How to deal with a bad boss

Frustrated by a bad boss? Learn how to professionally deal with a bad boss and get that problem solved.

One of the most common questions we get from people is: How to deal with a bad boss? First, let’s examine what makes a bad boss? A bad boss can come in many forms: a weak boss, an indecisive boss, a micromanaging boss, or simply an egomaniac who puts themselves before the team and the mission. A bad boss in any of these forms can be frustrating. But regardless of how bad your boss is (unless they are trying to force you to do something immoral, illegal or unethical) if you don’t have a good relationship with your boss, it only hurts you and your team. If you are being asked to do something immoral, illegal or unethical, you should report it up the chain of command or to the proper authority, even if it means losing your job. But those situations are rare. In most cases, what most people call a “bad boss” simply means someone they disagree with, don’t like, or simply a boss with whom they don’t get along. And for all of these, there are leadership solutions that will invariably improve the situation.

Learning how to deal with a micromanaging boss, a weak and indecisive boss, an egomaniac or a bad boss in any capacity is a challenge. It’s immensely frustrating. You just want the boss to get out of your way and let you do your job.

Because you have very little influence in the hiring or firing of a boss, dealing with a bad boss can feel hopeless, as though you have no ability to fix the situation. But it isn’t hopeless. Dealing with a bad boss is a leadership problem. And there are leadership skills you can learn that will enable you to build an effective relationship with any boss—whether they are terrible or just not quite the ideal boss you envisioned.

The solution to this problem is leadership. So how do you lead a micromanaging boss, weak, indecisive, or a boss who is an egomaniac, or a self-promoter who looks out only for themselves at the expense of you and the team? How does leadership teach you how to deal with a bad boss?

Here’s How to Deal With a Bad Boss:

1. Take Ownership. No matter how frustrated you are with the boss, the first thing you must do when learning how to deal with a bad boss is take ownership. If your boss doesn’t trust you, if the boss won’t listen to you, doesn’t respect you, or you simply have little to no ability to influence your boss, then one thing is clear: you don’t have a good relationship with your boss. Whose fault is that? It’s easy to blame the boss. Most people do. But if it’s all the boss’s fault, you have no control over the situation and there is no solution. Instead, take Extreme Ownership. If you have a micromanaging boss that frustrates you, the primary reason is usually a lack of trust. You may think the boss just needs to back off and give you trust. But it isn’t on the boss to give you trust. It’s on you to earn the boss’s trust. To do that, you have to get past the largest hurdle to solving this problem: your own ego. From the perspective of most of us, we think we know what we are doing. And a “bad boss” that dictates every aspect of how we should do things, ties up our time with frequent questions or demands a bunch of detailed information can be a huge pain and a giant time suck. But look at it from the boss’s perspective: Why does the boss want so much information? They care about the outcome of what you are doing. Why do they want to tell you exactly how to do things? Because they have experience and want to make sure you benefit from the knowledge, or they know that what you are doing is really important and want it done right. If the boss is asking you for more information about a project on which you are working, then it’s on you for not having already provided them with that information. Our own ego makes it hard to accept that it’s our fault. But this is the power of Extreme Ownership: if you own the problem, then you also own the solution. You can fix it. You may have a bad boss. But it does you no good to have a bad relationship with your boss. It doesn’t help you or your team, that’s for certain. Unless you are being asked to do something immoral, illegal or unethical, you must do everything you can to build the best relationship possible with your boss. That’s how to deal with a bad boss. It starts by taking Extreme Ownership of the relationship. It’s not on the boss to build a better relationship with you, it’s on you to build a better relationship with your boss. So, stop complaining, set aside your frustrations, and start working to build a better relationship with your boss. That’s step number one in how to deal with a bad boss.

2. Perform. If you are demonstrating success in your specific tasks—hitting or exceeding your numbers, accomplishing your goals, making your boss look good—you are going to have a better relationship with your boss. So often we see leaders who are frustrated with scrutiny from a micromanaging boss, and yet those leaders are underperforming. If you fail to meet your goals, you should fully expect to come under more scrutiny. You wouldn’t have a very good boss if you didn’t. So, the next step after accepting ownership of the problem is to implement the solution: perform. If your “bad boss” is a micromanager and doesn’t trust you, you need to earn that trust through performance. Push the boss all the information you can and accomplish your tasks. That is how to deal with a micromanaging boss. As a result, your boss is going to have greater trust in you, which means that, over time, the boss will ask fewer questions of you and back off from the oversight and scrutiny that has been frustrating you. A micromanager’s attitude isn’t going to change overnight. You have to show sustained performance to get them to back off. But they will eventually begin to give you the leeway to execute on your own. Your ability to influence up the chain will also increase dramatically. If you have a weak or indecisive boss, the better you perform, the more influence you will have on them to make the decisions they need to make for the good of the overall team and the strategic mission. Even if your bad boss is only interested in promoting themselves, when you perform well, you make the boss look good. So, if you aren’t winning, stop complaining and start executing. That’s the biggest way you can improve your relationship with your boss and step number two in how to deal with a bad boss.

