One of the most important factors in determining an
employees’ satisfaction is the relationship with their
immediate supervisor. According to Marcus Buckingham and Curt
Coffman in First, Break All the Rules
, your supervisor
“defines and pervades your work environment. If she sets
clear expectations, knows you, trusts you and invests in you, then
you can forgive the company its lack of profit-sharing program. But
if your relationship with your manager is fractured, then no amount
of in-chair massaging or company-sponsored dog walking will
persuade you to stay and perform.”
If you are blessed with a fantastic boss – one who is
supportive, encouraging, competent, and confident, who wants you to
be successful and cares about your professional advancement –
then you’ve hit the jackpot. Nurture this relationship and
work hard to show that your boss’s investment in you is
worthwhile to him/her. Unfortunately, not everyone’s boss is
close to this ideal.
The following are examples of difficult bosses and how you can
make working for this person more manageable. If you are dealing
with one of these situations, this should give you some ideas in
how to manage more effectively. If you haven’t faced these
challenging situations, you may in the future and this will arm you
with tools to help you. And, if you are a boss, read on to make
sure you are giving your direct reports what they need to
The Micromanager boss wants to know everything you do. He
expects to be copied on all emails, included in all decision making
and be kept aware of all happenings. He says he does this so
he’ll be prepared and be able to support you if needed, but
it feels like he doesn’t trust you and does not care about
your professional development. It’s hard work working for a
Micromanager. Keeping him in the loop, responding to detailed
requests for information and never knowing when he’ll drop in
with more instructions on how to do your job requires energy that
could be better spent elsewhere.
How to handle the Micromanager?
As the Micromanager often believes he’s doing the right
thing, talking to him can have an impact. This is where the concept
of “managing-up’ comes in. Managing up is when you
explain to your boss how to best support you; you teach him how to
be a better boss for you.
Arrange a time to speak with your boss when you can focus you
and your performance. Don’t just pop in to his office and
make this an unplanned conversation. You’ll want to talk to
him about what’s working and not working for you in regards
to your ability to successfully complete your job responsibilities.
You don’t want to tell him what he does wrong and why it
ruins your life. You want to frame this as a win-win-win. Good for
you, good for him and good for your organization.
Here’s how to start the conversation:
“Bob, I would like to talk to you about ways for me
to be more effective. I understand you want to be informed
about the work I’m doing. I would like to update you once a
week in a more thorough way instead of giving you daily updates.
This will allow me to focus more on my clients and give you the
information you want, too.”
Notice that there is no blaming, anger or frustration
expressed. You’re aware of Bob’s needs, stating what
would be better for you and offer a possible solution. If Bob
doesn’t agree to your request, you’ve at least started
a conversation in a positive manner.
The Incompetent boss makes you question how she ever got to
where she is. She doesn’t seem to understand your business,
your responsibilities or her own, or how to get things done within
your organization. She often appears to be covering up her
challenges, and she may even take credit for your successes. With
an Incompetent boss, you are often drained and frustrated, either
from figuring out how to get the support you need or trying to get
recognized for your accomplishments through the fog of your
boss’s lack there of.
How to handle the Incompetent?
It’s not your job to fix your boss. Don’t waste
your time and energy making her look better, nor bad-mouthing her
to other colleagues. Focus on doing your job well and looking for
opportunities to get acknowledgement elsewhere. This may mean
networking within your organization to find advocates and
If your boss is getting accolades for work that you’ve
accomplished, this provides a setting for you to address her
directly. An Incompetent boss often works from a fearful place,
worried about getting ‘found out.’
Stating your concern and your expectation will raise her
awareness and encourage her to be fair. You can’t change her
incompetence but you can encourage honesty. An example might be
“Sue, I noticed at the last staff meeting you did
not mention that I did the research and wrote the report that the
Vice President complemented you on. I’d appreciate
it if you would clear up the misunderstanding about my
There is no threat here, just sharing with your boss what you
observed and that you expect equity. If she doesn’t respond
appropriately, or if her incompetence is getting in the way of your
effectiveness, you may need to address this issue within the
framework of your organization’s grievance process.
Unlike the Micromanager and the Incompetent, The Sabotager
takes an active role in negatively impacting your career. He may
give you work that is significantly below your capabilities,
highlight a weakness of yours in a public meeting, assign projects
to you that are set up for failure, or prevent you from leadership
opportunities. A Sabotager usually comes from a place of inadequacy
and believes that other people’s success can limit his
How to Handle the Sabotager?
You can attempt to address a Sabotager directly, but he will
often deny his actions and claim you are not competent. As with any
request of your supervisor, state what you observed and request
what you need from him in a non-defensive manner.
If you choose to communicate directly with a Sabotager, be
sure to have other allies within your organization and document the
issues and challenges you’ve faced previously.
If the Sabotager is preventing you from doing your job,
you’ll want to make a case to the appropriate advocate within
your organization. That may be your boss’s boss, a leader
within the company or a Human Resources Professional. Make sure
it’s someone you can speak with confidentially. If there is
no appropriate recourse (a complete change in your boss’s
perspective or a reassignment to another supervisor) you may want
to consider looking elsewhere for employment.
Other Bad Bosses
Unfortunately, these are only a few types of dysfunctional
bosses. You may have encountered The Abusive, The Buddy, The
Obsessive, The Workaholic or The Absent. Whatever challenges your
supervisor may cause you, you don’t have to be at his/her
mercy. You have both internal and external resources:
Communicate your concern directly to your boss and ask
specifically for what you need from him/her.
Partner with your boss to create a win-win-win. Acknowledge
your concern and engage your boss in mutual solution finding.
Trust your intuition. If something feels out of your comfort
zone, get other professionals involved.
Document your situation. Keep track of what you believe to be
Look for employment elsewhere. Work should be a place where
you can excel professionally and feel comfortable personally.