This site explores scenarios of corporate dysfunction that can derail your career. The Navigator provides guidance of how to advance your career despite these obstacles.

How to Advance Your Career with a Bad Boss

"Through the Looking Glass"

↑ Use the photo slider above to advance through the story before reading further ↑

If you have experienced even part of this actual scenario you will appreciate how a poor manager radiates dysfunction throughout the organization.  It can be mystifying to witness the turnover of entire departments as a result of a hiring disaster.  But know this: Many senior managers would sooner allow their entire team to resign than admit to a hiring mistake. Given this warning, you can leverage a bad boss to your advantage.  

Hiring Managers Can Make Poor Decisions

Before you can build a practicum of dealing with a bad boss, it helps to understand how they got hired in the first place.  There seems to be an endless supply of bad bosses who present themselves for leadership roles.  They can make attractive candidates because they have been promoted into positions of increasing scope and responsibility.  But their past promotions were due to some technical or political prowess, not their leadership abilities.  Once these feckless players have been catapulted into the senior manager orbit, their resumes and experience are seductive to hiring managers. Like serial molesters, they travel unimpeded from place to place.  That is why it is imperative for hiring managers to ferret out bad bosses by asking questions that would have revealed behavioral deficits. But many hiring managers know little about the attributes they should be looking for to fill mission-critical roles. They like to see reflections of themselves in who they hire such as the same alma mater or an affinity for golfing.  The hiring manager may do most of the talking during the interview by sharing war stories of past business triumphs. The candidate’s well-timed nod with eyelids closed only cements the impression that they possess a deep understanding of the hiring manager’s sensibility and therefore must be a good cultural fit.  Absent from the interview are leadership behavioral questions such as: “How did you motivate your team to achieve the accomplishments on your resume?”, “Tell me about the employees that you have mentored”, and “How do you solve problems?”.

You now know the reason that the fox has raided the hen house.

Play a Good Game of Corporate Chess 

Because hiring managers can be vain about their hiring decisions and are loath to admit a mistake, you will need to be very careful about crying foul if you care about career advancement.  Resist the urge to complain to your boss’s boss.  And avoid confiding in well-connected senior managers as your complaint will get back to the boss’s boss. These ‘skip-level’ gripes can have a boomerang effect. You will be viewed as someone who is disloyal and not to be trusted.  When your name comes up behind closed doors in a talent review or succession plan meeting, you will be thought of as someone who cannot overcome a challenge and having a difficult boss is just one of many challenges in a work environment. And no, don’t go to HR either.  HR is an agency of the company and not your personal advocate.  If your boss is not acting illegally, they will consider you a liability given your grievances.  In the event of illegal behavior such as harassment or victimization, consult an employment attorney.

So, how do you climb the corporate ladder in this situation? The way forward is to focus on your desired outcome as you would when analyzing a series of moves on a chessboard.  Consider your ultimate goals when defining success.  In a game of chess, any number of changes to the configuration of pieces could switch the entire dynamic.  Is your organization going through a merger or acquisition after which your situation might improve? Will the environment be more conducive to your boss’s abilities after time?  Will you gain much needed experience in your current role that is vital for your resume?  Is the company funding your MBA?  The path to a meaningful goal is often jagged and long. The Navigator has been on that path and took encouragement from his wise old aunt Prudence who said,  “Listen here Navigator, you can learn to live with a finger in your eye”.  She had a rich cantankerous husband and knew a thing or two about keeping her eye on the prize.

What Model # is Your Bad Boss?

While your boss’s craziness may be mystifying, with a little observation you can figure out what social scientists call their “behavioral type” and develop a practical approach to making your life with them a bit less hellish.   For the past 30 years larger organizations have used various behavior assessments to allow their employees to better understand their own preferences in work styles, as well as their peers.   Once you understand your boss’s view of the world, you can interact in a way that motivates them, as well as avoids their triggers.   Of the popular behavior programs out there (MBTI®, DISC®, and Clifton StrenghsFinder® ) the Navigator has found much success using The Platinum Rule® Model of Behavioral Styles by Dr. Tony Alessandra. (The Navigator receives no remuneration for any recommendation on this site).

