Some tips and strategies that will not only help you survive, but that could also turn your situation around completely.

If you are reading this Blog post then there is a high chance this either applies to you now, has in the past, or you have friends of family that have been adversely affected from working with a bad boss.

In 2017, research conducted by Investors in People, highlighted that 42% of people leave their jobs because of poor management, the only greater contributing factor being pay.

I admit to also having experienced poor managers, although I was arguably only indirectly affected – witnessing the carnage that often ensued from some pretty horrific bullying tactics and at the same time trying to minimise and negotiate the damage caused to all parties.

As a master practitioner of Neuro Linguistic Programming, someone who is fascinated with Psychology and a practising Business and Leadership Consultant, I have always been interested in firstly how someone turns into the nightmare boss. I mean, unless they own the company, presumably they had some good qualities and traits in the first place that led to their promotion. Secondly, how did I manage to avoid being treated in the same way as others reporting to the same, ineffective managers? I certainly wasn’t a ‘suck up’ and yet, although affected through the sometimes-awful atmospheres caused, I never allowed myself to succumb to the same treatment. And is there something in what I did (or didn’t do) that matches what theory teaches us and can help resolve being in such a nightmare scenario that leads to stress, days of sick and eventually having to leave a place of work?


So, what turns a boss rogue?

I read with interest about some research conducted by Dacher Keltner, professor of psychology at University of California. Keltner’s research suggests that whilst people tend to be promoted into positions of power through positive traits and actions that are widely recognised with having emotional intelligence; as the feeling of power and authority beds in, these traits start to diminish and become replaced with acts of rudeness, selfishness and in the worst cases unethical behaviour. Keltner’s studies, conducted over a number of organisations, environments and countries do tend to suggest that, unchecked, power does tend to corrupt otherwise good people.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not venturing for a second to suggest that this seemingly ‘natural phenomenon’ is forgivable or unavoidable. But given the number of managers who are promoted into a position of authority based on longevity or success in a certain field without suitable people management consideration, preparation or coaching (otherwise known as the Peter Principle) it perhaps isn’t surprising there are so many managers out there that are otherwise perfectly nice, rational and reasonable people who simply haven’t learned the importance of the need for reflection, developing self-awareness or that true leadership is the act of serving and not commanding or controlling.

There are of course other factors that can lead to otherwise high performing and personable people from becoming a pleasure to a nightmare to work with. They themselves may have demanding superiors or there may be factors away from work which is influencing their attitudes and behaviours. Not your problem? Well – I’m afraid it is if you dread turning up for work every day. And, how you choose to deal with the situation will very much dictate the outcome for you.


What not to do when a boss turns rogue

Manfred F.R. Kets de Vries suggests that “frequently cited grievances of poor management include micromanaging, bullying, ducking decisions, stealing credit, shifting blame, hoarding information, failing to listen, setting a poor example and not developing staff”. There are many other high-profile examples were fraudulent or physically or sexually abusive behaviours can be added to the list. For the latter it is imperative that you immediately remove yourself from the situation and report the issue to your line manager, another suitable superior or HR. For the former, it

is recommended that you don’t: –

  1. Choose to gossip with your colleagues. Whilst this may make you feel better in the short term by helping you let off steam whilst at the same time bringing you comfort through connection and camaraderie, in the longer term this will just increase your feeling of victimisation and is totally unproductive.
  2. React in the moment. When our emotions are heightened it is difficult to see things in a light that is anything other than personal. It is also more likely you will say things that you will later regret and that will make it difficult for you to both move forward. Acknowledge the situation and suggest you meet later to discuss the situation and work out what to do next.
  3. Complain to a superior UNLESS you have previously addressed the situation directly with the person concerned in a positive and constructive manner (see below).
  4. Ignore it and hope it will go away.


Positive actions you can take to help turn the situation around.

I’d love to suggest that the below will work 100% of the time, but sadly that isn’t the case – much depends on the individual concerned, the overriding culture of the organisation and the factors that have caused the behaviour in the first instance. However, in my own experience, I have witnessed a 70% complete turnaround in behaviours when some or all of the below recommendations have been adopted and implemented by those on the receiving end of a poor manager. 