3. Build a Relationship. Whether you think the boss is terrible or whether your boss is just less of a leader than you might hope, you need to do everything you can to build a good relationship with your boss. For a micromanaging boss, you build the relationship through performance and pushing information, as stated above. If your boss is indecisive, then you need to present the boss with well-thought-out plans. Instead of getting frustrated, you need to detach and see the world from the perspective of your boss. What risks is the “bad boss” most concerned about, and what contingency plans can you put in place to mitigate those risks? If you present these to the boss, that will help put the boss in their comfort zone so they can make decisions. With a weak or indecisive boss, you should not attempt to present a bold, aggressive strategy. Instead, think strategically and present a small, iterative step in the direction you think it best to go to accomplish your strategic objectives. This helps to mitigate risks, prevents you from over-extending on the budget or resources, and allows you to make adjustments as necessary while minimizing risk. A weak or decisive boss is an opportunity to lead. Instead of complaining, embrace it. If your boss doesn’t want to come up with a plan, you should. If the boss doesn’t want to clarify the mission, you should. But be cautious. You want to be careful when you step up to lead. Even the feeblest and weakest of bosses have an ego, and if you offend them, they may lash out at you. So don’t be offensive or overly assertive when you start to make things happen. Use soft language and frame things in a way that does not diminish the boss’s ego but actually boosts it. In every interaction with your “bad boss”, you should be thinking strategically about building the relationship. That’s step number three in how to deal with a bad boss.

4. Support your Boss. Leadership positions are hard. Take as much off your boss’s plate as you can. If your boss is an egomaniac and wants all the credit for everything you and your team do, give them credit. Make the boss look good. This isn’t brown-nosing. It’s building good relationships and leading up the chain of command. Good followership is a critical aspect of leadership. To be a good leader, you must also be a follower. This might require you to execute things the way your boss wants to see them done. If someone goes wrong, own it and fix it. That’s step number four in how to deal with a bad boss.

5. Trust. Listen. Respect. Influence. Whether you have a bad boss or not, we all want to build the same relationship with the boss. You want the boss to trust you. You want the boss to listen to you. You want the boss to respect you. You want to have an influence on the decisions your boss makes and the allocation of resources. How do you get the boss to give you those things? It’s not by demanding them. If you demand them from the boss, you will get the opposite of what you want. To gets your boss to give you these things; you have to give them. You need to trust your boss. You need to listen to your boss. You need to respect your boss. And you must allow yourself to be influenced by the boss. If you do those things, the boss will give you trust. The boss will listen to you. The boss with show you respect, and you will have the ability to influence your boss. And that is the final step in how to deal with a bad boss.

Now You Know How to Deal With a Bad Boss

Knowledge means nothing if you don’t implement it. Just because you understand how to professionally deal with a bad boss doesn’t mean it will be easy. Building relationships takes time. It’s not a single engagement, but a campaign that takes weeks and months. You have to put your ego in check. You have to detach from your emotions, prevent yourself from getting frustrated and think strategically in every interaction with the boss. Consistent daily discipline is the path to victory. Extreme Ownership is the guide down that path. If you find yourself reading this article, you are not alone. At Echelon Front, we’ve helped thousands of men and women just like you. If you’re tired of struggling with feelings of frustration with your boss, micromanagement, getting the boss to make obvious decisions you think they should be making, or searching for answers to questions like, “How to deal with a bad boss” or “How to deal with a micromanaging boss,” then you have come to the right place. The leaders who have taken and implemented the guidance you just read are often amazed at just how well it works. The key to progress is action. Here’s what I want you to do now: Click this link and visit Extreme Ownership Academy, our online resource for leadership development for people just like you.

References: Leadership Strategies and Tactics, Extreme Ownership, and  The Dichotomy of Leadership

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