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Got The Bad Boss Blues?

Interview with Dr. Noelle Nelson author of Got A Bad Boss?

Dr-Noelle_Nelson-PhotoA common adage is that employees don’t leave jobs, they leave bosses. Bad bosses. I confess I’ve done that on more than one occasion. It wasn’t that the job was so bad, but my boss . . .

Now a boss you don’t like is not necessarily a bad boss. Sometimes it’s a case of oil and water. You and your boss just don’t mix. But, in those cases where it’s not just a personality clash there are workarounds.

What can you do?

Dr. Noelle Nelson clinical psychologist and author of Got A Bad Boss? Work That Boss to Get What You Want at Work is well versed in that area. She graciously agreed to answer a few “bad boss” questions including “What makes a boss a bad boss?” for me. Here are her thoughts.

Complaining about the boss is somewhat of a national pastime. What is the difference between a “bad” boss and a boss that you just don’t like?

A bad boss is someone who either by their attitude or behavior makes it extremely difficult for their employees to do their job. A boss you just don’t like has personality traits that don’t mesh with yours.

A bad boss is so critical of everything you do, you become too nervous or unsure of yourself to get anything done. When a boss is always screaming at you or blaming you for everything—that’s a bad boss attitude. On the other hand, a boss you just don’t like might be chatty when you’re fairly quiet, or doesn’t say much and you like to go on and on. You may be a millennial and your boss is a baby boomer so you may look at the world differently. That doesn’t mean your boss is necessarily bad.

While everyone is different, you mention four common traits of bad bosses: finger pointing, constant criticizing, grabbing the spotlight, and being lazy. Which is the most difficult to deal with? Why?

The most difficult bad bosses to try to deal with are bosses who are constantly finger pointing and criticizing. They create so much fear and anxiety that in a sense you shut down internally. Both behaviors are demeaning. They make you feel like a worm. If you feel worthless, you can’t perform to your highest level. Neither types of bad bosses are solution oriented. They only know how to target and blame others. Their whole focus is on the problem not how to fix it.

What’s the difference between “managing up” and “working” the boss?

The “managing up” approach to getting ahead requires that you have to have the ability to have a civilized, rational conversation with your boss about your work and career needs. Those conversations are impossible with a bad boss since bad bosses never takes responsibility for anything and certainly don’t care about your career. The managing up techniques do well with a good boss and will fail with a bad boss.

“Working your boss” is finding ways to be the problem solver for your bad boss. When you become the problem solver, you become your boss’ ally and become more valuable to your boss. He looks good (which fits nicely with his narcissistic personality) and so do you. One thing a bad boss can’t do is come up with solutions. Once you become his go-to person to fix things, you can start asking for what you want at work to get ahead.

What is the most valuable thing you can learn from a “bad” boss?

The most valuable lesson learned by working with a bad boss is not to become one yourself. Learn what doesn’t work so when you get your promotion, you’ll understand what not to do.

Most bad bosses are narcissists. You need to be the opposite. Become a good team player, a good listener and be flexible in considering how to get things done especially with ideas other than your own.  You’ll earn the respect of your co-workers and eventually are noticed by upper management.

How do you know if you’re a bad boss?

You know you are a bad boss if employees tend to be scared of you or hide when they see you coming. Absenteeism and turnover is high and productivity is down – and you blame it all on your employees.  Then again, if you were truly a bad boss, you would never admit that any of this is your fault.

What advice would you give to someone interviewing for a job who wants to avoid working for a bad boss?

When interviewing for a job, pay attention to how the boss treats employees already there. An obvious red flag is if he snaps at an assistant or speaks despairingly about an employee. The way a boss treats others and how that boss talks about them is how the boss will eventually treat you.

When you walk in the office, notice the vibe. Does it feel relaxed, busy, upbeat and productive? Or is it deathly quiet with people afraid to make eye contact? Do your research. Google the prospective employer and see what people have to say. Remember, don’t be fooled if you are treated nicely but everyone else is treated badly. After the honeymoon period, you’ll get the same bad treatment.

About Annette Richmond, MA

Annette Richmond, MA, CARW, CCELW, is a Certified Resume Writer, Certified LinkedIn Profile Writer, and former recruiter. Her career advice has been featured by Huffington Post, The Chicago Tribune, Forbes, Business Insider, Monster, Vault, and WSJ. She helps motivated, senior level professionals tell their unique career story. She also serves as executive editor of career-intelligence.com.


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