12 Most Upworthy Ways to Succeed Despite a Bad Boss

12 Most Upworthy Ways to Succeed Despite a Bad Boss

A bad boss is a gut-wrenching, success-tanking experience. When you can’t quit — which is the case for most workers — the advice most often given is to engage in meaningful conversation. This often falls on deaf ears; any boss who can listen and take positive action after such a conversation isn’t a bad boss. Instead, you need to focus on your own strengths as an employee and bring value to your boss.

Following are my tips for how to put that in action.

1. Recognize that you’re not the problem

You have no reason to cringe, feel demoralized, or otherwise upset, because it’s your bad boss’s bad behavior that’s the problem, not you. Don’t make a bigger deal of your bad boss than he really is; he’s simply another hurdle you need to deal with on your path to success. Not the first, not the last.

2. Forego meaningful conversation

Conversations will often devolve into a “my way or the highway” reaction, lots of “Oh, sure, yeah” mutterings (which go absolutely nowhere), or worse yet, polite agreement followed by a series of politically correct, yet damning notes in your personnel file that lead to rapid termination. Since it’s highly unlikely you can have genuine dialogue with a bad boss, don’t get stuck in a losing tactic.

3. Know who your boss is

All bad bosses are not created equal, and therefore must be dealt with differently. A Ghost Boss, for example, is unwilling and incapable of taking charge, so you must take charge of your job. An Egomaniacal Boss calls for a very different task: creating order out of chaotic demands.

4. Become your boss’s ally

The way to get the success you want and deserve is by focusing on your own actions and becoming an ally to the boss. You become an ally, for example, by listening beyond the hysteria the Screamer/Irrational Boss spouts, and seeking the real issue concerning her. Instead of ignoring her or cursing her out like your co-workers, you engage in her success for your success.

5. Become valuable to your boss

A bad boss is inherently self-centered, and will only care about your goals if you offer something profoundly meaningful and worthwhile. For example, your Incompetent Boss needs to look competent — which he believes he is. You can help him achieve that goal by appropriately delegating and prioritizing work he slings your way. He then looks competent because the work is now getting done, and done well. Over time, he’ll realize you’re the one making him look competent, and now you have value.

6. Soothe your bad boss’s secret fear

Lurking behind every bad boss’s rant, strut or inept management, lays a deep dark fear — something your bad boss has nightmares about, and rarely admits even to herself. If you soothe that fear with appropriate behaviors (but never outright), you become important to her. The Egomaniacal Boss, for example, fears being unloved. Your loyalty and refusal to engage in gossip about her soothes that fear, and she can rely on your “love.”

7. Fulfill your bad boss’s secret desire

Along with secret fears come emotional cravings that drive your bad boss’s behavior. Back to our Egomaniacal Boss in #6: her secret desire is to be loved — by everyone, all the time. You can fulfill that desire by making her look good, translating unrealistic demands and ideas into something that works in reality. By becoming your Egomaniacal Boss’s trusted wing-man/wing-gal, she’ll look good in front of clients and you’ll be rewarded.

8. Identify your work-strengths

Embrace your work-strengths. As a Pleaser Employee, for example, your uncomplaining nature enhances your performance and productivity, but can get in the way of personal success when it’s in the service of an Incompetent Boss who sends you in 50 different directions, 49 of which are completely ineffective. Shift the benefit your boss gleans from your never-complaining self to your own personal benefit: “I’d be glad to handle this. Which of your other assignments would you prefer I put on hold?” You’re still not complaining; only now it’s in service of achieving your own goals, even as you make your Incompetent Boss look competent.

9. Be your own best work-buddy

Since many bad bosses don’t have a clue about how to encourage and reward good work, you need to become your own support and cheerleader. Believe it or not, a self-pat on the back is distinctly better than none at all. Set small, achievable goals and reward yourself for each and every accomplishment — check the item off your list, take a moment to relish in a sense of satisfaction, or indulge in your favorite latte on the way home from work.

10. Lose the water cooler mentality

Misery does love company, but endless complaining about a dismal situation creates a downward spiral of unmotivated unhappiness. Ditch the water-cooler crowd so you don’t accentuate the unproductive, useless, and worthless feelings you already get from your boss. Instead, surround yourself with uplifting affirmations, subscribe to positive-minded blogs, and keep your work-life misery out of your conversations with friends to increase your chances of succeeding despite your bad boss.

11. Never let your bad boss see you sweat

Whatever misery your boss is launching your way, don’t let him get the upper hand by showing you’re upset through facial expressions, words, or body language. Don’t take the bad behavior personally; look past it to whatever needs to be fixed, and put your calm-cool-collected focus squarely on that. Maintain good eye focus, stand tall, and avoid fidgeting — all marks of being in control, regardless of what he dishes out.

12. Be resilient

You are a strong and worthy person. Base your faith in who you are, not in how your boss treats you. Keep sight of your true nature and dreams and never stop seeking the opportunities, resources, co-workers and mentors who can help you succeed in your career.

Your bad boss, in the final analysis, is but a blip in the overall saga of your life: a scene that will play out and be done. Let this infuse you with guts and determination so you can get the very best life has to offer. Never ever give up on you!

Have you had a bad boss? What tactics did you use to effectively deal with your situation?

Photo credit Big Stock Photos

Dr. Noelle Nelson


Noelle C. Nelson, Ph.D. is the author of 12 books, including Got a Bad Boss? (2013), The Power of Appreciation (2011) and Dangerous Relationships: How to Identify and Respond to the Seven Warning Signs of a Troubled Relationship (1997.) She is a licensed clinical psychologist and has been a business trial consultant for the last 25 years, working closely with attorneys and corporate management. At the core of her books, leadership seminars and consulting practice is the power of appreciation: how to be happier, healthier and more successful at work, at home and in relationships.

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While I agree with many of your comments, I think it's very misleading and misinformed to assume that by helping your bad boss, you'll somehow be rewarded.  In reality, why would a bad boss help someone move up and give up a good thing?  It will just expose them as being a bad boss and based on the culture of the company, the boss will be there longer than their employee(s)......