9 Signs You’ve Got a Bad Boss

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women having an argument at workWe wish we could mandate that all bosses go to boss school. Or that the ones who did get management training absorbed everything they were taught.

Fact is, there are a lot of bad bosses running amok out there, and most don’t even know that they’re the bane of your existence.

But the good news is—if you’re stuck under the thumb of a less-than-stellar superior—there are strategies for managing her particular strain of craziness. (For more on the importance of managing up, click here.)

For expert advice, we spoke to Nicole Williams, LinkedIn’s connection director and author of “Girl on Top: Your Guide to Turning Dating Rules into Career Success,” and Leigh Steere, cofounder of Managing People Better, LLC, a research endeavor that studies differences in management styles.

Here are nine signs your superior may not be, well, superior—and what do about it.

1. She’s Insulting

Feedback is a necessary food group in the office place. A good boss will explain why you didn’t meet expectations, as well as the changes she’d like to see next time. But then there’s the other breed: The manager who puts down your work … without supplying constructive criticism. Or worse. We’ve all been subjected to “yellers” in our time.

How to Manage Her: If she’s not forthcoming about why she’s not happy with you, you can take steps to prevent being berated. When you get an assignment, ask: “So what I’m hearing you want me to do is …?” and be sure you’re clear on the instructions before you start. If she still lights into you and you don’t know what you did to deserve it, take a deep breath and ask. You might want to wait until her tirade is over and her mood improves, but a well-timed, “I’d like to understand where I fell short, so it doesn’t happen again. Can you explain what you’d like me to do differently next time?” can work wonders.

2. She Fails to Make You Feel Appreciated

Behind most good bosses is a good support team. Good superiors recognize that they’d be beyond stuck if their underlings abandoned them. Bad ones have a bad habit of starving their subordinates of praise.

How to Manage Her: It’s never fun to fish for compliments, but asking for feedback is a necessary evil in this case. Try: “I’d really like to help make your job easier. Can you tell me how I’m doing that well—and how I could do it better?” And, never underestimate the power of complimenting her. We’re not saying like will always beget like, but propping her up may help her feel more confident—probably a key reason she’s not comfortable praising you in the first place.

3. She Takes Credit for Other People’s Accomplishments

Sadly, petty thieves do rise through the ranks. A good boss knows her success dovetails with making employees feel appreciated. A bad boss fails to give you recognition for what you’ve accomplished—or worse, claims your accomplishments as her own.

How to Manage Her: This is a sticky issue. Confronting her petty theft directly likely won’t get you the results you want. If you think she’d be receptive, you could try framing the conversation in a non-accusatory way: “I’m really aiming to get promoted this year, so I would love if you could help me make others aware of my accomplishments—like that account I just landed.” Also, be sure to put your feats in writing. If there’s a way to claim credit for a work coup you orchestrated, let the rest of the team know before she has a chance to steal your thunder.

4. She’s Disorganized

It’s a catch-22 for employees who have to nag managers about overdue projects: They don’t want to point out a superior’s oversight, but they also don’t want to get blamed if anything falls through the cracks. A good manager is one who is organized enough to help you prioritize your tasks. A bad one, of course, is the type who asks you if you could please print that email for her … for the third time.

How to Manage Her: Part of the trick is figuring out what makes her tick. Is she an email person—or is her inbox a bottomless abyss? Would she respond better to repeated Post-Its? While it might be diffict to psychoanalyze your boss, success in the workplace often depends on it. Also, don’t underestimate all the demands on her time. One way to make sure your needs are met is to request a weekly one-on-one meeting, when you can rattle off the items on your punch list, get answers—and look proactive.

5. She Makes Everything a Fire Drill

A good boss helps tamp down drama, not create it. And the effect of a manager who loves assigning stuff due “yesterday” is a staff that can no longer tell what’s truly urgent—and will act as such.

How to Manage Her: If you can get one step ahead of her tizzies, you’ll go far. That means understanding her triggers. Maybe she always freaks at the end of the month when earnings are posted, or before a weekly meeting with her demanding manager. Ask her to help you rank the priorities of what she needs from you each week … and get it in email. Then you’ll at least have an explanation of why you did what you did the next time she flies into a four-alarm tantrum.

6. She’s a Micromanager

A good manager helps you build your skills by challenging you to do more than you thought you could. But not everyone is cut from that cloth: If you can’t send a single email without her proofreading it, you may be under the thumb of an insecure superior, or a control freak.

