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How to Handle The Boss From Hell

Jun 8, 2008
If you've had a job you likely have a story of a boss from hell. Thanks to the Web, the victims of these bozo bosses no longer have to suffer in silence; they share loudly and long about their nemeses. Forced overtime, canceled vacations, and reprimands for taking needed sick leave are just the beginning of some bosses' insensitivities.

Some boss behavior may be over the legal line and border on harassment, discrimination, or even improperly denying leave requests. If you're working for this type of boss, you need to file a complaint with HR, your boss's boss or an outside agency. But most times, a bad boss's behavior is perfectly legal, although it might drive those who work for him or her to commit unlawful acts!

In my experience, bad bosses come in four types, each one requiring a slightly different strategy. First identify what kind of boss you're dealing with, then try some of my tips to cope.

Micromanager (MMs)

Micromanagers will drive you batty. Perfectionist micromanagers are obsessed with control, convinced that the world will come to an end if certain details aren't perfect.

What works with this kind of boss? Not much. As with most people, they are who they are. Your best survival strategy is surrender: Take their skills and use them to your advantage. Learn everything you possibly can.

Whether talent, political skills, organizational incompetence, or sleeping with the boss propelled him or her to the top doesn't matter. The organization thinks he or she should be the boss and you're stuck with that wrong-headed view. It's you--not they--who needs to adapt. Remember: Your boss may not always be right, but he or she is always the boss.

Conflict Avoiders (Cas)

This type of boss can cause the most woe in any workplace. CAs duck decisions and assign roles in a hazy manner so no one will be annoyed with him or her. The problem is that employees then express the conflicts the boss habitually avoids.

The solution? It's what I call the "beyond" trick. Employees sit down and work together to compile three lists-- the conflicts they've historically harbored, current hot issues, and 'beyond issues,' which are those they continually bicker about but have no control. This is usually the biggest list and contains decisions the boss needs to make.

Present the list to your boss and ask that he or she make the decisions necessary to resolve the issues. If that doesn't work, you have the option of going to a higher authority, or looking for a new job.

Clueless Incompetents (CIS)

The good news about these bosses is that they may be happy to have you do the work, since they're frequently lazy as well as incompetent. Why is this good news? Because if you love the job or the field you're in, the work itself can be worth it. Their attitude may also enable you to take over projects that could give you valuable experience and contacts. The risk? Don't count on their help if you get in over your head. Also beware that you don't become tarnished with the brush of the talentless person you work for.

If you work for a CI you need to be sure to document everything - preferably through e-mails to your boss and at least one other person, if appropriate. Why email? Because you can prove that your boss received it.

Devils Incarnate (Dis)

DIs might not actually be evil, but they certainly do a good imitation of that state; manipulative, overbearing, demanding, and demeaning, and they make the other problem bosses pale in comparison.

If you find yourself working for a DI you need to assess your boss and decide whether he or she is merely good at what he or she does or hit-the-ball-out-of the part GREAT! If not the latter, then, it's probably not worth the pain.

If you decide to stay in the job, you must constantly ask yourself, "How high am I willing to jump?" Don't lose yourself or your ideals in the bargain, but do take what you can get - which can be substantial if you can stand the heat. Take what you need and leave the rest. Vote with your feet when you can't continue to manage the dynamic, and hold onto your soul. Just don't give up too soon.

And remember, bosses, like other mere mortals, suffer personal problems, illness and other mood and character disorders. If you have such a boss, you have my sympathy. Be careful not to stay so long that it damages your self-esteem or your sanity. Your own health is more important than any job. You can always fire your boss by choosing to walk away and out the door.
About the Author
Is Your Boss Driving You Crazy?" Find out what to do at http://www.workplacesthatwork.com Lynne Eisaguirre is a workplace expert, author of six books on workplace issues, including the recent Stop Pissing Me Off! What To Do When People You Work With Drive You Crazy, and a former employment attorney.
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