Global Resilience Solutions > Category:workplace

Dealing with Your Impossible Boss – Strategy

Why Stick Your Neck Out?

First, because you need to preserve your own resilience and sanity, and second, because of your moral obligation to the people around you. 

If you’re stuck with a boss who’s making your life miserable, chances are he’s making at least some other people feel that way too.  Typically, the results are increased illness and absenteeism, declining productivity, and greater staff turnover, to name just a few.

Unfortunately, incompetent and / or self-serving leadership is something we’ve been trained to accept at all levels in our society.  If you want to change this, then start where you are and make it perfectly clear that you’ll accept nothing but competent, inspired and, above all, honest leaders. 

The following strategy will work for nearly any scenario, whether the boss is a cynical manipulator, a mentally ill person (such as the narcissist we discussed last time) or just plain incompetent.  The reason for focusing on the narcissist last time is that these people head for positions of authority faster than fleas head for s_ _ t.  That’s because they have a driving emotional need to be the center of attention, praise and admiration.  The corridors of power are full of them.

The Strategy for Resilience in the Face of Poor Leadership:

Look at the big picture.  You have decide whether to a) endure the situation or b) eliminate your boss.  Enduring is a good strategy if the person will be moving on before long and you can put up with it until then.  “Eliminating” means getting the boss removed.  Yes, in most cases that means he’ll become someone else’s problem, but there’s nothing you can do about that.

The “Endure” Checklist:

1. Make the boss look good and provide ego support.  Yes, it goes against the grain, but it will make your life easier.  If your boss is a narcissist, this a an absolute prerequisite.  The narcissist whose ego you don’t stroke will see you as an enemy or at least as irrelevant.  Always remember, you may need your boss to sign your leave form, approve funds for the conference you want to attend or something else.  So don’t burn your bridges just yet.

2. Be a good listener.  The more you listen, the more the boss will consider you useful.  Also, this will enable you to gather more information, should you ever have to switch to the “Elimination” strategy.

3. Maintain your boundaries.  Narcissists and some other personality types will readily invade your personal space and your free time.  Don’t let them.  Be firm.  Enduring does not mean putting up with just anything.  Likewise, don’t tolerate verbal abuse of yourself or others.  Many of these personality types have bullying characteristics and all bullies are intimidated by people who stand up to them.  If your annoying boss is rational, he may respect your for taking a stand.  Remember that narcissists and the like can never respect you, but the can FEAR you, and that’s very useful.

4. Build your support network.  Find others you trust who see the boss for what he is.  Keep your communications with these people open.  This group will provide emotional support for you, as well as preparing the groundwork in case you need to move to the Elimination strategy.

The “Eliminate” Checklist:

Make sure you’ve already put in place all elements of the “Endure” Checklist first.

1. Using the support network you’ve built, make sure everyone starts to document immediately and then create some method of pulling together everyone’s documentation.  Document all your interactions with the boss, complete with date, time and who said what.  Documentation is king and without it you’ll get nowhere.  

Likely you’ll find people haven’t started to do that.  Explain the importance so that people will go back and start putting their documentation in order.  Document the results of your boss’s mismanagement too. 

2. Based on the documentation and checklists like the one in the previous post describing a boss with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (and others for the psychopath, the sociopath, Anti-social Personality Disorder and other conditions) come to a best guess on where your boss may fit in.  Remember, he may be simply incompetent or someone who does bad things just because he can.  

3. If you have a strong feeling you may be dealing with someone who’s not rational, such as a narcissist, make a clean copy of your documentation and remove his name.  Then take the facts to a reputable psychologist who would be willing to read it.  If the psychologist says you’re probably correct, great.  Even better if he or she is willing to write a letter to that effect.

4. Bring others into the discussion.  These could include your boss’s boss, your union, your organization’s employee assistance program, the HR folks or others.  Essentially, you’re surrounding your boss totally. 

5. Assess your next step.  The essential question here is where do you take your information to get your boss fired or otherwise removed?  Do you go to the CEO, the Board of Directors, the media, the internet?  This depends on your specific situation.  


If you follow these steps, you’ll keep yourself sane, healthy and resilient no matter how bad the situation is.  Do not allow yourself to be abused and manipulated by these people – life is too short.  Take responsibility for your own resilience and you’ll never regret it.  

~ Dr. Symeon Rodger

Dealing withYour Impossible Boss

Over the last few posts, we’ve talked about some of the traits of an excellent leader, including personal honor / integrity, a strong sense of duty – which entails a desire to serve – and “fanatical” loyalty to the people he or she works with.

Unfortunately, as you’ve probably noticed, true leaders are very few and far between.  In fact, chances are that your current boss falls far short of that.  Worse still, there’s a good chance you’re working for someone who’s making your life miserable.  And if you’ve spent just ten years in the work force, it’s almost impossible that you’ve never worked for such a person.

Part of building your personal resilience is learning how to handle these people decisively and effectively.  The alternative is wasting a lot of emotional energy, staying miserable and having little to show for it in the end, except maybe lots of stress and ill health.  

One reason why most people do waste so much emotional energy dealing ineffectively with a bad boss is they make one critical false assumption.  They assume the boss is fundamentally a rational, sane person who is choosing to do bad things, either through inexperience or through “malice aforethought”.  And yes, that’s sometimes true.  There are lots of bad bosses who know the difference between right and wrong and consciously choose the latter.

In a large percentage of cases, though, that’s just not the case.  Instead, you’re often dealing with someone who’s clinically ill with Narcissistic Personality Disorder, Anti-social Personality Disorder or something similar.  How can you spot the difference?

Let’s focus on Narcissism for the moment.  Your boss may very well be a narcissist if:

  • He (I’ll use the male pronoun here, although there are lots of female narcissists in positions of power) is charming and has considerable acting skills
  • He’s arrogant and abusive when he thinks he can get away with it
  • He’s got an inflated self-image 
  • In his eyes, your company is really all about him, not about the official mission statement
  • He’s really good at manipulating people emotionally
  • If at any time he has taken credit for YOUR work, you know how it feels!
  • He has zero EMPATHY with others and isn’t emotionally capable of anything except feigned empathy and emotional intimacy
  • He’s a control freak and a micro-manager
  • He requires a lot of ego stroking
  • He surrounds himself with “yes-men”
  • He constantly invades your personal space and free time, since he has no sense of personal boundaries (you are, after all, just an extension of him, a tool)

Sound like anyone you’ve worked for?  If not, count yourself lucky!

Think of fictional characters like Cruella Deville, Anna on the series “V”, or Ben from “Lost” and you’ll get the general idea.  Just keep in mind that not all narcissists are outwardly cruel or abusive.  Worst of all, narcissists are such excellent actors and manipulators that they’re really hard to spot.

In one organization I worked for, there was one ladder-climbing manager who was demonstrably incompetent, thoroughly disliked and whose decisions were just short of ruinous to the overall mission… yet he ended up in the number 2 position!  That’s how good these people are at acting and how poorly equipped most people are to recognize and combat them.

Some among them are so adept at making others feel good that few suspect their real agenda.  And those few have a really hard time making themselves heard.  After all, how can something that feels so good be SO wrong?  

Next time, I’ll share with you some concrete strategies for maintaining your personal resilience in the face of ANY kind of bad boss, including the narcissist.  

~ Dr. Symeon Rodger