How to Manage Her: While you might be tempted to shut down out of sheer frustration, the key here is to communicate more than you think you need to until you earn her trust. For some reason, much like a wild animal, she’s feeling skittish. So, for the time being, don’t make any surprise moves, and tell her exactly what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. Share updates. Give progress reports. And, make her feel like a trusted advisor by asking for her input and advice. Then, eventually, you can say: “I hope I’ve proven to you that I’m capable of handling this. I’d love to take on more responsibility. Is there anything else you need to see from me for that to happen?”

7. She’s Unapproachable

The most effective workplaces thrive on openness, but that doesn’t mean some managers don’t choose tyranny instead. The problem is, when communication shuts down, more problems are likely to arise—and underlings will be scared to ask for help in solving them.

How to Manage Her: This is a tough one, because unless you’ve done something to deserve her derision, the problem may be hers and hers alone. But you shouldn’t have to deal with a boss who is mean, distant or even abusive. Try to understand where the behavior is coming from, and always be polite, clear, honest and direct with her. If the situation doesn’t improve, this might be a case in which you consult another manager, or HR, on how best to proceed.

My Boss Is Driving Me Crazy!

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8. She’s Too Polite

On the other end of the spectrum, it’s also possible for a boss to be too nice. The problem with that is that your bonus and review depend on what she thinks, so any superior who holds back her true thoughts isn’t doing you any favors.

How to Manage Her: With a boss like this, you may have to actually beg for bad feedback. If she’s always saying you do a great job, tell her that you think you would do even better if she could pinpoint a few areas where you could improve. Explain that you love having her as a manager, but you also want your career to advance, and she could help you by showing you the areas in which you can grow.

9. She Plays Favorites

In a perfect world, all managers would love all of their direct reports equally. Sadly, it’s human nature to click with some people more than others, and it can become a problem when a superior favors one employee with more responsibility (or raises) based on preference, not performance.

How to Manage Her: No, it’s not fair, but this is one time when it might be best to ignore the problem. And that’s because complaining will be unlikely to change your superior’s mind. Resist the temptation to whine to co-workers, gossip about your boss’s office pet or keep an endless tally of what she got that you didn’t. Instead, keep a close eye on your own progress. Schedule time with your boss to map out your career goals, figure out what behavior she admires in that other person (if it’s job-related), and be sure to exceed your goals. In the end, that’s your best shot at coming out ahead.

More Tips for the Office

If your boss is hard to handle, learn the concept of “managing up.”
The key to succeeding at work is communicating well. Read our expert tips.
Project confidence with our guide to body language.

  • Belove

    Best tip:  Anonymously email her this article!  

  • Anonymous

    I may be reading into this too much and I know this is a women focused site, but I find it a bit demeaning that this whole article is about women bosses. I think bad male bosses possess these qualities as well and it would be a shame to continue to promote the stereotypes that women are the difficult ones.

    • Nathalie

      I agree.  Although this is a women oriented website, they should have mixed it up with he/she.    I can already see male professionals forwarding this around saying “oh, see, women can’t lead.”

      • Rachel (future boss of myself)

        I completely agree. The exclusive use of “she” immediately struck me as wrong and was distracting during the whole article. Out of the 5 bad bosses I’ve had, 4 are men. And they were far, far worse than the one woman on the list. I think most men would read this and think that it doesn’t apply to them because it is directed at a female boss. This article could inadvertently help reinforce the stereotype of women as bad leaders.

        • Anonymous

          Hi Anonymous, Nathalie, Rachel and Betty D: 

          Please rest assured that the choice of female pronoun was not a conscious decision on the part of LV, or meant to imply anything as a result. We want to empower women around their finances and careers, and we chose the female pronoun to make sure our readers remember that–despite many societal biases–there are plenty of female bosses out there, after all! 

          In this article, we don’t want to imply anything about the frequency of female bosses, or the frequency of bad female bosses. In our mind, bad bosses are bad bosses, regardless of gender.

          • Tsk, Tsk.

            you might also want to consider how your placement of the ONE image of a (presumably) african-american woman on this entire page – to represent the “unapproachable,” “mean,” and “abusive” boss – might alienate (and, quite frankly, piss off) a particular subset of your readers. all that’s missing is a flash player pop-up of her snapping her fingers and rolling her neck!
            please consider the power of the implicit. this post stinks of harmful, hurtful, and stale stereotypes – no matter how well-intentioned. i typically like your posts, but shame on you today. perhaps more diversity on your editorial staff, or a training or three?  

