Try this mantra: There are no bad bosses.
Want to deal with a bad boss? First, stop complaining.
Unless your boss breaks the law, you don't have
a bad boss: You have a boss you are managing poorly. Pick
on your boss all you want, but if you were a top employee,
you wouldn't let your boss's problems bring you down.
Everyone has something to offer. Find that in
your boss and focus on learning everything you can. Or leave.
The good news is that in most cases, you don't have to leave.
You just need to manage your relationship with your boss with
more empathy, more distance and more strategy.
Overcome incompetent skills
My favorite example of a bad boss is one I had at a software
company who refused to learn how to use a computer. I conducted
most communication with him via phone, and when other people
didn't, I often played the role of secretary even though I
was a vice president. He once said to me, "You're such
a fast typist!" And I thought, "You are such an
incompetent, lazy idiot."
But in truth, he was not. He was a top negotiator
of government contracts. I stepped back and recognized that
he was overwhelmed with the prospect of changing the way he
had been working for 20 years, and I was in a position to
help him. I found that the more dependent he was on me for
e-mail, the more I was able to insert myself into high-level
deals that he would not otherwise have let me in on. I helped
him avoid having to change, and he taught me how to be a deal
Overcome moral incompetence
After a few big deals, I thought we had hit our groove
when I realized that this same man was having an affair with
my sales manager. For months he grumbled that she was terrible,
and I should fire her. Then he announced she needed more responsibilities.
I should have sensed something was up, but I didn't. Then
she dumped him with great fanfare and I found myself sitting
awkwardly between them in many meetings.
Sure, I lost a lot of respect for them both,
and it was a pain to manage the sales person after that. But
the awkward situation didn't mean that I couldn't learn a
lot from my boss. And it didn't mean that I couldn't continue
to forge important relationships with his important friends.
As long as I did not have to act in an immoral way, my boss's
issues were not my problem.
Always weigh your benefits
A good boss would have learned to type and never would
have thought of delegating his typing to a vice president.
But I didn't have a good boss. I had a typical boss. One with
poor execution of good intentions. He had knowledge and skills
to offer me as long as I could manage our relationship productively.
I never expected him to manage the relationship for us, because
I wanted to make sure I was getting what I needed out of it.
I could have spent my time complaining. There
was a lot to complain about. Instead I always approached him
with empathy ("I'm sorry she dumped you") and I
always knew my boundaries ("We can't fire her; It's illegal").
Even when he was at his worst, I never took what he said personally
("When you are done yelling, I'd be happy to talk to
Aside from cutting a deal, he didn't have a
lot of management skills, and this gap left more room for
me to shine. My solid interpersonal skills helped fill in
what he was missing and helped me to get what I wanted: A
(reluctant and difficult, but ultimately) very useful mentor.
So take another look at the boss you call bad.
Think about what motivates him: What is he scared about that
you can make easier? What is he lacking that you can compensate
for? What does he wish you would do that you don't? Once you
start managing this relationship more skillfully, you will
be able to get more from your boss in terms of coaching and
support: You'll be able to tip the scales from the bad-boss
side to the learning-opportunity side.
In fact, you should always hope for a little
incompetence on your boss's part. The hole in his list of
talents provides a place for you to shine. The point, after
all, is for you to shine, and no one shines when they're complaining.
-- Posted: July 26, 2004