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Bad Bosses: Key Lessons to Elevate Your Career

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Working for a bad boss can turn your professional life into an ongoing challenge. This isn’t an exaggeration. Your boss significantly influences your work, dictating your tasks, methods, and their broader impact on the company. Dealing with a boss who is frustrating, challenging, or unclear can leave you feeling perpetually unsettled.

Many of us can share tales of a nightmarish boss. Perhaps some readers are currently facing this difficult scenario. It’s an all-too-familiar predicament, yet finding an effective solution is often anything but straightforward.

You Can Rarely Fix A Bad Boss

When faced with a workplace issue, the typical response is to seek advice from your boss. However, when the boss is the root of the problem, options become limited. Escalating the issue to higher-ups is a potential avenue, but it’s fraught with complexities due to office politics. Often, your boss’s superior is not only familiar with them but may have played a role in their hiring.

Approaching a higher authority with complaints about your boss can be seen as indirect criticism of their hiring decision. This might lead to reluctance to address your concerns, further complicating your work situation and potentially creating tension in the workplace.

Navigating a Challenging Boss: Finding a Way Forward

When escaping a difficult boss isn’t a straightforward option, learning to adapt becomes essential. It’s an unfortunate truth that few can afford the luxury of leaving a job solely due to a challenging boss. In this scenario, you are generally left with two choices:

  1. Be miserable every working hour of your working week. (And your working week is a lot of time, according to the Daily Mail).
  2. Try and make the most of it.

Since the first option is often unviable, we are left with the second.

Learning from a bad boss can be unexpectedly beneficial, though not in the traditional sense of gaining knowledge or wisdom. If that were the case, they wouldn’t be categorized as a bad boss. The real learning lies in personal growth and future application. Enduring a challenging work environment under a difficult boss provides firsthand experience in what not to do. As you advance in your career and possibly move into managerial roles, this experience becomes a valuable reference. Consider it a personal guide on ‘How Not To Be A Boss’.

Does A Boss Make Everyone A Monster?

Upon being promoted to a position of power, individuals often grapple with finding the right balance. The concern of being either too lenient or too strict can lead them to aim for a middle ground, which, in practice, may not be as effective as they perceive.

It’s not uncommon to witness a noticeable change in someone’s personality after they’ve been promoted. Even those who were previously considered nice and reasonable may exhibit different traits in their new role. However, this transformation isn’t inevitable for everyone. It largely depends on the individual’s approach to leadership and their adaptability to the demands of their new position.

The answer to whether increased responsibility inevitably leads to personality changes in leadership is somewhat ambiguous. Greater responsibility often brings heightened stress, which can result in a well-intentioned person becoming a less effective leader. However, it’s important not to let the fear of becoming a ‘Bosszilla’ deter you from pursuing your career advancement. Developing self-awareness and learning from the examples around you, both good and bad, can guide you in becoming a balanced and effective leader.

Career Advancement

In many professions, career advancement is a natural and expected trajectory. For instance, lawyers often aspire to become partners in their firms. In the realms of journalism and, increasingly, politics, the pinnacle might be attaining the position of a newspaper editor. Healthcare professionals, including nurses, aim to reach levels where they explore managerial roles, perhaps through platforms like Similarly, entrepreneurs and business owners look for growth opportunities, such as mergers with other companies, as a way to elevate their business standing. Each career path offers unique avenues for advancement, reflecting the universal ambition of professional growth.

So why hold your career back and deny yourself those experiences? Ranking up is an important part of career lives. And here’s the rub: if you’re worried about being a bad boss, then you probably won’t be a bad boss. Especially not if you can learn from the mistakes of these types of personalities, one of whom you will probably have direct experience of…

Bad Boss #1: The “Do As I Say, Not As I Do”

This Bad Boss emerges from their office every so often to tell everyone to work harder, faster, and more efficiently. Perhaps they even drag you into meetings to talk about productivity time or have moments of snapping at members of staff who dare to chitchat about things not directly related to the business.

They do this despite you knowing they spend large portions of their day playing with desk toys and texting their partner. If someone from another department pops by, you’ll watch your Bad Boss interact, chitchat, and discuss the latest football scores – all the things they directly tell you it’s terrible to do.

What You Learn: Always seek to set a good example for any staff members. And if you can’t put down your phone while at work as you’re playing the latest addictive app, at least try and do it where you can’t be seen!

Bad Boss #2: The Bad Communicator

The Bad Communicator Boss has a special line in vague expressions… which of course they then blame you for misunderstanding. For example:

Bad Communicator: “Hey, can you get those files to me by the end of the week? Say Thursday or Friday? Or at the latest on Monday… just sent them by email.”

Then on Monday…

“I should have had these on Thursday! I told you that! And now I have to print them out as well!”

The feeling when you are being blamed for something that you had no possible way of knowing is… well, it’s like being forced to swallow knives. You want to snap back at them. You can feel the words at the back of your throat, wanting to point out how you’ve yet to master mind reading and if they had a specific date and method in mind, then they should have mentioned that and that alone… but you can’t. Because you like having a job.

So instead, you have to apologize for a mistake that is not of your own making. It’s demoralizing in the extreme and can make you feel like you never know where you stand and are stuck in a rut you can’t ever escape.

The worst part about this kind of boss is that you will often find that they are backtracking on their initial statement – and accusing you of the wrongdoing – to cover a mistake of their own making. If they have decided on when something should be done at an incorrect time, then it’s better for them to be able to pass the blame onto another person than to deal with the fallout themselves. They will both communicate badly because they don’t know they are doing it, and then – even when they didn’t communicate incorrectly – will change the story to make you the one at fault.

What You Learn:

Aside from a pretty simple “don’t do this”? It’s useful to agree to any timetable with a member of staff and then have it in writing. Even for the most basic things, a simple email chain between the people involved will override the possibility of any confusion.

Bad Boss #3: The Lacking-Empathy Boss

If you find yourself at the mercy of an Empathy Lacking Boss, then your work experience can become unpleasant very quickly indeed.

A lack of empathy, in general, is seen as a sign of psychopathy, but there is a specific work empathy that bosses need to have: an understanding of what is feasible in a timescale. It might sound fine to them on paper for you to complete five specific tasks by a certain deadline, but in reality, it’s next to impossible. If you try and explain this, they will dismiss it and tell you it’s part of your job to do these things – so you just need to speed up a bit. Even if some aspects of that speeding up are out of your control, like you needing to wait for a file from the printers or have someone else sign off on it and they are delaying.

If this happens consistently, then it’s a real issue. You find yourself constantly trying to jump through hoops that, realistically, you’re never going to be able to manage.

What You Learn: As a manager or boss, you should take time to learn what you think is possible and what actually is possible. It’s better for a worker to exaggerate the time something takes than you to push someone too far to do things they can’t conceivably do in the timeframe. Why? If they are rushing, they’re not going to do the job well.

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06/11/2024 02:06 am GMT

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