          • Angelamcilwain

            I completely agrees! The picture displayed is ridiculous. I am a boss. I am female, and I am black. I am very kind, approachable and respectful to my staff. I will have the crucial conversations when needed, but it’s not something I enjoy. I definitely felt the sting of intent when I saw this article.

          • Angelamcilwain

            *agree. I completely agree.

          • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=530827156 Zep Richichi

            lol. what’s good for the goose…

          • Angelamcilwain

            *agree. I completely agree.

          • Dee

            Then maybe you shouldn’t read these types of articles if they hurt your feelings. :(

          • Mary

            I have a african american boss of Jamaica decent and at time she can be mean, and distant…
            I have tried to handle the best way I can, but I think she’s threaten by me because I know as much as her or even more and have post graduate degree…and she does not. I’m sick and tired of this abusive and demoralize job environment but I’ve decided to move on…it is not worth to have to walk on egg shells to do job, and my job is starting to affect my health….

          • Dee

            So sick of this type of comment.

        • Sarah

          You bet 100%.

        • Steven Jackson

          but its true. almost every female manager I have ever had fit the articles descriptions

    • Jack Ball

      Wow! The political correctness police are doing a “full tactical raid” on your article. I think these folks miss the point of the article by focusing on their perceived PC slights. I enjoyed the article but was annoyed by the commenters’ PC pet peeves. I mean seriously! Give me a break – you used too many “she’s” and have a black woman picture as the “bad” boss!?!?! I guess you should have used “it” to talk about the boss and Photoshopped all the people in your stock art to be grey (and removed gender recognizable features). Give me a break!

      • anon

        What do you expect? They’re probably the micromanagers this artivle is about in the first place!

      • Dee

        My exact thoughts! So sick of it.

  • talia

    Now, if only I could find a way to get this to my boss…

     

  • CMR

    Except, when a boss wants you out, you are gone.  They make it miserable so that eventually you don’t want to go to work.  Hopefully, what goes around comes around!

    • Heifer_01

      Been there. Just stuck to doing my job to the best of my ability and pretty soon HE was gone!Yeah.

  • Betty D

    I think it is unfair that the bad boss is referred to as “She”.  In truth, the worst boss I ever had was male.  And HE did many of the things you discuss.

  • Spamsam417

    this is a perfect and very real dragon lady !!!! ive worked for too many of them that do 1-5 to the T! ugh

  • Rita

    She’s always worring about her job, and never doing it

  • http://twitter.com/theWardrobeCode Nicole Longstreath

    I used to deal with constant change in direction from my boss (who was a man), and when I would implement strategy #1 – repeating back the direction – I would later get criticized for it. There was no winning with him :-/

    • Tennyteskiti

       Have been there, in my case my boss is so inpatient to listen to explanations. hug

    • Maryp1

      Same here and I just started working at a store just 2 months ago and my MALE supervisors both have a problem with their impatience and the way they should lead a team. Our new MALE manager messed up the schedule so bad that he’s trying to make it up now, yet employees are keep quitting from the lack of hours and teamwork. We all are headless chickens in a matter of speaking. I just got cussed out last night after my supervisor forgot that I was helping the new employee with his cart. We all stock shelves and we all are being timed for each cart we are assigned too, which makes the whole work environment stressful and overwhelming to get my work done thoroughly. He thinks he has power over us just because he’s in charge of calculating the time sheet. I went home crying for the very first time and I haven’t cried from a job in years!! I thought I would enjoy working there from it being so laid back at first until the new manager came along and changed everything. He’s nice, but lacks communication with all of us employees and the supervisor, which caused me to get far behind last night! Its so annoying and I have been looking for a new job, sadly. I can’t handle the temperament of working with MEN at this job! I prefer women then men, honestly.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/YKKVRLOX3JPLQ7E4WXTR7PJ2LA Melissa

    Sorry, but your advice on how to handle a micromanager is hilariously out of touch.  You really expect someone to deliver those ridiculous lines and get positive feedback??  My boss would look at me like I have two heads.  This whole article seems to be out of touch.  We need real solutions to these problems, not cookie-cutter Leave it to Beaver dialogue that no one in their right minds would say to someone.

  • Grant

    You missed an important one.  The boss that can’t make decisions.  Those are the most painfully frustrating bosses for me.

  • guest

    I have had mainly female bosses in my time and most of them fit at least one of these habits.  One scored 4 of them.  She was the worst:  Disorganized, a micromanager, everything was a fire drill — and she was insulting.

