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Superiority Complex

"Bad Bosses and How to Tame Them"


by Mary K. Fons

    Chances are, if you’ve had a job, you’ve had a boss.  Maybe you’ve been lucky and have worked only for nurturing and supportive individuals who garner respect from every employee in the office. 
    But it’s more likely that you’re an employee who, at one point or another, has found yourself struggling in a work relationship that more closely resembles Mary Tyler Moore and Ed Asner’s—on a good day. Since bosses are only human, a “perfect” boss is as impossible to imagine as a “perfect” person. So what makes a boss truly bad? And just how can an employee make the best of a bad boss situation?

     Joel A. Freeman, Ph.D., is CEO of The Freeman Institute, an organization whose mission it is to help individuals and groups in “Dealing With People Who Drive You Crazy!”  Freeman says that dealing with a "bad" boss may initially sponsor a reality check of our internal perception filters, which can be healthy way to determine whether or not our view of his/her behavior is genuine

    “Lack of listening is probably the most common undesirable characteristic,” he says.  “This is followed by favoritism, unethical behavior, rudeness, lack of positive or developmental feedback for employees and no real desire for personal growth.”  Freeman says there are various types of “bad” bosses and their weaknesses usually come from attributes gone wrong. “We all have strengths,” says Freeman, “but any strength overused can become a vulnerability.  Sometimes the boss is a task-oriented person, a generally very productive manager of time, resources and people.”  He notes that these kinds of people are sometimes difficult to work with because “their attention spans are about 20 seconds, tops.”

    Once certain faults are identified, however, dwelling on them and feeling resentful is not the point.  The next step, if you want to be proactive in achieving a better relationship with your boss is to attempt to understand the reasons behind the behavior.

    Gerry Groe received his Ph.D. in organizational psychology from Columbia and was Vice President of International Human Resources for American Express for many years.  Groe has recently written, “Was Your Boss Raised By Wolves?” (Career Press) to try and help people understand and effectively deal with bosses who seem to act more like wild animals than human beings.

    “You have to know your boss,” says Groe.  “Are they fresh out of college or a battle scarred veteran? Are they from a farm in Kansas or did they go to prep school in Connecticut? Try and understand their roots and how they got their current position.”  Groe says seeking out the background information will tell you how your boss views their job—and yours.  “Figure out what their ambitions are.” According to Groe, once you explore these criteria, you can see more clearly why your boss may be a “hot shot who wants to look good” or why he or she might actually make an excellent mentor for you, if you can learn how to more positively communicate. 



     “You have to know your job, too” Groe says.  “Bosses tell employees what their expectations are, in the beginning.  The employee does what they think the boss wants, but oftentimes [their priorities] are wildly different in rank and order. People often don’t know what’s expected of them.”  You have to help your boss by ‘managing up.’”  Groe suggests asking your boss to coffee and discuss your goals with him or her.  “Get it straight between the two of you,” he says, adding that a friendly invitation to coffee is rarely turned down.

David Garry currently lives in Manhattan and worked for several years at a non-profit organization in Chicago and remembers all too well his negative experience. “My boss was four generations removed from me,” says Garry.  “It made it extremely difficult to communicate with him and when I did get my point across I was generally met with accusations.”  Garry says he battled the frustration by heaping on professionalism, but that it limited his progress—and the company’s progress, as well.  “I tried to use only the business speak appropriate to the job I was in, but it made it difficult to be forward thinking or improve on an antiquated process.”

Garry says he tried to make the best of a bad situation and admits he learned a lot from the experience, but Freeman and Groe suggest several trouble-shooting strategies that can make those lessons a little easier to swallow.  “Most bosses don’t know how to manage,” says Groe.  “They’ve received training in marketing, technology and finance, but haven’t had a ‘booster shot’ in management for years.”  Groe says a “bad” boss often just plain doesn’t know how to be good.  “So be proactive.  The more aggressive your boss is, the better this method works—they’ll end up seeing you as a candidate for higher up positions because of your level of competence and understanding.” 

Freeman adds that sometimes, you do need outside help—or another job altogether.  “If one is terrified of his or her boss, then it would be important to go to a trusted person in HR to share concerns.”  Freeman notes the importance of writing down what’s going on, for your own clarity and for legal reasons.  “Thinking that your boss is bad and having documented evidence of a bad boss are two different things.  If the problem is more systemic, it’s probably better to seek our another job.”


--Mary K. Fons, JobWeek – December 12, 2005


I would like to see RETURN TO GLORY as a film.

Seminar Program: "The Powerful Stirring of the Black Man"


"Dealing  With  People  Who  Drive  You  Crazy!"®
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