The Different Types of Bad Bosses and How to Handle Them

Rapper and poet Kendrick Lamar kicked off his award-winning song “DUCKWORTH.” with the line, “It was always me versus the world, until I found it’s me versus me.” The hit was the closing and pivotal track for a narrative album that became the first ever to win a Pulitzer Prize outside of the jazz and classical genres, and, unsurprisingly, hearkened back to a truth of many fables – that we can only control what’s in our control.

Going into work every day, despite Lamar’s wisdom, we can feel the world is against us no matter what we do. Projects are due, hurdles are manufactured and before you know it, you are swept up in career stress. And oftentimes the boss is the reason why, because they’re just plain and simple bad at their job.

Bad bosses are a part of most offices, but they don’t have to ruin your day, or your work. On Tuesday night, GovLoop hosted an in-person event in its office to field best practices and actionable ideas for coping with bad boss situations. “How to Deal With Bad Bosses” welcomed Mary Abbajay, Author of “Managing Up,” to classify bosses and offer solutions on how to make the best of unenviable situations.

Bosses fall under many different categories, and all are puppeteered by different strings of motivation. While one may seek out power, another may desire comfort. Certain bad bosses may be well-intentioned but lacking in skill and tact, while others will just be mean and spiteful people. All of that’s to say, you can’t control the inner being of a boss, and they aren’t going to change how they act – at least not on your volition.

However, you can change how you act. The first step is sacrificing ego.

“I had a 10th grade history teacher tell me once, ‘Mary, you could be right all the time, or you could have friends,'” Abbajay said.

In the professional world, the same rule of thumb applies, but instead of risking grades and popularity, paychecks and promotions are in play. In dealing with difficult bosses, the key is finding the best way to operate in a flawed and skewed system – one that is ultimately weighted by the whims of a higher-up.

Working underneath someone doesn’t mean you have to contort your career to best fit their every need. However, it does mean playing their game, noticing what they value and what they don’t, and doing what you can to meet their interests.

How do you know what the best foot is to put forward?

“One of the best ways to learn how to deal with these difficult boss types is to actually ask them,” Abbajay said.

Considering that, there are six general categorizations of bad bosses, Abbajay said in her presentation. While every boss is unique, here are some tips for managing the general types.

The Micromanager Boss

If your boss loves to butt in on your project with contributions of their own, keep an open mind to their ideas and entertain their presence. Learn what you can about their preferences, and let them know proactively that you’re on top of your assignment.

The Ghost Boss

If your boss is never around or hard to reach, make them aware of your presence. Submit status updates on your projects, even if the manager doesn’t request them, and always overcommunicate.

The Workaholic Boss

If your boss is regularly sending midnight emails and working overtime, talk with them. Know your limits and make them clear, because there’s a good chance the boss might not expect you to work the same hours. However, keep in mind that a little bit of extra effort can go a long way.

The Nitpicker Boss

If your boss is very persnickety about the details of assignments, plan ahead for what you need and pick your battles wisely. Give into the easier, less important asks, but try to see from their perspective to offer reinforcement or encouragement when possible.

The Impulsive Boss

If your boss is always changing direction and you have to pay for it, be sure to adopt a mentality in which you embrace change. Consider their ideas thoughtfully and offer “yes and” feedback to turn random ideas into productive fruition, creating pros and cons lists to make good on ideation.

The Inexperienced Boss

If your boss just doesn’t have what it takes on the technical or managerial side, take a step back and be patient. Reflect on the positive qualities they have and try to make the most of them, while you also look for opportunities to excel and mentor.

In Summary…

All bosses have their positives and negatives, but some are better cut out for the role than others. Examine your situation carefully to find out how to make the most of it.

Keep in mind though, some bosses aren’t worth working for. Bullies, tyrants and egomaniacs can slither their way up organizational ladders in spite of – or because of – their personality traits. In those situations, survive and protect your image before planning your best move, Abbajay said.

For more GovLoop in-person and online trainings, visit here.


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Avatar photo Blake Martin

Isaac- you’ve truly outdone yourself. The Kendrick reference is perfect and your take is spot-on. Managing up is all about taking ownership of what you can in a working relationship with your boss. Mary’s presentation was wonderful once again, and this recap certainly did it justice.

Avatar photo Mark Hensch

That Kendrick Lamar quote is clutch. I’m extremely thankful that I haven’t had many bosses like these. Thanks for trying to help people who do!