#212: Have You Worked for Either of These Kinds of Bad Bosses?

There are two kinds of bad bosses, and I have worked for both kinds. There is the boss who doesn’t know they are bad, and then there is the boss that is bad, he knows it, and he doesn’t care!

Bad Bosses

Looking back over the 36-years of my business career I can only think of a couple of bad bosses (maybe my memory is shot, but that’s all I can remember).

The Unwitting Bad Boss

This boss came along later in my career. He was someone I had known for years and even worked with on several occasions. He was a pleasant enough fellow when I worked with him on projects, but when he became my boss, I saw a whole other side of him.

He took credit for the good work my team did even when he didn’t have anything to do with it. But, when something went wrong, he was the first one to throw my team and me under the bus.

I tried hard to work with him and even talked to him about how his behavior was impacting the morale of the organization. He didn’t seem to realize that his behavior was causing his people to pull away from him.

Even after being confronted with what was going on he never changed. Before long complaints about his behavior reached the ears of upper management, then human resources got involved. Eventually, he was demoted and transferred where he had the chance to start over with another division of the company.

The Bad, Bad Boss

I was a sales manager responsible for three states, and our team had just gone through a particularly tough quarter. Right after the close of the quarter, the mailman brought a large package and inside was what we lovingly referred to as the “Boot Trophy.”

Our boss had taken one of his old hiking books and had it mounted on an oak plaque. This became the Boot Trophy. It was to be held in the office of the worst performing manager for the entire quarter. It would then be sent on to the next manager who had the worst quarter’s performance.

I am sure the boss thought me having to stare at the Boot Trophy all quarter would remind me of the unit’s shameful performance and motivate my team to work harder and do better.

It didn’t.

I threw the stupid thing into the back of a closet. I didn’t look at it or tell my people about it. And then when it was time to forward to another manager, I “lost it.”

The Boot Trophy was just one of the examples of this manager’s abysmal leadership. He would rig sales contests to favor people he liked. He manufactured reasons to transfer or fire employees he didn’t like.

Eventually, he butted heads with his boss. My bad boss was given what I like to call, “alternate employment options” (an office and 30 days to find a new job and resign or get fired).

Dealing with Your Bad Boss

The Bible has a a lot to say about dealing with difficult people. My favorite passage comes from Jesus who gives instructions to the disciples regarding discipline among church members.

“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector” (Matthew 18:15-17).

If we apply these instructions to our organizations, there are four steps we should take in dealing with bad bosses:

  • Address the issues privately with him/her, one-on-one. If this does not resolve the situation then,
  • Take one or two others with you and discuss the issues in private once again. If this does not resolve the issue then,
  • Take the issue either to higher ups or the human resources department depending on your organization. If the situation is resolved, great. If not then,
  • Break off relationship with the bad boss. This can be tricky in an organization. You may need to ask for a transfer, or you may need to start looking for a new job.

Regardless of how the situation is resolved, we need to practice forgiveness. As Jesus continued teaching the disciples in Matthew 18:21-22 he told them they were to forgive the person who had sinned against them seventy-seven times.

We must forgive also. As hard as it may be, we must forgive those who have sinned against us for our sakes, for the sakes of our employees, and for the sake of the organization.

Join the Conversation

As always, questions and comments are welcome. Have you worked with an unwittingly bad boss or the boss who was bad and knew it? How did their leadership affect the organization? How did you handle the bad boss?

I’d love your help. This blog is read primarily because people like you share it with friends. Would you share it by pressing one of the share buttons below?


Category: Skills | Conflict Management



Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Ben Thornton says:

    I think the point that you make about the four step process for dealing with a bad boss is a really good idea. Even though i am only 22 I have had a few experiences with both kinds of bad boss as well and I really like your recommendation for handling it. One example is a summer camp I worked at where 5 of the cabin leaders were returning staff and the rest of us were new to the camp. The director of staff would always let the returners pick tasks first and then assign the rest of the tasks at random. Eventually he got talked to, but I know that I could have handled the situation better with my interactions.

    • Ben,
      On the one hand, it’s unfortunate that you have been exposed to both kinds of bad bosses already but we will apply Romans 8:28 and believe that God will use this experience to serve others in the future.

  • Kaki Hall says:

    I loved the 4 steps for dealing with frustrating people! I think the first step is necessary regarding good communication. When multiple people are involved in resolving the issue, words can get twisted, and he-said she-said can come up. I have had personal experience with this and my roommates with drama. A lot of confusion can arise from multiple people getting involved. It is a lot easier to address the situation with only the people involved privately. I think another step that would fit is pray about it and engage God in all aspects. God can help give guidance and peace over the situation. Thanks again for the post!

    -Kaki Hall

    • Kaki,
      So true – the difficulty of dealing with a situation tends to increase in direct proportion to the number of people who insert themselves in the solution. I agree with you, the best approach is one-on-one and plenty of prayer for guidance.

  • Elisa Gomez says:

    I agree that all four aspects of dealing with a difficult boss mentioned are key! I personally have worked for a company as an intern where I saw a how full-time employees dealt with a difficult boss. He was always very negative and criticized their work. Instead of acknowledging all of the good work they had accomplished, he downsized their abilities and potential. He also made demeaning comments toward certain workers which reflected his unprofessionalism. As an intern, he supervised me and he never made any derogatory statements toward me personally, but I continued on with my own work and acted as professionally as I could, realizing that if I were in the other employees positions, I would try to speak to him as my boss one-on-one in a polite and respectful manner if I noticed he was not aware of his behavior, and if that did not work, I would try to get other employees to meet with him together. If those two attempts did not succeed, I would take the issue to higher ups and if this did not work, then I would try to find another job instead of continuing to work for the company. This experience helped me realize what kind of company I would like to work for in the future and although it was difficult seeing employees treated unfairly or situations not handled in a professional manner, I was appreciative of that I had a job and it was a learning experience of how to respond to certain situations in the workplace.

    -Elisa Gomez

    • Good for you Elisa! You handled a difficult situation in a very professional manner! My experience with people like who you mentioned is that often their bad behavior toward others is a reflection of their own rampant insecurity.

  • Megan Clements says:

    I have not had an experience with a bad boss yet. I have only held one job, and my boss was really kind and helpful. His only drawback was he was not the most organized person. I like the steps you wrote out on how to deal with a bad boss. This could help me in my future because I am sure I will come across a bad boss.

  • Allison Pepper says:

    I found this week’s blog so helpful! I have always struggled with how to handle having a bad boss (I’ve only had one thank goodness), but it made my entire summer job a not-so-great experience. I really like Matthew 18:15-17 and have taken note of it to go back to in the future. I really appreciated the insight you brought with this post and how applicable it can be to my life.

  • Rachel says:

    I thought this was a very helpful and wise article. Even though I have never had a bad boss myself, this is very good information to keep in mind if I ever do. I think it is so important to remember that no matter how frustrated you may be, you still need to deal with the situation in a Biblical manner and those four steps help to do just that.

  • Kelsey Hager says:

    Fortunately I have never had to work for a bad boss, but I am sure that down the line running into poor management will be inevitable. I enjoyed reading about the boot trophy because that method of motivation might have been the craziest thing I have ever heard. Although I have not worked under a bad boss, over the years I have definitely realized that only positive and caring motivation messages produce positive results. Scaring people into doing better or embarrassing people so that they have to redeem themselves next time just creates a terrible work environment and a wrongly held feeling of unworthiness. I will always remember that if I ever acquire a leadership role. The most significant thing I thought you pointed out was that it is our responsibility confront these problems professionally and if not resolved, then leave the job showing that you do not support unkind behavior.