When you work for a bad boss, it is easy to just try to “keep your head down” and do your job. If your boss is merely annoying, this isn’t a bad strategy. Maybe he/she will get replaced someday and the risk of trying to find another job may not seem like it is worth it.
However, I want to suggest that if your boss is really bad, he/she can do a lot more damage to you and to your career than just being an annoyance. Let me tell you a story. The names have been changed to protect the guilty and the innocent, but the facts are real.
Acme Inc. employed about 150 people. One of the assistants there seemed very competent. We will call her Sally. Sally was an above average worker, caught on to things quickly and generally seemed like the type of person who would really help the organization–and for several years she did just that. It wasn’t like she had the Midas touch, but management gave Sally the projects that they wanted to see done with excellence and attention to detail.
Then one day Sally was “promoted”. Instead of being a general assistant, she was made the administrative assistant for John. John was one of the vice presidents–a position he had secured by being college friends with the CEO. His actual management skills were worse than non-existent. He had what I would call “negative skills,” meaning that his “skill-set” usually created more problems than you’d expect with someone who had no skills at all.
At first things looked pretty good. Dealing with John’s previous assistant had been a nightmare for much of the staff, so there was a general consensus that things would be much better now that Sally was going to be taking over the job. For a few months, things seemed to go okay, but then everyone started noticing a change. Sally started taking on a lot of the characteristics of her predecessor.
John saw himself as a “visionary,” which in his mind meant “someone who comes up with ideas but doesn’t do any of the work.” So he’d come up with he very initial idea for a project and then berate Sally for not magically making it happen–even though he hadn’t provided her with the direction or resources to accomplish it. The only way Sally could keep her head above water was to interface with the rest of the organization the same way her boss was treating her, which over time started to involve a lot of yelling and just generally treating people poorly.
At one point, Sally was standing in the hall screaming at another employee to get them to do something Sally had forgotten to do, herself. I wouldn’t fault her for her oversight. She had a tremendous amount of work being dumped on her from her “visionary” boss, but her frustration was being taken out on the person who just happened to be there when she discovered her mistake.
Now here is where the story gets interesting. After several years, John left the organization and Sally moved back into a position similar to what she had before. Most people assumed she’d return to her old self now that John was gone. She didn’t. Instead, she continued in the habits she had picked up from working under John and when she finally quit several years later, the entire staff breathed a sigh of relief at her departure. Over a period of about 7 years, Sally had gone from being the ideal employee that everyone loved to work with to a complete disaster that everyone was happy to see go. What happened? It is very simple. Sally had a horrible boss, he ruined her skills and killed her career. It didn’t matter that he eventually left–the damage had already been done.
My personal involvement with this story? Shortly before John left, a reorganization put me reporting to John. My first thought was to just deal with it. I figured I could learn a lot–even if it was what not to do. After catching myself acting like John on a few occasions, I turned in my resignation. The risk of picking up any of his management “skills” was too great for me to justify staying at the company.
If you have a truly bad boss, don’t wait for them to ruin your career before moving on. It is true that you may be able to resist picking up some bad habits from a bad boss over a short period of time, but if you are continually exposed to it day in and day out, it will take a toll on you. There are some things that are worth enduring through, but a boss that is going to ruin your ability to have an effective career isn’t worth it.
I wish I had this advice earlier in my career.
Craig Thomas says
Good post. Personally, I believe none of us need bosses – we should lose them all.
Rob Richards says
I wish I had read this 3 years ago. I had a boss, we will call ‘Larry’, whom I told myself was a jerk but I could deal with in 30 seconds of meeting him, but I didn’t want to rush to judgment – he had a glowing report from direct reports at his previous employer, ‘best boss ever’.
However the day I walked in the door the woman who will be showing me the ropes says “Nice to meet you, welcome aboard. I am going to give my two weeks notice I may not be back.” The reason I did not walk out with her was two fold – stubbornness and greed, there was another job that was only about $5k less per year (pay, benefits, and commute) with a baby on the way I thought I needed every dime.
I keep tabs with my former department and they are all still miserable working for Larry. He continues to be toxic, in a department of 8 people he has had 5 leave in 3 years. My personal opinion of why Larry has not been replaced is senior management at the plant has an equally lack luster reputation.
I think we all agree that we do not want to work for a bad boss however in today’s economy where there are 6 unemployed for every new job available we may not have the choice but to stick it out. You must recognize what got you to where you are and maintain those skills. Keep getting feed back from your peers and subordinates to recognize if any of your management skills are changing.
I have been out of work now for over 1 year and I would love to be working for a “bad boss”.
Mark Shead says
Good point. It probably is best to wait to change jobs until you have another one pinned down. Good luck on your job search. I hope you find something soon.
How timely! My husband & I have recently been discussing my personality changes, which we feel are due in part to a job in which the tasks & responsibilities have become so boring that I struggle for the motivation to complete them.
Reading this, however, made me stop & think about the “bully” tendencies my boss displays, his communication deficits (crystal ball needed), lack of appreciation, his generally (what seems to me) unhappy disposition… wonder if my current unhappiness COULD be picking up his bad habits?? Whatever the reason, I need to leave, but thanks for some useful info to watch for in future positions!
Thank goodness I found this article – I was starting to think I was the crazy one. Everyone in my department and many of those outside of it, know that my boss is a manipulate, dangerous person who really doesn’t know what she’s doing. After only 5 months, I’m looking elsewhere!
Got a new female boss sfter working with the former director for 20 yrs. She and I became friends worked together so. Well could finish each others sentences.. move to present…new director as different as s black and white. Hands on wants to take over everything…no more team work..very stressful.