Bad bosses: how to deal with your terrible manager

What makes a bad boss, how do you deal with one and how do you avoid turning into one?

Peter Iantorno October 26, 2015

There’s an old saying in business: “People do not leave companies; they leave bosses.”

While, of course, there are other reasons for a person wanting to leave a company (advancement, salary etc.), having to deal with a ‘bad boss’ is often a major deal-breaker.

But do bad bosses really exist, or is it just a case of a personality clash between manager and employee? And if they do exist, what is the best way to deal with them without adversely affecting your career? We took to questions and answers site Quora to find out.

The best place to start in order to find out if bad bosses really do exist is to first define exactly what constitutes one. SEO specialist Ashwin Ramesh believes there are a number of qualities that make a bad boss. A bad manager “doesn’t understand his team members’ capabilities, strengths and weaknesses,” he says.

According to Ramesh, a bad boss is also “too embroiled in satisfying his own personal ego to listen to subordinates,” and “doesn’t believe in hiring smart team members”. In addition to the above, there's one trait that is a surefire sign of a bad manager: “If you have a boss who shouts, he sucks,” Ramesh says. “Shouting accomplishes nothing and all you’re doing is making someone feel very bad.”

Learning bad habits

So we know the characteristics of a bad boss, but surely nobody is bad on purpose – and that begs the question, how does someone become a bad boss? Sixty-six-year-old Jim Gordon, who has experienced more than his fair share of bad bosses over the years, puts it down to nurture rather than nature.

“Many of them learn to be bad bosses by working for bad bosses. If your boss succeeded and prospered by being an ass, you’ll see that behaviour as functional and worth emulating,” he reasons.

Another theory is that some people struggle to deal with extra responsibility of managing other people. "Most people can't handle power," says Illinois-based Robert Neville. "Some people can't handle even the tiniest fraction of power. It turns them into jerks."

So, we’ve established that bad bosses definitely exist, and even why they might exist, but the most important question (especially for anybody who has to work under one) is, what can you do about it?

According to marketer Jeff Schaffzin, anyone forced to work under a bad boss has three choices: “Suck it up and accept it; quit; or stand up to your boss and accept the ramifications.”

None of these three options are without their downsides, adds Schaffzin, as while accepting a bad boss will leave you unhappy, quitting or standing up to your boss could harm your career.

Mobile app developer Prashant Singh has a rather simplistic approach to dealing with a terrible boss. “The best way to deal with them is to define a line which you will not let them cross,” he says. “If they cross that line, then quit. There is more to life than a job.”

Another option for dealing with a bad boss is to tackle the issue head on and attempt to depose the bad manager. However, Stephanie Vardavas, CEO of travel gear website, has a word of warning: “Bad bosses don’t get fired if they are good at ‘managing up’” she says. “If they convince their own managers that they are competent, they are quite safe.”

While a bad boss who is good at fooling upper management can be almost impossible to deal with, Iqbal Ashraf, founder of business consultancy Mentors Guild, has some words of comfort for anyone in that difficult position.

“Having a bad boss is one of the most crucial development experiences for a future leader,” he says. It teaches you “the value of introspection and empathy” and, most importantly, “what not to do as a leader”.

So, even if you are lumbered with a nightmare of a boss, the things you learn while dealing with them can enhance your own skillset and, crucially, show you what not to do when the tables are eventually turned in you are the one in the fancy corner office.

Quora respondents are required to use their real names and job titles. The site asks some individuals, such as doctors and lawyers, to prove their expertise.