  • Joyful

    My boss exhibits 8 out the 9 “bad boss traits” listed. (The one she doesn’t have is #8 – Too Polite. Imagine that?!) And, yet I’ve stayed for 15 years. And I can’t figure out why…..me thinks I’m in need of some serious psychiatric help. Retirement can’t come quick enough!

  • Lynne Washington

    Wow- this article was modeled on my boss at IM. She was everything here, except the too polite one. She was a terror.I left after 9 months and made sure HR knew everything. The turnover to work w her is outrageous! So glad i left there!

  • John

    Some folks may not grasp how the concept of “a boss that is too polite” is bad.  I had this for many years, and it really hurts your career.  I had a really nice boss for several years at a large company.  He was very polite and professional all the time, and ranked rather high in the unit.  He never got into personal talk with staff, strictly business.  He gave bad news with a gently voice and kind smile, and rarely got angry.  You may think this is great, but, in the long run it wasn’t.  He gave very little feedback, never did performance reviews, and when asked what I needed to do to get a promotion he kept telling me to keep performing as I was, and so I did.  So for a few years I worked very hard for the smiling boss, making some great things happen at work which made him look better, yet no promotion for me.  So the next year I walked in and asked for a promotion again, and I got the nice smile and answer that times were tough but I should keep up my hard work.  I trusted the boss.  I worked harder than ever.  The next year after that, I tried again asking for a promotion, same answer.  The third year, I got annoyed after finding out that many people had gotten promotions the past few years, a few very undeserving in the eyes of many.  I spoke to my boss and explained how confused I was.  The nice boss now turned into the worst boss ever, he got upset that I was questioning his decision (a tactic to get me to stop talking and back down).  It made ME apologize to HIM. When I left the office I was demoralized.  The boss that had been so nice all these years was giving out promotions and got angry when I questioned a choice that impacted my career. How do you communicate with a boss like this?  How do you grow?  How do you feel valued?  You just can’t.  After some time, he made some choices that hurt my career even more and transferred me to another department he manages.  He transferred me with the same polite voice he used for three years tell me to keep working hard and I will get a promotion, now, I my career was taking a dive. The explanation for the sudden transfer?  He wanted to try something new.  In time, I left the organization.  I learned what a good organization and good bosses do – communicate honestly, fairly, and openly.  When I left the company I had dinner with an ex-coworker about a year later.  She was going through the same issue at the company, however, it was with a manager that my ex-boss managed!  Apparently, it was a tactic that my ex-boss taught to the supervisors he managed: be polite, smile, be patient, give some, but, very little feedback.  It seems to be a tactic to pacify employees.  I told her she could do better, and she left the company and did.  A fake nice boss tries to “handle” you, a caring and genuine boss is vested in your best interests as a career driven human being.

  • Guest

    I really wish I would have known this sooner, as it would have helped me know for certain that I wasn’t the one with the problem. :-) Said previous boss fit all but being too polite.

  • Nance

    I’m flabbergasted and, actually, offended, at all the, uh, CARETAKING that’s expected of people who are — OMG! — trying to do the job for which they were hired!

    How in the WORLD does anything get done in Corporate America when everyone has to spend their time FIGURING OUT and then ACCOMMODATING whatever dysfunction or, my favourite, MOOD, their “manager” decides to impose on them?

    • nancy

       That’s why it surprises me that corporations just don’t OUT the majority of middle management. They don’t seem to know WHAT their jobs are, much less do a good job. Rather, they spend their time “lording over” the unfortunate employees who get “stuck” under them. Most of the work my managers do is tracking my hours and reporting vacation time. I’ve had bosses that never concerned themselves with my project work but instead, spent all their time playing company politics. Really toxic.

      • ah

        My boss is the same way…. she doesnt know half the stuff that I do (more than half) and doesnt provide guidance or support. She doesnt encourage me to learn or grow. Its pretty sad. I have to get outta here. I am only 27 and I am scared to move on bc my self esteem has gone down and I am no longer confident since she is controlling and a micromanager. I walk on eggshells everyday, and although I was promised growth she gets made even if i put holiday decor up like all of the other departments. She takes them down herself and then people ask me what happened? Sad. I am burnt out and becoming ill from this situation.

        • Enzo

          You have to remove yourself emotionally and hang in there until you find something else or CHASE THEM OFF. I don’t think it’s right only the creeps get to stay at all these corporations.

