Two Resources for Dealing with the Bad Boss

 Two Resources for Dealing with the Bad Boss


Last week I wrote about how we unfairly take shots at authorities, and on the other hand how authority figures foolishly and frequently shoot the messenger.  Today I’m writing specifically for those who report to a boss they really can’t stand (or for those who know someone who’s chafing under such an awful boss).  Some bosses don’t seem to know the old adage “first do no harm;” in fact they keep doing harm.  So, then what?  Just hold your fire?  What if your boss is really bad, neurotic, or otherwise intolerable?  What if you have a “yeller,” a “mother superior,” or a “you threaten me” boss and they’re ruining your work hours and bleeding into the rest of your life?  Do you deny it or just avoid them, roll over and play dead, sabotage ’em, become a bane to your friends because all you do is complain about your “insane boss”?  Do you celebrate the bosses’ failures, hide from them, or get an ulcer?

Here’s the implicit lesson from last week: Don’t do any of that.  Or don’t expect it to make things much better. Instead, tackle the issue instead of being the victim.  In their book Working for You Isn’t Working for Me, Kathi Elster and Katherine Crowley (the K’s) offer a simple four-point strategy of approach: Detect, Detach, Depersonalize and Deal.  And they offer a pretty amazing schema for understanding just what your boss – I mean your boss – does that drives you crazy, and just what it is about you – yes I mean you – that makes it hard to get un-hooked.  And then the book becomes a customized path to help you to understand your boss, yourself, and most importantly how to make things work. Kathi is a no-nonsense business consultant. Katherine is a Harvard-trained psychotherapist, and they write for adults. Adults dealing with other difficult adults. Their book is not theoretical, nor wishful. It’s real.

If you’re struggling with a bad boss, I recommend this book for two reasons. First, the authors don’t act like we’re all the same: “toxic” bosses and good workers. Black and white.  Universal and clear.  No.  Some bosses are “toxic,” but they are for lots of different reasons and in different ways. The K’s helped me to understand the different types of annoying boss behaviors. And, sorry, but we’re almost always implicated in our own victimization. The couple bosses I have disdained didn’t bother others in the same way they got to me. I was attuned to the harsh notes they sang, while for others, those notes might have been a little off, but they weren’t the fingernails I heard on a chalkboard. So, I saw how I have to own my part. But the best thing about seeing my part is I then got a customized way to manage the situation – tailored to me and my boss. My conflicts didn’t evaporate, but I saw how I could take the sting out and begin to control, instead of being controlled by, the situation.  It’s about a 300-page book, but you can find a 50-page path for managing the one who’s mismanaging you.

The book is one resource named in the title to this RFL.  The other resource? Kathi and Katherine will join me for the entire two hours on Saturday starting at 7:06 AM for the Everyday Leadership show.  We’ll talk concepts and diagnose real live boss problems.  Call in – or have someone call for you with your boss problem and the K’s will open up new angles and new strategies for coping and even more.  Don’t just cope. Detect. Detach. Depersonalize and then DEAL!

So you can lead with your best self!


  • It is important to be prepared to look for another job if you cannot agree with continuous poor behavior by your boss.
    You may empathize with your boss’s situation and feelings, but don’t expect any reciprocal empathy. Look elsewhere to boost your self-esteem.
    Be cautious if s/he asks for an honest evaluation. What s/he wants is information that will help solve their own image problem. S/He will resent any honesty that threatens his or her inflated self-image, and s/he is likely to retaliate.

  • If your boss is a bully, and will not change, what chance do many of us have, given the terrible job-market, of finding another job that will pay enough to put a roof over our heads and food on the table (I’m talking basics, not luxuries). True, some of us are smart enough and brave enough to go into business for ourselves, or have enough credentials/experience to get another job in the field, or have transferable skills to get into another field, but I’ve been struggling to gain such skills. Even though I have a Master’s Degree, I feel like I haven’t gained the job-skills or experience to impress another employer (I’m a public-service employee in a unionized environment that emphasizes seniority, not merit). I try to gain new skills, but my workplace emphatically does not support this. I have to do it on my own time. I’m doing the best that I can, and I’m terrified that my best isn’t good enough. I’m trying to be positive and constructive, but it’s getting harder and harder. I keep thinking if I were smarter, and more skilled, I’d be able to qualify to work in a more postive setting, dedicated to the mission that a library should encourage public input and empower the public. I realize that this is a forum for leaders, and not for nervous wrecks whose anxiety is largely related to the workplace and overall job-market, but can any of you suggest a source of help for me such as a more suitable forum??? I have been to therapists (that’s the common retort – “I’m not your therapist” when people such as me ask for help with workplace anxiety), but I’ve found that therapists are pretty much only good for giving the generic advice of “take a deep breath” and “say positive affirmations”. Is there anyone or any resource out there to help with anxiety about the competitive, stressful, dog-eat-dog nature of the job-market now that even librarians and other helping professions have to be as competitive as the “harder-nosed” professions (law, business, politics, etc.) Please, any advice would be welcome. I’m a nervous wreck because I really feel like my boss doesn’t like me despite my best efforts to please.

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