Of all the career problems I’ve heard from my coaching clients over past 15 years, there’s a very common one that stands out in terms of the degree of pain, fear and confusion it elicits, and it goes something like this:
“I absolutely cannot stand my boss one minute longer. He (or she) is so awful to me and our team, and I’m really considering quitting the minute I get back into the office. His behavior keeps me up at night, and it generates so much stress that I’m having physical symptoms from it. I fantasize regularly about quitting and just walking out without another job. But I don’t know how to make it work, financially, if I quit this job.”
Sadly, there are thousands upon thousands of terrible managers and bosses who have no business leading or managing others, or having any influence at all. But their organizations aren’t tuned in or concerned enough about the state of their human resources to recognize or address the damage these people cause to individuals and to the system itself. One recent poll revealed that 49% of employees quit because of a bad boss, and in another study, 82% of respondents indicated they don’t trust their boss to tell the truth.
The most damaging and problematic behavior I hear about in these terrible bosses—both men and women alike—includes these five traits below:
Demonstrates extreme narcissism—these individuals are cruel and abusive, to one or more persons whom they single out or whom they have power over, and they simply cannot and will not accept responsibility or accountability for their actions
Steals credit for all your work—these managers steal all the kudos and credit for your great work and keep you from growing and rising. They block your chances to present your work in front of senior management and prevent you from being able to shine publicly or grow your reputation as a top contributor
Ignores or actively suppresses your new ideas—they believe that you don’t have the capacity to offer sound ideas or are threatened by you and your contributions. They are insecure and fear you, or think they know everything so you should just shut up and do what they say
Falls apart when things don’t go well— These toxic bosses often come unhinged when problems emerge, and unleash their fury when developments could make them look bad. This, in turn, generates post-traumatic stress experiences for many employees who are deathly afraid to do anything that will trigger a repeat of this type of outburst
Throws you under the bus—finally, the worst type of boss doesn’t have your back, and finds every opportunity to finger-point, back-stab and assign blame to you when their own business goals aren’t met. They continually strive to save face and look good to their superiors, and they blame their own teams or other managers’ people for less-than-successful performance. They don’t have the first clue how to act as a true leader or effectively deal with business challenges that they themselves are responsible for addressing.
If you’re dealing with a boss who displays these traits, or is damaging in other ways, it’s time to do something about it and not wait. Below are some steps that will help you assess your situation with eyes wide open and plan your next chapter. It’s time now to realize that staying under the thumb of a terrible manager will hurt you, and will stop you from achieving the success and reward you want and deserve.
Here’s what to do if you have an awful manager who is hurting you, your reputation and your future:
Assess the “ecosystem at work and decide if this situation can be fixed
In some isolated situations, there is recourse when you’re under a damaging boss, including having a meeting with HR and sharing your situation, with facts, data, and evidence. In a number of cases, HR is effective as an advocate and will listen to your side and actually do something proactive to address it. If HR isn’t safe, you can seek legal counsel for an outside perspective (here’s information about that if you’ve been sexually harassed, for instance), or talk to your mentor or sponsor at work (if you have one) for their ideas about how to get out from under this individual.
But in many if not most work situations, your actions to stop mistreatment or remove yourself from a damaging manager don’t tend to work. That’s because the organization itself keeps these managers in place. Terrible managers do not remain in power all by themselves—the system sustains (and often rewards) them. You’ll need to conduct a thorough assessment of the system that you’re in, and get real about your chances for making a change that will help you thrive. One simple way to do this is to look around in other departments and in senior management overall. Ask yourself, “Are there inspiring, positive leaders around me that are different from this terrible boss, or is the whole place riddled with managers who can’t lead effectively or in a positive way?”
Bring yourself to “market” now, and start networking and interviewing extensively
When people feel backed into a corner as they often do when they’re under an awful boss, they tend to do the opposite of what they should be doing, which is actively bringing themselves to market. By that I mean, engaging in interviewing, engaging on LinkedIn, networking and meeting scores ofinspiringnew people in their industry, attending professional conferences, taking former colleagues to coffee and lunch to explore new opportunities, etc. Take the reins on your career and build a support network that can help. And it’s time to share what you’re desiring in the next chapter and fully explore great employment opportunities at other organizations.
People often wait far too long before they start interviewing elsewhere, and before they begin telling all their friends and colleagues exactly what they’re interested in as an exciting new role.
Draft the ideal job description, talk about it, and visualize yourself in it every day
One of the most eye-opening tasks I ask virtually all my coaching clients to do is to draft a detailed description of what they would consider the ideal, ultimate job or role. Many struggle with this because they know what they don’t want, but can’t name what they do want. It’s so important and helpful to do this exercise because it allows you to be in the driver’s seat finally, articulating what you want clearly and putting it down on paper.
As a start, answer the questions below:
Type of organization
1) What type of organization would you feel proud to be a part of?
2) What outcomes would you be happy to support, in terms of this organization’s growth and success
3) What type of work culture and leadership do they have?
1) Structured or flexible organization
2) Hierarchical or egalitarian
3) Type of people you work with
4) Type of products/services/programs you wish to contribute to or promote
5) Hours you wish to work
6) Ideal commute
7) Pace of work environment
8) Financial compensation you wish to receive
9) Vacation and other benefits you wish to receive
1) Do you prefer working with teams/staff or independently? Reporting to someone, or on your own? Do you like to manage and lead others?
2) What type of relationships would you like to have with your boss, colleagues, clients, customers, staff, etc.?
3) Do you prefer to communicate through writing (email, etc.) or in person?
1) What are you particularly skilled at?
2) What are your special natural talents and gifts?
3) What are the areas in which you’ve received special training?
4) What do you love doing?
5) What do you love being?
1) What do you hate doing?
2) What do you hate being?
Finally, why are you working overall? What’s the ultimate goal you’re hoping to achieve through working?
After you’ve answered these questions as honestly and thoroughly as you can, craft a new job description for a role you’d love to have, as if you were the hiring manager looking for someone who fits this bill perfectly. Include qualifications, experiences, achievements, goals, preferences, accomplishments, skills and more.
Build the job that you want on paper first and look at it regularly. Then tell everyone you know that this is something you’re committed to exploring, and this is the type of role you’d like that will help you leverage your talents in rewarding ways. And most importantly, recognize that you fully deserve this ideal role and are truly worthy of it. Just the act of committing to exploring the possibility of landing an ideal role will help you gain confidence and self-esteem, and finally see yourself as one who no longer has to tolerate the unacceptable to be gainfully employed.