Bad bosses are difficult and can make work treacherous for others. They are not a rarity, but are quite common in organisations. Their presence is hard to ignore and even harder to dodge. As one works hard to climb the corporate ladder, bad bosses can prove to be stumbling blocks to an otherwise smooth rise.
What can one do to establish a cordial working equation with a bad boss? While the victims of a bad boss know that they are working under one, they still fail to understand his/her behavioural nuances. They do not analyse the psychological make up of their boss and end up being victimised. If the subordinates of a bad boss want to stay in the job, they have to be smart enough to understand the mental makeup of their boss, since without a clear understanding of the reasons behind the boss's tantrums the victimised subordinates could get unduly stressed.
Bad vs. bully To begin with, it is important that victims understand that a 'bad boss' is different from a 'bully boss'. Bad bosses are not bullies. They are simply bad and gravely annoying. They tend to attack a person's self-esteem and pride in subtle ways, thereby alienating him from the team. They also tend to play favourites and always create unhealthy competition between team members. They do not aim to build cohesive and productive teams, but focus on preserving their command and control over teams, irrespective of the means. They also tend to get vindictive and personal with their subordinates, and take criticism as an assault on their credibility as a person. There are more such attributes of a bad boss. An understanding of these will help workers stay wary of them. It also enables bosses to introspect and assess for themselves their credibility as a boss.
There is no consensus on the attributes that define a bad boss. Every person will have different definitions of good and bad, and therefore it is difficult to pin point the characteristics of a bad boss. However, there has been extensive study on the subject which shows that while there may be differences in the fine print the larger picture looks the same. The common attributes of a bad boss brought out by these studies are:
- Bad bosses typically love ego massaging. They like people who are always in agreement with them and can get extremely cranky if subjected to criticism even if it is constructive.
- Bad bosses use ineffective means of communication. They tend to give deadlines in a very casual way and at times fail to follow up themselves. This may prove to be detrimental to the subordinates' work output.
- Bad bosses tend to go overboard with their criticism and punishment for people they do not like. They do not consider the option of soft and positive talking, and instead become unnecessarily aggressive to prove their point. Use of disproportionate disciplinary measures is common among bad bosses.
- Bad bosses do not give subordinates an opportunity to explain their point, and issue verdicts based solely on their perception.
- Bad bosses do not miss an opportunity to blame subordinates, while recognising contribution only after a lot of effort by the staff.
Bad behaviour of the boss can be very demoralising for subordinates and can take its toll on both their professional and emotional stability. Apart from changing jobs, the only other way to handle bad bosses is to understand the reasons behind such behaviour and work towards making adjustments to accommodate the negative elements.
Corporate psychologists recommend the following approaches to tackle a bad boss:
- Communicate: Subordinates should talk to the boss about the way they feel when subjected to bad behaviour. They also should communicate their intentions in order to clear the bad air between them.
- Choose a mentor: Subordinates should choose a mentor for themselves who can help them with their problems and show the 'right way' of doing things. The mentor should be neutral and in the good books of the boss.
- Apprise the HR team: Subordinates should apprise the HR team about their relations with the boss if the problems get serious.
- In case there is a credibility problem and the HR team and the boss's boss do not trust the subordinate, then the victimised subordinate must gather support from other victimised colleagues and present a united front.
- Seek transfer: In the worst case scenario, internal transfer must be sought by the subordinate.
The aforementioned approaches can help workers tackle their difficult bosses better. However, the onus of establishing a working professional relationship, irrespective of the differences, lies both with the boss and the subordinate. Unless both show tolerance and settle contentious issues between them the relationship only stands to lose, sabotaging individual as well as departmental performance.