Your boss should be an inspiring leader, someone who’s sensitive, supportive, and motivational—but she just isn’t. Maybe your boss takes credit for your ideas, micromanages, or gets angry when things go wrong. Or perhaps his massive ego just constantly steamrolls your whole team.
It’s tough luck, but the fact is that every manager has flaws. Your boss may be downright bad at managing—or handling some other big, important part of the role—but that doesn’t necessarily mean you should cut and run. After all, most bosses aren’t complete nightmares; it’s usually a mixed bag. In fact, there’s a lot to be said for putting up with a crappy one until you find a new opportunity.
Here’s when (and why) you might want to tough it out—at least for the short term.
1. When You Can Learn A Lot, Despite Bad Management
The nicest bosses aren’t necessarily the ones who teach you the most. Some bosses—the more difficult ones—will intentionally turn up the pressure in order to get you to think harder, perform better, or change your work habits. You won’t exactly welcome all of that with open arms, but it can train you in the art of taking negative feedback or input you disagree with—a valuable skill in any workplace.
My first boss was relentless in his demands, and he was almost never satisfied. At times he reduced me to tears. There’s no excuse for that, of course, but he pushed me nevertheless to achieve higher goals. In fact, If I’m being honest with myself, I have to admit I learned more from that boss than I did from any other manager over my whole career. Some difficult bosses are hard to work for and don’t treat you as well as they should while you’re their direct report. But later on they prove to be fabulous mentors.
2. When You Could Use A Confidence Boost
This one’s counterintuitive, but hear me out. Difficult bosses don’t applaud your every move. Ineffective managers don’t know how to give feedback of any kind—good, bad or in between. They may never show you much appreciation, and you may dislike them for that. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. If there’s nobody who can reliably put your performance into perspective for you, you’ve got to do it yourself. Bad bosses can inadvertently give you an opportunity to develop your own inner self-confidence.
Maybe your boss looks at your draft presentation and says, “This is terrible!” That’s it—no other constructive feedback. It’s annoying, sure, but you can either feel grumpy or sorry for yourself or you can summon the inner confidence to explain why you chose the approach you did. Every time you do this, you’ll grow a thicker skin and a more confident attitude.
Of course, you don’t always want to dig your heels in and totally ignore your boss’s opinion. If you’re more open to your boss’s ideas instead of feeling threatened by them, you can go back to the drawing board and revise your presentation—and that, too, can give you more confidence when it’s time to get up and speak.
Your boss might also build your self-confidence by being stingy with her praise. When she does compliment your work, you will genuinely feel proud—sky-high proud. I’ve had bosses who were so exacting that when I finally got commended it stuck with me far more than the constant praise handed out by less demanding bosses.
3. When You’re Gunning For Higher-Level Positions
The higher you go in your career, the more you’ll need your people skills to propel you forward. And if you’ve earned a reputation as someone who can endure a tough boss, you might be respected not only by your own boss but also by other senior folks in your industry. Why? Because for good or ill, difficult bosses tend to earn notoriety while effective bosses might fly under the radar.
To many, Steve Jobs was an opinionated, imperious, micromanaging boss. Yet Tim Cook, now Apple’s CEO, didn’t see him that way. “Steve cared,” Cook told Fast Company‘s Rick Tetzeli in 2015. “He cared deeply about things. Yes, he was very passionate about things, and he wanted things to be perfect. And that was what was great about him. A lot of people mistook that passion for arrogance.”
It can be hard to see the good in a boss who frustrates you or just hasn’t grasped the finer points of management. But Follow Cook’s lead and look for those upsides where others might only see the bad. Yes, this can take a serious effort of will—but it also takes empathy, and that’s never a bad thing to work on. If you see these sides of your boss’s personality in a different light, you’re more likely to be recognized for your diplomacy and savvy people skills.
4. When You’re Prepping For Your Next Job Interview
Finally, you’ll be much better positioned to sell yourself in your next job interview if you currently have a job. So don’t quit before you land a good offer if you can avoid it.
What employer would want to hire you if you say, “I quit because I didn’t like my boss”? Even if you don’t admit it flat-out, you’ll have to make up some flimsy excuse like, “my job didn’t offer me any more challenges, so I realized it was time to move on.” No one wants to hire someone who’s washed out somewhere else.
Think of it this way: If you quit, you’re letting your boss call the shots. Even though your superior might not realize it, your move out the door was precipitated by their bad management. Unless you’ve got a genuine HR issue on your hands (and maybe you do, in which case act accordingly!), why give a crappy boss that much power?
Stay strong and stay put—then tell a hiring manager all about how skillfully you’re managing to do that. She’ll be impressed, and before long, you’ll be free.