How to Succeed at Work Despite Your Lousy Boss


In an ideal world, your boss would be a great leader, a teacher, a mentor, and someone to be admired and celebrated. As we all know, it's not an ideal world. Sometimes, the boss is so bad, you dread going to work and spend hours looking for a new career. However, there is hope. You can turn the situation to your advantage, and help you "manage" when the boss is a lost cause. (See also: How to Survive (and Thrive!) in a Job You Hate)

Get to know everything about them

What motivates them? What makes them happy, in and out of work? What about career goals, or people who inspire them? What do they like to do on weekends? Do they have a hobby? The more you know, the better.

When you are armed with this kind of information, you can use it to swing things in your favor. This does not mean sucking up, or blackmail. This is a way to figure out why they make certain decisions, and in turn, gives you the chance to steer them in a direction more favorable to you. For instance, if the boss is micromanaging you, find out if they are worried about their own performance review. They may fear you cannot do the job the way they want it done. If you can prove to them that this fear is unnecessary, they will focus on someone else.

Do not play their game

A really lousy boss will play head games with you. They'll ask you to work late when they know you've got tickets to the concert. They'll put you on a project with someone they know rubs you the wrong way. They'll ask for two hours of work to be done in one hour. You know — a really nasty piece of work. (See also: The 9 Types of Horrible Bosses — And How to Manage Them)

Despite this, don't let them see that it bothers you. Like any bully, they get their kicks from your reaction. If you brush it off, smile, and happily do everything they request; it will eat them up inside. They'll end up doing something that reflects badly on them, or they'll focus their energy on someone who gives them the response they want.

Keep meticulous records

We live in a world of emails and text messages. If you're having trouble with a boss, start tracking everything. From every email exchange to every closed-door conversation, use technology to build a case against the boss's behavior. Take detailed notes in meetings, and send a copy of those notes to your boss to ensure that you understood everything that was required of you. Get approvals in writing. The more evidence you have, the less chance you will be a scapegoat for anything. Even if the boss is just inept, you can use this technique to keep them on task. (See also: 10 Warning Signs Your New Boss May Be a Bad Boss)

Take the initiative

A lousy boss will often keep you out of the loop, and may even try to marginalize your position. This approach keeps their employees uninformed, and as we all know, knowledge is power.

Don't settle for this. Do everything you can to find out what you can through other channels. Speak to colleagues in other departments about projects they're working on. Get friendly with people in HR, or upper management. Make yourself available for jobs that the boss has "forgot" to mention in staff meetings. But of course, be polite and respectful to the boss, and make sure he or she knows you have only the best interests of the company at heart.

Give them the impression it was their idea

If you're having trouble getting your initiatives greenlit, you could have a boss who doesn't like employees taking their spotlight. In this situation, you should take a page out of the advertising agency book.

Ad agencies often deal with clients who balk at original and bold ideas, so they plant seeds in meetings called "tissue sessions." Here, the agency works side-by-side with the client to produce an idea, steering the client all the way. The client believes they have helped to birth this idea, and it is blessed with little or no changes. Do likewise. Plant seeds. Make the boss think your great idea is something they were planning to do all along. The people that matter will know who is really responsible for it, and you'll get to do what you want.

Make them look good

At the end of the day, most bosses just want to be successful. They rarely care how that happens, and if you can help in that quest, you'll come out smelling of roses. Ask them how you can help them in their day-to-day duties. Do they have something big in the works that you can assist with? Are they having problems with certain employees, and if so, what can you do to help them smooth things over?

Become their most trusted and effective member of staff; the indispensable "right hand man." They'll start to rely on you more, and you may even help them get promoted. When that happens, you'll be next in line. (See also: 15 Ways to Suck Up at Work That Won't Make You Feel Slimy)

Learn their triggers

Every boss is different, and as such, your approach to every boss needs to adapt. Some bosses like to be challenged; others will find it offensive and believe it is insubordinate. Some bosses love employees to take the initiative; others will insist on having everything passed by them first. So, learn these triggers, and find ways to work around them. The less you hit their pain points, the better life will be for you. If nothing else changes, the fact that you are no longer ticking them off will make a huge difference in your daily work life. (See also: 7 Signs You're Working for an Impossible Boss)

Have a genuine heart-to-heart

Sometimes, a lousy boss has absolutely no idea they're causing you grief. They really do believe they're doing a great job, and everyone loves them (think Michael Scott from "The Office").

In this instance, you can make life a whole lot easier by clearing the air, and talking about the issues you're having. Now, no one likes to be told they're not performing well, so phrase things delicately. Have solutions at hand for problems you are about to explain. Let them know what their strengths are before pointing out areas of concern. A boss is still a person, and if you charge into their office with your rage level at 11, you'll put them on the defensive.

Disclaimer: The links and mentions on this site may be affiliate links. But they do not affect the actual opinions and recommendations of the authors.

Wise Bread is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to