit card and integrity, and he had the nerve to say( knowing the whole situation was wrong) I won't get in trouble, my employees will not me. Not one iota of Professionalism at all. I'm just happy I have 3 months. I have to endure to get my college credits, but everyday constantly walking on eggshells, and then he has the nerve to show the whole staff a powerpoint on Leadership. What a joke!!

  • D Baker

    Just found your page,
    and Would like to Learn more about
    Dealing with a Bad "Boss".
    There is ONLY SO Long that I can "Put UP" with them.

    Have had MORE than one "Boss",
    Who Believe:
     "They ARE ALWAYS the MOST  'Emotionally Calm' !";
     "They ARE ABLE to "Permit" ANY Deviations of their Way !";
     "The 'Best' Productivity, is when the Employees are ALWAYS under STRICT SUPERVISION !";
     "ANYTHING that goes Wrong, IT IS THE LOWEST EMPLOYEE'S Fault !";
     "Employees DO NOT get ANY BREAKS,RESTS !"

      One Place, got a "New Replacement Boss".
    The 1st things he did, REMOVE ALL forms of Quality Control.
    He REFUSED to Recognize ANY other Employee's Abilities.
    He Allowed his Niece to Come in, and "TOTALLY RANSACK"
     ALL the Production Lines and Inventory.

      Similarly for one "Supervisor" of a Medical Support Group that I WAS part of.
    He "Failed out", ANYONE who might be able to complete the Plaques on the yearly Awards.
    At times, he would Totally IGNORE the Practical Exams THAT HE WAS "MARKING" !!
    (He DID NOT SEE or HEAR it, SO you DID NOT Do it !!)

  • Heskettg

    I just endure 1 year of the worst boss I have ever experienced, with a boss who combined all the above traits. Customers continually complained about the boss, and raved about my work and professionalism, but their comments went unheard. I was fired, on my one year anniversary, because I was insubordinate and didn't follow company policies. How do you fight a boss that is abusive, deceitful, and mean-spirited? I always tried to start each day with a positive outlook, but it only made my boss more determined to break my spirit.

  • Su Harding

    If your boss even segments into the above categories say 50-60% of the time, good luck. #ManageUpwards it is an interesting challenge with no guarantee of success as @wheelski @mike suggest. No point storming the presidents office with a double dealing snake on your back, making ground vanish under your feet.  Has anyone had success in the same building or is it always confidence that springs once freedom from oppression is found and ones gifts flourish again in fertile new environment?  Any successful turnaround tales?.

  • D Baker

    Best "Success", was Allowing his "Ways" to Shut DOWN the FACTORY.
    Would have been MORE Productive, IF HE was CONSTANLY "Degraded" by this.

    He sounds similar to a Psychotic Condition,
    where the Person REFUSES to "Learn"

  • Wheelski

    Hi  Su:

    Wheelski here again. In response to your question, after a grueling job search, I did find an incredible job with a great supervisor. Yes, there are challenges in the pipeline with some difficult people but the leader I report to is extremely encouraging, open to listening and has a great sense of humor. Amazing how one person can make a world of difference. Unfortunately the business world keeps the crazies on top; either they have a big book of business, they are friends with the CEO or they have huge stake in the company because any HR professional (in their right mind) would never keep a toxic head case on board to infect the rest of the organization.

  • D Baker

      ONE GREAT job that I had,
    was DUE to the WONDERFUL
    ORGANIZING & PUBLIC Relation Skills of the Boss.

      After having worked so many years, as the "Floor Boss",
    the Company finally "Promoted" him to a New Position.
    This "New Position", he was not very good at, but did pay slightly more.
    His "Replacement Floor Boss", was a TOTAL *--*---** !!

      For the Employees, the Company, and Just General Atmosphere,
    the "Original Floor Boss" should have been kept
    AND his PAY DOUBLED !!

  • Sarah

    How about the bully boss?  Not really a screamer, but decides that someone is the root of all evil and then goes through all channels to get the employee to quit?

  • Anonymous


    "The Yeller" having experienced this first hand, I
    was shocked at the lack of professionalism from this man who was quick to judge
    others who were too afraid to stand up for themselves. He was the typical bully
    blamer who never questioned his own lack of ability because he was too busy
    playing the big cheese sitting in his ivory tower watching Youtube riding on everyone’s
    success, but when it wasn't going so well it was everyone’s else's fault.
    Respect has to be earned, I did not respect him hence I am no longer working
    for him. We all have a choice in life but in the UAE some individuals don't and
    he knew that so used this to his advantage to puff his chest and abuse them in
    public to make himself look good…Not..!

  • confidential

    I lost my best job because of a new boss was a neglector. He continuously would not give me information or answer questions and when I attempted to ask for the information he struck back by discrediting me and denying everything.  He even failed to do my annual evaluation and then blamed it on me, giving me a bad evaluation and poisoning me with all the other management in conversations.  I never recovered and he eventually had to leave, but the damage was done.  I could not rebuild my credibility and he was only my manager a year but 5 years later, the things he did were still following me.
    There was no way out and eventually, I failed from all the extra attention.

  • Skit Sahara

    There is another type of boss that is actually more difficult than three three types. That is the "afraid to make a decision/constantly changing their mind/afraid of losing their job" type!. How do you suggest dealing with that one?

  • Guest

    The worst may be the pendulum who swings to the extremes in all three styles because they can't build a strategy for how they'd like the department/projects to run, nor have the skills to communicate expectations. Frustrating for those who don't know what they're dealing with at any given moment.

  • Wheelski

    What an interesting perspective because from my experience, the best way to handle a bad boss is to leave them. They don't change and while sitting down and talking through issues is the ethical thing to do, I haven't been able to reason with a screaming  maniac yet. Seriously, regardless of how hard-working or intelligent the boss may be, he/she loses all credibility by their obnoxious behavior. After my last wacko of a boss, I decided that whoever I report to going forward will be pleasant at best; not a micro-managing head case who uses anger to motivate others. 

  • Jeremiah O. Agenyi

    Wheelski is so on point. It gets worse when the boss is both a MICROMANAGER and YELLER. This combo saps your confidence, and your motivation. You constantly have to look elsewhere for your on-the-job motivation. Plus you need a very large heart to work with such bosses. Though, no matter what, the employee can not afford to loose it, either in a yelling-match or by snobbish will only affect your zeal to deliver on the job. That could earn you a bad repute. Not good for the future of one's career.

  • Mike

     I agree with Wheelski here. If you've got a boss you have two decisions, deal with it or leave. There really isn't grey area of negotiation, these personality types are very violent and abusive. Next job, I'd suggest you look for your direct report to be a Leader not a Boss - case solved. In today's world life is to short to deal with a crappy Boss, move on and live in harmony.

  • palmeria

    So true. I shudder to think of the countless hours and days that people waste trying to follow advice on how to cure bad bosses, like this article (though we appreciate the effort). Deal with it, or leave.