What to Do If Your Boss Is a Jerk

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In the past few weeks I’ve been approached or contacted by various people with a really tough question: What do you do if your boss isn’t an A player?  Or if you have more ability or leadership skill than your boss?  What if your boss is just an old fashioned jerk?  It happens, believe me I understand.

It’s a big problem, because jerk bosses lose good people, (good bosses lose jerk people btw) shut down meaningful communication, and mentor their existing people into replicating their bad habits.

They may be micromanagers, or bullies, or indecisive, dishonest, or credit grabbers or… there are lots of ways to be a bad leader.

And you’re stuck reporting to this person.  And it kind of makes your otherwise good life suck.

So, here are some strategies you might want to try, in no particular order.

  1. Try to make your boss shine.  Do your level best to do a great job and make the boss look good.  It’s hard not to appreciate someone who does this.  You may win your boss over with this strategy and earn the right to speak more candidly about your concerns.
  2. Stay professional.  Bite your tongue.  Don’t say things you’ll regret.  Keep your nose in your own business.  Never sink to someone else’s level.  When they go low, you go high.
  3. Avoid your boss as much as you can.  There are ways to limit your interactions, and you may want to consider using them more effectively.
  4. Talk to your bad boss about your feelings.  Rate how important the issue is to you out of 10.  Ask if they would be interested in a suggestion about how they could be a more effective leader.  This is dicey, but is better than suffering in silence.
  5. If that doesn’t work, go above their head and bring your concerns to the next level of management.  Only do this if you’ve tried your best to address it face-to-face first.  No one appreciates an end run.  How would you want this dealt with if you were the bad boss?
  6. If that doesn’t work, consider working somewhere else.  But think hard about it.  Every place has its craziness.  Will somewhere else really be better?
  7. Look hard at yourself. If you’ve worked for more than one jerk, maybe it’s not them.  Maybe it’s you.  Maybe you’re giving dirt out and they’re throwing it back at you in frustration.   A little self-awareness goes a long way.

We’ve all worked for a jerk boss at some point.  One of my old bosses was both my mentor and my tormentor.  And I’m thankful (in retrospect) that he was put in my life.  I learned a lot from him, about how to act, and about how not to act.  And I’m thankful that he isn’t anymore!

“Intelligent people learn from everything and everyone; average people from their experiences, The stupid already have all the answers.”


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Written by Trevor Throness
Trevor is a veteran coach, keynote speaker, and the author of the book “The Power of People Skills” released by Career Press NY in 2017. He’s also written for or been featured in places like Forbes, Inc, The NY Post, The Globe and Mail, Entrepreneur, CEO Magazine, and numerous podcasts and interviews.


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