The Six Steps to Dealing With a Bad Boss

By Brett Fox

“Common sense is not very common,” said the Michelin Man.

You’d ask the Michelin Man a question and he would just sit there for minutes with a blank stare on his face. His arms were folded about two feet away from his body. It made him look like the Michelin Man.



The problem was the Michelin Man had ZERO common sense.

I’ll give you a quick example. The Michelin Man believed in the old, “build it and they will come” school of business. No marketing, product collateral or sales necessary: somehow customers would find the product and just buy it.

The problem was the customers didn’t seem to believe the Michelin Man’s business philosophy: Sales suffered big time.

How the Michelin Man was elevated into his position to this day is still somewhat of a head scratcher.

We’ve all worked with our version of the Michelin Man haven’t we?

I wrote previously about the difficulty finding good mentors. I received a number of emails confirming that most of the bosses people have had were mediocre or poor.

Related post: The Ten Advantages of Working With Mentors

The questions were around, “What do I do if I have a bad boss?”

So what is an employee to do?

Step 1. Determine is really the boss or is it me? I read a book years ago called Crucial Conversations. That book changed my life because I realized that I was not the great communicator I thought I was.

And, like most of us, I blamed others for my problems. The authors posed a challenge for readers right at the beginning of the book: “Work on yourself first, then work on others second.” That one statement changed my life forever. I said to myself, “I know I can improve, so I will work on myself first.”

It was so freeing not to have to worry about the other person anymore. I could just concentrate on myself and how I can improve.

Start there. Think about how you can do a better job. How can you do more things to help the company succeed?

Challenge yourself to come up with at least 10 ideas of how you can help.

Be proactive. Then go to your boss with your ideas. You will stand out by being proactive because most people just wait for opportunities. Ask your boss what you can do to help. Ask your boss if you can work on specific projects to relieve her burden. I love it when employees offer to help.

Then just keep doing more and more. You have the chance to make yourself indispensable. There is no downside to working this way:

  • Best case is your boss realizes you are crucial to the company’s success and you get increased responsibility, a promotion, and a raise.
  • Medium case is your boss changes a little bit and you pick up some new skills that will help you at your next position.
  • Worst case is your boss stops you in your tracks and you are back where you started. Don’t get lazy: recognize that it is time to move on!

Here are 10 things we tell ourselves when we are in a bad position:

  1. It will get better. It’s not likely.
  2. The CEO likes me, so I am safe. Don’t bet on it. The CEO’s loyalty is usually to his direct report, not you.
  3. It is getting better. Is it really, or are you just kidding yourself?
  4. Be patient and wait for the bad boss to leave. You may have to wait a long, long time.
  5. I’m going to do an end run around my boss to her boss or to the CEO. You can do this, but be prepared for the consequences. No boss likes this and most CEOs don’t like this either.
  6. I’ll discredit my boss. Oh really? See #5.
  7. I won’t talk to my boss – stay far away. Ah, the absence makes the heart grow fonder strategy. This never works.
  8. I will get real close to my boss – the Godfather School of Business strategy. Good. Now you’re thinking. The Michael Corleone strategy of keep your friends close and your enemies closer can work.
  9. I will make my boss look good. Another good idea. Everyone likes looking good, even bad bosses.
  10. I will do everything my boss wants. This is another good survival tactic, and by the way its what you’re supposed to do!


Step 2. I have to leave. Now what? You need to determine should you quit or look for a job while you are still employed?

Your financial situation, the situation at work, and your risk tolerance are going to determine your answer.

You may not have the financial ability just to quit. A really abusive situation may force you to quit no matter what your situation. You may want to stick around a bit longer because you have a large bonus or stock options. These are things to consider and you are the only one that can determine what the right move is.

Remember, you usually have more leverage when you are employed. It is a lot easier to say no to a mediocre offer when you have a paycheck.

Step 3. Finding the “next thing”. Spend some quality time thinking about exactly what you want to do and where you want to end up in your career:

  • Do I want to work for myself?
  • Do I want to start a company?
  • Do I want to change careers?
  • Do I like the company I am at, so I want to transfer?
  • Do I want increased responsibility?
  • Do I want to become a manager?
  • Do I want to become an individual contributor because I hate managing?

Determine NOW what you want. Write it down and be honest with yourself.

Related Post: The Four Keys to Hiring Exceptional People

Step 4. Go out and get it.   It sounds so simple that it can’t be true, but it is. Just go and determine the steps you need to take to get what you want:

  • Make a list of the companies you want to work for. Try and get the list to at least 100 companies because the numbers start working for you when you get to 100 companies.
    • Research the companies and determine how you can help them
    • Come up with at least 10 ideas of how the company can improve and/or how you can help them
  • Make a list of the people at these companies that you know. Meet with them and see if they can help you and if you can help them.
  • Don’t be afraid to introduce yourself to a Vice President or CEO – they have the power to hire

Step 5. Nail the interview. You’ve done your homework, so you are in good shape. You have at least 10 ideas of how the company can improve and/or how you can help them. Now:

  • Get to the interview at least 15 minutes early. First impressions matter, so don’t be late.   And…
  • Dress appropriately. Look at the dress code of the company. Wear a suit if everyone wears suits. But don’t wear a suit if the culture is jeans and a tee shirt. You will not look right and you will not get the job.
  • Turn your cellphone off! True story – I was interviewing someone for VP Operations and he kept answering his cellphone during the interview. Not once, not twice, but several times! Maybe he thought he was impressing me? He wasn’t.
  • Ask lots of questions, hopefully good questions. Remember, you are interviewing the company as well. This is your chance to learn how the company operates and learn about your new boss, and you may not like what you hear. This is the courtship phase, so everyone is on their best behavior. Take note of any red flags.
  • Be honest. Say “I don’t know” if you don’t know the answer to a question. It sounds scary but honesty scores points.

Step 6: Ask for the order. You prepared well and you nailed the interview. Now you have to ask for the job. Here’s the way I like to do it:

Ask, “Do you have any concerns about my candidacy for the position?”

Let’s say the answer is “No.” You answer, “That’s great. When can I expect the job offer?” You’ll find out pretty fast whether you’re really getting an offer or not.

Let’s say the answer is “Yes, I have concerns.” Hopefully the interviewer tells you what the concerns are. Ask the interviewer what the concerns are if he or she doesn’t volunteer. Now you have the ability to answer the concerns right on the spot.

BTW, this is a great interview question to ask prospective employees. This gives you an idea of what they are concerned about.

Wasn’t it uncomfortable when the Michelin Man sat there for minutes before answering your question?

Not at all. I would think about where Blossom and I were going to go on vacation and how much fun we were going to have. I took some great vacations across from the Michelin Man.

I even ate at some Michelin star restaurants.

How appropriate.

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Picture: Depositphotos