Seek to understand the different personality styles and drivers between you and your boss. Some personalities gel naturally better with others. For example, people known as ‘Drivers’ tend to get on better with people possessing an analytical personality style rather than those with an expressive personality style. Once you understand this you can choose to amend your style to suit that which your boss responds best to. For more information check out my November 2017 Blog post on this very subject here.

Choose a position of empathy. Put yourself in your boss’s shoes. Who do they report into and what demands are placed on them? What pressures are they under at home and at work? Is there anything you could change in your behaviour or actions that could support them with these? Sometimes just understanding their challenges can remove the personal emotions that can be attached to everyday occurrences – remember it’s really not always all about you. Other times, your pro-activity in providing support for a challenge can go a long way to building bridges, trust and strengthening relationships. 


Undertake some reflection yourself. What feedback does your boss give you? Take some time out and reflect sensitively to see whether there is some truth in this. What can you do differently in future? If you notice that there are people who your boss responds more respectfully with, ask them how you might approach situations more constructively to provide your boss with the outcome they are seeking (although take care to do this in a positive light so as not to start the gossiping or negative comments referred to above). 


Pick up the courage to have a meaningful and constructive conversation with your manager – close enough to the incident, but far enough away that the emotion is removed. Remain factual and perhaps just repeat back what happened or what was said or how it was said, what the result was and the knock on effects for everyone…for instance you could say ‘I know that we are all under pressure to get things right first time but when you used the words that you did in-front of everyone and in that manner, it made me feel undermined and stupid and as a result it has knocked my confidence which means I’m making more mistakes. Could we agree a different way for you to feedback when I am not performing so that I can learn and so that it doesn’t make me fearful to take action in future?’ Or if your boss is withholding vital information that is making it difficult for you to do your job, perhaps you could say ‘I’m really sorry I missed you giving me that important information. What can I do to make sure I have everything I need in time in the future in a way that you are assured I have received it?’


Finally, if you are not on the receiving end, but are witness to poor management behaviour, perhaps you could step in with a friendly word to say something like ‘I know this wasn’t your intention as I know you value strong relationships, but calling X,Y,Z out in that way hasn’t had the effect I know you would have hoped to achieve and it has upset a couple of colleagues.


And if all else fails? Ask yourself the question. If you knew, when you took the job that your work life would be as it is, and you cannot see it improving, would you still have taken the job. If the answer is a big fat NO…then you have to take responsibility for your own health, happiness and well-being and just get your head down, practice ways of de-stressing in the moment using these hints and tips and then pro-actively start looking for a new job. I sincerely hope you don’t have to go down this route…. but if you do, please ensure you give an honest account for your resignation at your exit interview as this still may help those you are leaving behind.


So how did I avoid being a victim of a poor boss?

There were times during my career where I simultaneously reported into a few ‘difficult’ (as others described them), bosses, who certainly demonstrated bullying or aggressive tendencies towards others. So how did I navigate all of these and protect myself from being a victim?

By treating them as individual clients, electing to understanding their individual traits and needs and adapting my style to suit each ‘client’ style. By studying them so that I could anticipate their needs – which meant I was pretty much always able to deliver on their requirements before being asked. But perhaps most importantly, I set my stall out early with all my managers. If I was wrong or in a position of accountability I would step up and own it – in front of my peers or colleagues, but on the very first occasion I encountered anything less than respectful behaviour from my managers I would calmly and respectfully (in private) suggest that their behaviour wasn’t helpful in producing the results I was sure they were looking to achieve. And this, fundamentally, is what I believe stopped any further poor behaviour towards me in its tracks.

However, where others did not take the same stand or approach, some of these bosses continued with their behaviour where they went unchallenged. And, unless they have since received formal coaching or have reconnected to the qualities that they lost as they gained power, I suspect they are still causing problems for those they are managing today.

I am a firm believer that we teach people how to treat us and by accepting bullying, disrespect or any other poor behaviours for that matter (whether this is in our work or our personal lives) we are suggesting to our abuser that this is acceptable to us and are giving them tacit permission to continue. By taking a step back; removing the emotion; candidly seeing the situation for what it is and then valuing ourselves enough to choose not to become a victim then perhaps we can stop these poor managers in their tracks for good.

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