          • ah

            the only problem is that I work for the local government so these people stay until they retire to get their pension. i cant vhase them off but they DO chase the younger crowd off. for it to be one of the biggest renowned countied with excellent benefits, there sure is a lot of turn over in my program.my old supervisor left three months ago, a new accountant left a month ago. i have been here for over three years and literally a total of about 7 or 8 people have left and there is only a total of 16 employees in our main office when we are fully staffed. i try to take emotion out of it but i am suffering from depression.i go to therapy twice a week now. im having digestion issues fueled by stressed and I gained 60lbs in the past year. my goal is to do only the minimum that is required of me to help control my stress and to find a more fulfilling job within the next few months.

  • Heifer_01

    What do you do when the boss doesn’t follow the dress code and his Mom is in administration? Which is probably why he got the job in the first place and doesn’t know squat about what he is in charge of?

    • IAmAWealthyGirl

      Run, SCREAMING, to the unemployment office!

      Much bitter experience taught me that, when it comes to family-owned/run businesses, if you ain’t mishpucha, you ain’t s**t!

  • Isa

    people are so busy being nit picky in the blogs that you’ve missed the whole point of the article…..Shesh…..and for all those that got bent out of shape about the black women picture… i’m quessing you didn’t look at the other 4 pictures in the article…..so who’s issue is that? Stop expecting perfection people…….

  • mmm

    5 or 6 out of 9 are on target.  That’s why I’m leaving.

  • Tafka1951

    5 out of 9 ain’t bad…

  • Zero

    My boss is #1, #2, #5, #6, #7, and #9 all rolled into one. What would you call that? A #30?

  • Nigel

    My boss definitely has his favorites. Such a spiteful person but all we can do is pray for him. You should never call your employees lazy or tell them you don’t care about their happiness at work because works not supposed to keep you happy. Lord be with the employees and bosses if they are like this or in the same situation I’m in.

  • tomg338

    call the cops if she threatens you easy said and done make sure there is a witness

  • Chris

    I’ve never had a good female boss. Ever.

  • Diana

    My boss has 6 Traits. Everything I do seems wrong. Everything I DO IS BAD. So next time if she wants something done, she should do it herself. She can KMA.

    • ah

      I have decided that I am only doing what I have to do and nothing extra since its not appreciated and she likes to belittle me. So I guess during down time I will be on here with you all!

  • Maria

    I have a boss who is such a jerk ! for no reason he is 25 young and beautiful but such a jerk man i cant take it/

  • Molly Bros

    It is amazing how every article I read about bad bosses refer to the boss as a she.

  • br2teric

    I enjoy these types of articles bc they allow me to take inventory of my own leadership skills and help me to see how the staff may feel. A good reminder that positive, confident leadership promotes positive, confident employees. Kudos!

  • Tammy Owens

    Well, im a boss. I wasn’t always one. I’m going to share it with those I manage and use it to improve. I cannot control my employees attitudes. I can only control my own. Stop pointing fingers and get to work. :) That is what we are all being paid to do.

  • Kyra

    Here are two red flags: doesn’t listen and a boss who doesn’t back the staff. When a member is wrong, I understand not bad behavior, but wanting to appease the upper management shouldn’t be at the cost of a staff getting the short end when the staff wasn’t wrong.

    I once had a boss who came into the room screaming at us because the practice’s overall collections were down and she needed to give them a reason. goalAfter several times of trying to give reasons but being cut off, she told us she informed the physicians we would to get the collections rate up to where it was past year in two months! Now if she had bothered to hear the entire reasoning, she would have heard with the insurance companies cutting their reimbursement by 10%, and the overall patient count being down 40%, due to every physician taking a vacation that summer which was never done before, the overall gross charges were down, so the collection rate was on target with what was billed. But then we had to strive to reach an unattainable goal because she couldn’t stand up for her staff.

  • marissa

    Why only She? Is not that women only work for women, and FYI bad bosses are not only women. I am one of two female workers in a group of more than 15 man, and a old school supervisor and I know this is completely wrong to just refer to women supervisors as the “bad” type of them. So please be more generic, can’t believe that gender bias can even be found in a place that is supposed to be women oriented. I am about to believe there is a misogynistic he or she behind all this words. Second time in a row I am reading the same at LearnVest, is completely giving me the wrong impression.

  • meteor

    Oh…are there male bosses still out there? I thought women bosses out run em..coz i havent found one..I am sorry ..I wish I could find one in my world…really wish to work with a male boss before I get sick of working…