Bad Bosses are Your Fault

Yes, bad bosses are the fault of their subordinates.  

Before we begin, I know this post is going to be controversial and that many will disagree.  I’d love your comments and feedback.

There are a lot of bad bosses in this world.  I don’t know the percentage of bosses that are “bad,” but it should be close to zero and it is not.   First, let me define a bad boss.   A bad boss isn’t someone that is imperfect or has flaws (we all do).  A bad boss is someone that is not growing their subordinates and does not have the respect from most of their subordinates. 

In a perfect world, bad bosses shouldn’t exist.  It is a market failure.  Most people think bad bosses exist because they suck-up to their supervisors.  That’s not entirely true.  The main reason bad bosses exist is because their subordinates tolerate them.

While “toleration” is often a good thing, we should be intolerant of bad bosses.  They are destructive on organizations, on people’s happiness, and they can sap creativity and productivity.

If you have a bad boss, it is your duty to make sure that he or she is either no longer bad or no longer a boss.  This is because most people who are not a subordinate will rarely be able to judge if someone is a bad boss.   As the subordinate, it is your job to make the change: for the good of the organization and the good of society.

Bad bosses shouldn’t exist.

If you have a bad boss, you should follow these three steps:

  1. Try to make them a better boss.  Work with the boss to make him/her better.  Give them feedback and try to change them.  This is hard and most bad bosses are bad because they cannot improve (and likely do not take feedback well).
  2. Get them demoted, reallocated, or fired.  Many bad bosses are bad because they are in over their head.  They got promoted to a role they should not have and they don’t feel comfortable there.  You should let a bad boss know they are in the wrong position and you are going to work within the organization to change their role.
  3. Quit.  If you cannot change them or move them, your only remaining option is to quit.  That doesn’t mean you need to quit the company entirely (it could mean you get yourself transferred to a new boss), but you should never work for a bad boss (it will stifle your development).   And if everyone who works for a bad boss leaves, the bad boss would eventually get replaced.   


6 thoughts on “Bad Bosses are Your Fault

  1. marlene

    Over the years I’ve had countless bosses. Only a couple have not needed tweaking. Most bosses can be made better by good supportive staff. You can bet money that if the boss is truly a loser you will know it early in your relationship. A bad boss will usually be unyeilding and sharp in communicating with you which is a clear defense mechanism used to cover up incompetence of some sort. If you can’t break down that barrier, it’s best to do your job and keep quiet, or quit. I’ve watched a couple of horrible bosses come and go and even celebrated their departures. Bad bosses are usually bad for the business. If they’re the owner I’d suggest keeping your focus on the business and not the person. Even the worst boss/owner can be worked around if you know the business as well or better than the boss, which is sometimes the case. Working around a bad boss/owner might get you fired, but so what? Take your skills where they’re appreciated and on the way out, tell bad boss he’s a JERK.

  2. DaveP

    I find that may bad bosses can be quite brilliant individuals….who have no right to manage people. Unfortunately in many organizations the path to climbing the corporate ladder and more pay often leads to managing people. I think that’s why there’s plenty of managers who shouldn’t be in their roles. The recommendations you made are 100% correct. Just make sure if you happen to have a good manager don’t take them for granted.

  3. Sri

    I have a bad boss and after trying Step 1 (trying to change him)and failing, i am now resorting to Step 3 (Quit) and leaving the project. Even though it is the most preferred and tempting, Step 2 (Getting him fired) is the most risky one as one’s take on his BOSS might not be well received by BOSS’S BOSS. Even if the feedback/complaint/grievance is well acknowledged, your Boss, by the virtue of the years he has put in the company, might be holding a position/project critical to the organization. Firing him would be the least wise thing to do, financially.
    It is embarrassing, to say the least, to hear your BOSS make wrong decisions on a tel-conference and not being able to do anything.
    If only my Pay was not linked to the appraisal process, which is controlled by my manager :).
    What would be truly unfortunate is to have your first BOSS as the bad one as you might never know where your true potential lies.

  4. Wesley Dabney

    1. agree with step one. many bosses get promoted based on their organization skills and their ability to crank out work and assignments. they get stuff done. folks like this are great in the trenches but difficult in management. they tend to be hard headed.. my way or the highway types that are hard on themselves and others. this trait is often overlooked because the person is a “stellar performer”. i see this from a military point of view using three areas of upward movement. Tactical (entry level management), Operational (middle management), and Strategic (upper management). being organized, focused, schedule driven, and uber productive at the tactical level can actually be a bad thing at the operational and strategic level. tactical level over-achievers can lack people skills and vision.. two things necessary to lead and motivate (people skills) and see the big picture (vision).
    2. you have to proceed with caution with steps one and two. it’s almost always bad to tell your boss you are going to try to have him fired, moved, etc and he’s in a position to sack you first.
    3. another option is to do a good enough job to replace your boss and become the kind of leader he wasn’t. sometimes you don’t have the option of quitting.

  5. rae ferris

    Over the years, I’ve had all kinds of bosses, but the most recent one stands out. Out of the people under him, he had favoritism with one. She was the watch dog! She literally did nothing throughout the day but walk up and down to make sure everyone else was working. No extra duties were ever delegated to her. She did not like where I was parking and told “daddy”. I was the only one (out of about 600 people) who was told not to park there. I was then intimidated if I used the rest room even once per day…..this is totally disgusting! I saved the best for last. This boss never followed protocol. He was suppose to have a one on one with the employee if there was something wrong. But he didn’t. He called the HR person to “back him up”. Well, all they needed were the hammer and nails to crucify me. He had given me a project to do in one week which was not timely. This project would have taken about a month. Well, I was crucified for that. He was a “big” man when he had backup, but through experiences, I have learned that people like this are cowards. He also said that I was not to take my eyes off the computer screen for 8 full hours per day. I was to only work for 8 full hours per day. I’m shocked an HR person didn’t know anything about federal law which says that a person is entitled to a break now and then. Of course, he had his little watch dog make sure of these things. I did not take a break or lunch. When I questioned him, he just said that he was my supervisor and he would tell me what to do. No regard to human needs, no regard for law. Well, I finally resigned. The office was regarded as a torchure chamber. Then he boasted how he got rid of me. He also did this with 2 people before me. So I was not just a one time thing. Why do companies put up with people like this? Even intimidating them for using the rest room….that is totally disgusting. Since this company is one of his holdings, I hope Mr Buffett is enjoying the profit he makes from this company. It comes at the very high price of good hard working people suffering under the hands of unscrupulous supervisors. None of the things he picked and picked about had nothing to do with the quality of my work. They were very personal things.


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