10 signs you have a lousy boss and how to deal with it









It happens all the time. You’re hanging out with friends or family members − or maybe you overhear a conversation at the adjacent table in a restaurant − and someone is complaining about a bad boss.

Much of the time it’s just venting because of frustration with a situation over which neither the complainer nor the manager has any control. But occasionally you hear a story told with such sincerity and conviction that you know the relationship between the complainer and the boss is damaged, whomever is to blame.

There have always been bad bosses and there always will be. But an employer’s marketplace in which workers are often considered easily replaced and where supervisors are being pressured to improve results with fewer resources and smaller staffs seems to have created more than ever.Bad_Boss

We remember really good bosses; those who mentor, coach and support us in ways that help us see and reach our potential. However, we sometimes mistake bosses we like for good bosses. A lenient boss who doesn’t challenge us or help us get better at what we do is not a good boss.

We also remember really bad bosses; the micromanagers who second-guess us, belittle us and make us feel insecure. We sometimes mistake demanding bosses for bad bosses. A boss who holds you to high standards, who insists on a high commitment and expects your best work every day is not a bad boss.

The fact that you have a poor rapport with your manager also does not mean you have a bad boss; it only means you need to work on improving the quality of the relationship.

The traits of a bad boss may not be as obvious as you think and even someone you like can be lousy at being in charge. Here are some signs that may not be so apparent:

  • He personifies the “Peter Principle.” The boss has risen to the level of his own mediocrity. Perhaps he was quite good in his previous role and was promoted because of that, but he exhibits none of the skills necessary to be competent in the current role.
  • She’s insecure. The boss is defensive and doesn’t like being challenged but is never hesitant about criticizing others. Because she’s suspicious of the motives of others, she surrounds herself with brownnosers.
  • He’s a micromanager. Your boss watches you closely and requires you to get permission for even the most minor decisions. He expects you to do your job the way he would do it. You feel you’re always being watched.
  • She steals from you. No, not your personal belongings; your ideas. You come up with them and she presents them as her own, never giving credit where it’s due. You end up not getting the recognition you’ve earned.
  • He wants to be your friend. He want so much for you to like him that be blurs the lines between professional and personal relationships. He overlooks your shortcomings and doesn’t sufficiently challenge you. The result is you won’t likely get any better at what you do. Plus, being too close to the boss can be a really bad idea.
  • She scapegoats. Nothing that goes wrong is ever her fault. Even if you’re not the one being blamed for failures now, your turn will come around eventually.
  • He doesn’t communicate well. He is reluctant to share information, and when he does it’s often handed down through multiple channels, meaning there are more opportunities for the message to be muddled.
  • She doesn’t give good feedback. When you’re working on projects, she can always tell you what she doesn’t want but can never quite tell you what she does. You’re never quite sure of what’s expected of you or know exactly where you stand.
  • He doesn’t accept feedback. Conversations are one-sided and once he’s done talking he couldn’t care less about hearing from you or anyone else on the team. Any concerns you raise are quickly dismissed.
  • She shows favoritism. Some members of the team seem to get all the attention and can do no wrong. Their talents are overblown and their failings minimized. The converse is true for some other team members, whose abilities are minimized and their flaws magnified.

Great bosses are not all that common, and you might assume you’re destined to work for a bad one. But having a bad boss can hinder your learning, teach you to settle for mediocrity and undermine your self confidence. The best solution is to find another job, but in today’s economy that’s a lot easier said than done, and you probably can’t just quit. Even if you could the bad traits are not always that obvious.

While there are limits to what you can do, there are some strategies for surviving and even succeeding, despite having a bad manager.

  1. Be confident in your own abilities. Learn as much as you can and challenge yourself to constantly get better. Hone a valuable skill that no one else has. Know your weaknesses, too. If your boss is being critical, be honest with yourself about the degree to which the criticism is accurate and work on getting better.
  2. Understand what motivates your boss as well as his negative triggers. Doing so helps you know when and how to approach your supervisor, which can help mend the relationship and give your ideas a better hearing.
  3. Pay attention to your boss’ weaknesses and learn to work around them. For instance, if your boss isn’t good at planning things and you are, offer to take on some projects for her. Doing so will also showcase your skills and allow you to grow.
  4. Speak up. Challenging your boss is never easy, especially if he doesn’t take criticism well. But sometimes it’s the right thing to do. But know what you’re talking about and always be respectful, however difficult it might be. Show deference to your boss since the power balance is in his favor.
  5. Do what you know is right. Never compromise your principles or do anything you consider unethical. If you believe the relationship is becoming confrontational, always keep a detailed log of interactions with your boss, including dates, times, and brief synopses of the conversations.

©2014, Robert Naylor Coaching and Consulting, LLC. All rights reserved.

Robert Naylor is a journalist, consultant, certified coach, facilitator, and speaker who helps people become better leaders, improve workplace performance, and find focus in their careers and life. He is available for on-site training, private coaching, keynote presentations, and commentary. For more information visit naylorcoaching online or contact

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