How to Know If You Are a Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Boss

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Mar 18, 2015

Horrible bosses come in all shapes and sizes.

You can probably think of a few previous bosses you’ve had the (dis)pleasure to work for.

According to a recent poll of 2,700 respondents at, more than one in three consider their boss to be “horrible” (38 percent) and 54 percent of respondents gave their boss a negative rating. Only 17 percent of respondents gave their boss an “excellent” grade.

While this poll is not scientific, it confirms what we already know — there are some pretty bad bosses out there.

How to know if you are a horrible boss

But what about you? Could you be a horrible boss?

You might be a horrible boss if:

  • Your team works incredibly hard, but you always take the credit.
  • Your own insecurities and fear keep you from developing and trusting your team.
  • You are constantly late and make your team feel like their time isn’t as valuable as yours.
  • You limit your team’s exposure to senior leaders.
  • You assume your team knows your priorities, without clearly stating what they are and why they are important.
  • When priorities shift, you don’t explain why.
  • You micromanage and tell your team how things need to be done, instead of letting them figure it out.

Even if you aren’t a horrible boss, or haven’t worked for a horrible boss, you very well may find yourself working for one in the future.

Bad boss? There are things you can do

Advice for dealing with a horrible boss:

  • Adapt — You can’t change people, so decide what you can do to make things better. Consultant Ryan Siskow says “Let’s face it, they’re your problem – like it or not – until that manager improves, is discharged or leaves the organization.” In the case of the perpetually late boss, build in extra time for meetings, have a clear agenda and be realistic about what you can accomplish.
  • Take a step back, wait, then react — Let the anger and emotions that result from a particularly awful interaction subside. It will allow you to respond with a cool head and keep you focused on your priorities and long-term goals.
  • Launch a positive offense — Resist the urge to become a victim. Make a concerted effort to treat your boss with respect and deference. This will often ease him/her out of defense or attack mode.
  • Take the initiative when communicating — Schedule weekly check-ins as a way to stay on top of shifting priorities and new information.
  • Remember your boss is not your career — Don’t let him/her define you. One leader I know made a concerted effort to network around her boss. She made absolute sure that her results were credited to her.
  • Minimize the surprises — Make sure your boss is clear on what you’re focused on in the short and long-term. Constantly ask, “Is there something missing that you think I should have on my radar?”
  • Learn from it — Working with difficult people, and turning them into your ally is one of the greatest skills you can master. One leader who weathered two lousy bosses said this:

The ability to successfully deal with difficult people has helped me in my career. I was recently promoted to a national position within my company. The two biggest advocates in favor of my promotion were both of my former, horrible bosses!”

Keep your patience — and a sense of humor

A friend who was stuck with one bad boss after another told me he never lost sight of these three important things: perspective, patience and a sense of humor.

Because even when one horrible boss leaves your life, the next one could be waiting just behind him.

This was originally published on PeopleResult’s Current blog.