In The Platinum Rule model there are four types of styles in which everyone falls into various degrees. You can use this powerful tool to compare your own behavioral type to your boss’s type and then adjust your interaction with them accordingly using the many examples provided in the tool.  Your manager might be the competitive Director type who always wants to be Number One. They will be receptive to you if you make them feel “like a winner”.  The Thinker type wants facts and logic that you should have in ready supply. The Socializer is more about relationships and needs to feel you are connected informally. The Relater type is motivated by teamwork. The Navigator has uncovered a fifth type, the Provider, who wants to be recognized as the source for all things under her control. Putting aside your pride by giving her the occasional emotional payment may be all that is needed to improve the relationship. Emotional payments include statements like “Thank you for the suggestion, it was helpful” or “I appreciate our time during our 1 on 1 meetings, it helps me put things into perspective”.  Take a look at the completed Platinum Rule self-assessment sample and consider taking a self-assessment to determine your own style.

There is one exception to all the optimism above, and that is a particular kind of nightmarish boss that the Navigator hopes you will never encounter.  This is the extreme Narcissist boss for which there is no known remedy. This confounding archetype stands in its own category because they do not work according to any of the predictable guidelines mentioned here and their demands are ever changing.  They are a cult of one in which they expect instant adulation despite their own contradictions or cruelty.  In such a case, if you are turning into a person who you don’t like seeing in the mirror, or you need a cocktail of sedatives to make it through the day, find another position.

The suggestions outlined here can smooth the way until you can make a non-reactive choice about your future.  Don’t act out of emotion and leave too soon for another organization.  Given the rate of change occurring in all industries and disciplines, your new ‘better’ boss may only be around for a few months before you are faced with an old archetypal nemesis.

the NavigatorHow to Advance Your Career with a Bad Boss
9 comments Leave a Comment

9
Leave a Comment

avatar
newest oldest
Samantha Howie
Samantha Howie

you do a wonderful job encapsulating this all to common challenge! Really enjoying.

Cindy Machles
Cindy Machles

Your point about HR and the fact that they are not there to be your personal advocate is wise. For some reason, people don’t realize that HR is mostly interested in not rocking the boat. Also in today’s environment, people are primarily interested in keeping their jobs. Helping a bad boss to do that by shoring up some of his or her weaknesses is a beneficial strategy, if you can bear to do it. PS—I left the corporate world to start my own company a few years ago, so for me these are useful watchputs for the type of organization… Read more »

MS
MS

Working with bad managers or management is a problem that most people encounter constantly. From small to huge family owned companies (you are usually guaranteed dealing with a family member that is completely incompetent) to publicly traded global groups, bad managers are part of the business world. Coping with them is the key. If your performance can be measured ( savings in purchasing or increase business in sales for instance), your focus must be to improve your skills for the next job rather than getting bogged down in dealing with the bad manager. Much easier said than done but is… Read more »

Mariah R.
Mariah R.

Indeed, this is a real challenge so many people face. I’ve wanted to leave because of a bad boss but I stuck it out and things turned around. Just as you said, resisting the urge to switch jobs right away is difficult but can make a big difference for one’s career.

Samuel Wineman
Samuel Wineman

All the comments below are good but if you are working with what you consider a bad boss, its also well to find out fast how well entrenched with the firm this person is.. If he is there to stay, it better be a good job your in to put up with him and make rewarding comments and actions hat are not in your heart.

K Pearce
K Pearce

Bad bosses are always difficult, the advice above is pretty sound. If you make a bad boss feel good, there will be a better chance they will be more pleasant to work for even if you have to scramble a bit to cover up their incompetences, all whilst planning your next career move!

Barry
Barry

I really like these suggestions and wish I had used them when dealing with some rather autocratic department heads years ago. My strategy of shuting up, grinning and baring it did work in the long run but the ideas here are better.

Advice needed!
Advice needed!

Today we sat at the table with a group of friends, and because of this thought provoking piece we discussed bad bosses. One friend confessed she was having high anxiety because of her terrible boss. I’m wondering. When do you call it quits? When is it too much? Is it worth waking up everyday to have to move the chess pieces on the board and do your job if it takes a toll on your wellbeing?