How to Deal with a Bad Boss

Open letter to bad bosses

Let me preface this with saying that while it may sound naiive to those of you in business for far longer than I, that manipulation is not the way to lead a business. You may have gained rampant success with your methods, you may even have much of your employee base and client base eating out of the palm of your hand but back-end tactics and what I'm sure you call 'strategic (or tactical) manipulation' is not how I would want to lead a business and perhaps that means never joining the world's rich list but I'd rather have a clean leadership style than one that muddied with the employ of ill-gotten gains.

To me, the art of business (and yes, it's an art) is balanced on a foundation of good and honest client, employee and industry relationships that aren't bought, rather earned - developed from the ground up with the initial 'can't believe they said yes to working with me' excitement and the continuing proof of value to those that are icons in your industry.

It's about working hard to establish a brand identity and to develop that identity into an authority in your field.

It's about bringing on board likeminded people with a view to the same vision you have and working together to create something of value.

It's about establishing yourself as the person behind the brand by individually cultivating relationships with clients, employees and industry folk so that when they think of your business niche, that yours is the one that springs to mind - that you are the one they want to recommend and while you may draw parallels with the way you manipulate relationships to gain ground, the right way is done with transparency, honest communication and in proving your value until you no longer need to.

It will never be acceptable to berate an employee.
It will never be acceptable to manipulate your employees, your clients, your industry insiders or even the guy who cleans the corridor at night to get what you want.

Now for the staffers

Sometimes in the workplace, you'll encounter someone so manipulative, so difficult and so disrespectful that it takes everything you have not to battle it out mid-office.

Ideally, your manager is fantastic and supportive, wants to help you grow and succeed, makes you feel personally valued and respected, but unfortunately, it's simply not the case for the vast majority of people. Whether they're a micromanager, watching over your every task and effectively doing the work themselves or their deeply manipulative and disrespectful behaviour makes you feel as if you're entirely incompetent, you still have to be the one to take the high road and make the best of the situation to get the job done.

Hold your tongue and take it on the nose

If it's not a common occurrence, it's possible there's a lot more going on with them they're not telling you. Often they'll come back in a few hours or the next day and apologise for venting their frustrations at you. It's important to observe their behaviour and work out what their motivation is for the ill-treatment. Sometimes it's just all too much for them and they snap, sometimes your are genuinely underperforming and they're fed up and sometimes they're just assholes.

Unfortunately, you still have to do your job and not let it affect your work which is certainly the high road but in the moment, the hardest road to take. You won't 'even the score' by working slower or taking an extra lng lunch break and those who take 'mental health days' are looked at as complete fruit loop slackers to most senior management execs so if you do desperately need a break, at least just call in with a quickly cultivated stomach flu.

Stay Ahead of the Game

Micromanagers are the worst - they stand over you as you work, they check in every other minute, they show how little faith they have in your ability to get the job done and yet expect you to be pleased by their coaching.
The manager's answer is for the employee to anticipate requests and getting them done before the manager comes to you - but isn't that every manager's dream employee- someone who preempts every request, works without delay and from whom the glorious glow of sunshine emanates from their behind but honestly, as an employee, that kind of management is likely to drive you out of the business (likely with a negative reference) or to breaking point if you don't speak up and if you've had a micro manager before and have become the sunshiney preemptive wunderkind you'll know that a lot of managers actually seem to get more fired up as if it's a commentary on their leadership somehow.

Compile Evidence

Document the interactions. If they send you emails, great - file them, if they say something to you that was disrespectful (and don't be too soft about it, people are sometimes just disresepectful so make sure it's only the really bad stuff) - write it down with the date and the reason they said it ie a piece of work that wasn't completed to their satisfaction.

Also with just plain old standard requests, don't delete anything - this way when they yell at you for not having done something the way they asked, you have the proof of what they asked and how you've addressed it as per.

Cover yourself at all times and be prepared to pull out your evidence when your manager questions you. It's a sad thing to have to do but so necessary in these kinds of workplace.

Speak Up

Book time with your manager to discuss how you work, how you prefer to be managed and how best to proceed because the behaviour isn't helpful to you and it's certainly not practical for the business or either of your workloads.
If you need to, follow company procedure to lay a formal complaint with the HR department (though if you're working for the owner of the company or CEO, you might just be out of luck.)

Leave

If you feel like you've addressed all your options save for one and that no progress is being made, it may be time to leave but when you do, make sure it's on good terms. For one, you need a good reference but also, other companies don't want to hear you bad mouthing a former boss because they'll think you'll do the same for them and reputation is everything.

Avoid the next Bad Boss

When you interview with a new company, take time to ask the right questions - you need to work out how the manager prefers to lead, you need to be able to irk out the impression that they want to be able to give you a task and expect it to be done. That's a hands-off manager.
Do your research - chat to an employee in the elevator, look up the manager online - get a feel for their personality and how they make others feel but this isn't sure-fire. It's all to easy for a manager to fool the bulk of the team and only show their true colours to their subordinates or direct coworkers.

Whatever approach you try, know that the kind of behaviour we've come to experience from bad managers in the past or that we've heard of from you readers, is 100% unacceptable and needs to be rectified.

After all - How can you lead without any followers?