Dealing with a Bad Boss

Last month, I consulted with a health care organization in Georgia. Interacting with both leadership and staff, you didn’t need a PhD to know that the place was in turmoil, losing money — millions of dollars in turnover costs, and that this wasn’t a great place to be.

Not only was it top-heavy with multiple layers of management, it was also bottom-heavy. At the end of the day that I worked with the leadership team, several directors approached me and asked, “How do we get rid of all these vice presidents?” Staff said, “We’ve got too many bosses from hell.”

What a mess. I concluded that there were forces there that most didn’t understand. Even asking one of the Board members if the intent was to drive the company into the ground and shut it down. I felt like I was on the Titanic and all I could do was rearrange the deck chairs. This place was one of the sickest I’ve been in.

In a survey published by last June, 48 percent would fire their boss if they could, 29 percent would have their boss examined by a workplace psychologist and 23 percent felt their boss needed training!

So, what do you do when you work is a rotten place and/or you have a boss from hell? Studies consistently show that most people don’t leave a workplace because of “better” opportunities — they leave because they have a bad boss, manager or their workplace is toxic.

Bad bosses make good fodder for professional comedians, but they shouldn’t be your cup of tea. Why do bosses go bad (or start that way)? Too, too many don’t have the training or the skills, literally. They were great in sales or in a technical area and senior management assume that they will carry that greatness into the next role. Maybe, maybe not. 

They may be fearful that their lack of management skills will be exposed and that they will fail. They may be conflict avoiders, setting themselves up for failure in dealing with everyday issues that pop up in any workplace. Or, they may be micromanagers or just too controlling.

If you’ve think you’ve got a bad boss, here’s a few steps in dealing with him:

1. Understand why. Assuming he’s not a bully, step back and do a “gut” assessment. Is he new in the role? Does he have limited knowledge of the project you are working on or what your skills are? Is there anything that you can see that might be contributing to your boss’ behavior?

2. Be supportive. Being a team player is important. If your organization is big enough, it may be your ticket out…as in a promotion or reassignment. Bosses can flip to your advantage–if they think you support them, their behavior just may improve.

3. Don’t be a doormat. Speak up for yourself. No one should tolerate rotten behavior directed at them. Some people are clueless when it comes to how they behave versus how they think they behave. Your boss may actually think he’s the best at communicating, treating and responding to his staff’s needs, when in reality, he flunks. Don’t assume that he’s a mind-reader. Being assertive can be positive and actually correct benign or negative behavior.

4. Take notes. In other words, it’s document, document, document. If you decide to seek help from senior management or your HR department (especially if you have a bully boss), document times, dates, events. Be very specific–not just “Bert yelled at me again.” Write “Bert went ballistic…in front of Susan, Sam and George Tuesday at 3pm in the hallway–he accused me of sabotaging the project by doing blah, blah, blah…” 

Write it all up, every expletive and nuance. I know it may sound like overkill, but it’s critical here. Most companies say they have a zero tolerance toward rotten and bullying behaviors. If so, you need to show just how rotten he is.

5. Start looking. Don’t rearrange the chairs–look for a new job. When you are in a bad place or working with a bad boss, why stay there? Most likely, you will say that you need the job. Good enough…but there are other jobs. If you ask people who have switched jobs in the past if they have any regrets, it’s usually this one–I wish I had done it sooner. Be a sooner, not a later.

Workplaces that tolerate bad bosses usually have a laundry list of problems. Toxic workplaces create stress. Your mental and physical well-being is at risk.