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Good Ways to Deal with Bad Bosses

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Good Ways to Deal with Bad Bosses

A bad boss can make a good job unbearable, and a good boss can make a bad job…well, at least more tolerable.

But it’s bad bosses I’m concerned with today. In my role as one who writes and consults on management issues, people talk to me about problematic bosses all the time. It’s (understandably) a big topic. Bad bosses come in many shapes and sizes, but rather than offering a laundry list of dysfunctional management behavior, what I’ll focus on here is what you can do to improve your career situation.

Make yourself indispensable. As the old saying goes, nothing succeeds like success. If you can, despite the frustrations you’re feeling, master all aspects of your job and then some, and become a key employee, it can lead to several positive outcomes. It may change your boss’s behavior in a more agreeable direction; it may get you promoted and out of your boss’s orbit; it definitely will give you the satisfaction of knowing you did your absolute best in tough circumstances.

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Try to see things through his or her eyes. I’m always a big believer in trying to put yourself in the place of others. This means understanding, as best you can, what pressures, what motivators, what hopes and fears drive their behavior.

Management comes with it a multitude of pressures from many sources: boards, senior managers, employees, customers, investors and sales reps to name just a few. The more you understand the pressures your (difficult) boss is under, the better equipped you’ll be to cope. No guarantee this will change your own experience, but empathy is a powerful emotion.

Don’t complain to your boss’s boss. It’s never my preference to “pitch from the negative,” but in this case avoiding a destructive move can, in fact, be constructive. Going over your boss’s head and complaining to his boss may be tempting, but the truth is it rarely works.

First of all, you likely have no clear idea how your boss’s boss perceives him; she may well be totally supportive and hold your boss in high regard. Second, it’s guaranteed to aggravate your own boss — no manager likes employees going “over their head” — so the move often makes a bad relationship worse. It’s a high-risk maneuver. Unless you’ve personally observed felonious acts, say, and want to be a whistle-blower, it’s best avoided.