Bad boss week!

February 14th, 2011

And the theme for this week is … bad bosses!

No, my boss (at my Harvard Business School job) is great. However, lots of people have not-so-great bosses. And, interestingly, there’s not a lot of research done on that topic. There’s a classic Harvard Business Review article on “Managing Your Boss,” but that’s about it.

So my (nice) boss has decided that we should start looking into this.* And, as luck would have it, I’m going to do an interview for WBZ on the topic on Friday. Which means I’ve got a bit of reading and thinking to do! And I always do the thinking bit better with you all to help me. What makes a good boss? A bad boss? Have you ever successfully “managed” your boss? How? What’s the best advice you’d give to someone stuck with a difficult boss?

*The fun part is this: there’s another project I’d rather work on first. So I need to persuade my boss to let me do that. Which isn’t going to be easy, because I know how he is when he’s excited about an idea. So, if I can successfully manage my boss … then I won’t have to write about how to manage bosses! Also, “boss” is one of those words that becomes meaningless with repetition very quickly.


8 Responses to “Bad boss week!”

  1. Hope on February 14, 2011 5:46 pm

    It seems to me, that the best way to manage a bad boss is to CYA and then check your ego. At the end of the day, they’re the person who is in charge. Which, theoretically, means that the buck should stop with them.

    I ask myself, “Do I want to be right? Or do I want to keep my job and a cordial relationship with my supervisor?” You can fight your boss on everything. Or you can pick your battles.

    That’s not to say that you should roll over and do whatever they tell you to do. But that, when push comes to shove, it’s not worth the stress to fight with a bad boss about everything. It’s far better to take that energy and spend it working on your resume. ;)

  2. Jerry on February 14, 2011 5:59 pm

    As someone who has had a terrible boss for ten years, I’d advise:
    -Have an exit strategy and be prepared to use it at the drop of a hat. Different levels of exit include leaving your job, leaving a meeting, and leaving at the end of the day.
    -If you can’t immediately remedy your errors, own up to them without hesitation.
    -Throwing other people under the bus is a bad long-term strategy. Always covering for your boss? Also bad.
    -If you must speak, honesty is the best policy. But just sitting there and responding only to direct questions can elevate honesty to an art form.

  3. ccr in MA on February 14, 2011 9:07 pm

    My first thought was, find another job. Not always easy, but sometimes necessary.

  4. anonymous today on February 14, 2011 11:38 pm

    I’ve never had a bad boss…as in the person I reported to has never been bad. Now the person that person reports to is another thing all together.

    My recently fired supervisor was the best boss ever. He was kind, caring, and empathetic. He understood that happy workers were productive workers, so he tried to make sure we had the best work/life balance possible. He also fostered loyalty and trust. I always knew that if the bus ever came my direction, he’d push me out of the way. Needless to say I was displeased he was terminated.

    Now the person one step above my former supervisor is a lot of not nice words. She’s very sweet and pleasant in person, but in writing she’s extremely hostile. So I saved the emails and used them as part of my exit strategy…and forwarded them to the CEO of my agency after I gave my notice.

    I suppose everyone’s definition of “bad boss” is different. But mine is someone who’s mean, hostile, untrustworthy and won’t think twice about firing you to keep someone else happy and make his/her life easier. It’s one thing to work for an incompetent person, it’s another thing to work for a mean one.

  5. Kate on February 15, 2011 1:44 pm

    I have a good boss, after years of bad ones. I don’t manage her, as much as I manage her expectations. I know what I can handle and what I cannot and the timelines I feel that are reasonable. She pushes me just hard enough for me to always be working toward my next level and I keep her grounded that I am one person and have a life.

  6. Daisy on February 16, 2011 2:39 pm

    My benchmark for being able to survive ANY boss was one I had years ago who operated his “empire” out of his home. My office was a spare room in his house and I had a stellar view of his pool. He often went in naked to waist high water and shot at squirrels.
    He also peed in his driveway. Oh! the stories I could tell! He over paid his employees in order to retain us but there came a point that money wasn’t important enough so off I went into the corporate world and have survived some whako bosses that can’t hold a candle to my benchmark!

  7. Carolyn on February 17, 2011 9:12 am

    Easier said than done, but helpful if possible:

    Remember that nobody’s the villain of his own story.

    Look for the signal, and let the noise go.

  8. Shulamuth on February 22, 2011 1:15 am

    The worst bosses I’ve had (two of them) were people promoted one step above their level of competence. Neither were very bright, so didn’t have the tools to become more competent. Looking back, I realize they were running scared, and taking the stress out on their employees. One eventually got moved out of management and into a high-end technical position, also above his level of competence, but at least he didn’t hurt anyone else there. The other compensated by working long, long hours and having no life. I was never good at managing stupidity because at some level I don’t believe in it and I think people are just faking it to make my life harder. NOT a good combination.

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