Unfortunately, it’s likely that you’ll experience bad bosses throughout your career far more often than you’ll work alongside the incredible ones. In startup environments, people problems abound. Like so many company factors—culture, values, work ethic—poor management starts at the top. So many startup leaders are inexperienced, ego-driven or just simply haven’t been in the workforce long enough to experience and learn from good leaders. And then—poof!—suddenly they have a C-level title and all the responsibilities that come along with it, and they just don’t know how to manage a team.
Here’s the reality: bad bosses are destructive to a company’s culture. They lower morale, create in-fighting among team members, and take away employees’ ability to shine and succeed. The idea of “bad bosses” speaks to a wide-net of behavior: bosses who don’t lead by example, those with unethical values, or who condone disrespectful work environments. But remember, bad bosses can also be those who have a big heart, who are simply clueless about how to lead a team. Perhaps they’re disorganized, lack long-term vision and don’t have the focus and drive to execute. These behaviors impact everyone below them and can stop good work in its tracks.
If you’re lucky enough to have great bosses before you get bad ones, you can spot a bad one quickly, and you may even have the know-how to steer them in the right direction (yes, manage up). If you are straight out of college and you’ve only had poor leaders, you may need a bit more confidence.
Here are the top categories of bad bosses, and our strategies for dealing with them.
The Mico-Manager. Micro-managers ooze distrust, which doesn’t exactly let your confidence fly. They want to be CC’d on every email, they want to be in every meeting, they want to control everything. At the beginning of any new job, perhaps this isn’t such a terrible thing. But it can undermine your success and lower your confidence pretty darn fast. Plus, it creates a system of total inefficiency: if they can’t ever let go of a project, how can things get done? The answer is they don’t.
How to deal: One way is to find your space. Slap on your headphones, aim to work at a coffee shop and attempt to zone them out. Also, form your own relationships with colleagues and partners, through phone conversations, happy hours, coffee breaks, and so on. This is a way for you to build the rapport and create solid working relationships with others, despite your manager’s attempt to always lurk. You can also try calling your manager out on their behavior, once you’re more comfortable doing so, to get to the root of why they feel they need to micro-manage.
The Mess. You work with a messy manager if they have no clue where any project’s at, constantly change expectations and due dates, and can’t commit to any one vision or strategy. Instead, they’re into whatever the shiny project of the week is. Working for Mess Managers means there’s a lot of passion, a lot of enthusiasm—but a shit show when it comes to execution and organization. It may be exciting at first, fun even, but it quickly leads to low morale and frustration.
How to deal: Be the organizer they’re missing, manage up and hold ‘em accountable. For example, if they changed a due date on you, let them know. Track everything in email so you have a written record of what’s been agreed to. This also goes for phone conversations: capture notes to create a record of what you agreed to and mutual expectations. Proactively report project status to them, learn to love spreadsheets and strive to get in front of the chaos. A best-case scenario is that the manager appreciates your attempts to organize and lets you run with it!
The Mean Boss. The Mean Boss is….well, mean. They put you down, they’re sarcastic (in a nasty way), and they sort of love the idea of giving you a kick versus lifting you up. They may or may not do this in front of others.
How to deal: Mean Bosses are insecure. You have to deal with them right away or they’ll just keep at it. Call them out on it in the moment if you dare (“Wow, why did you feel the need to say that to me?”) and don’t be afraid to go to upper management or HR. The real solution, however: get out. Get the F out. They’re never going to completely change, so spiff up that res.
Of course, there’s a lot of bad bosses out there. “Bad boss” is a vague term. Hopefully, you can learn from these managers about how to not act—and strive to be the type of leader that lifts others up, inspires others and creates a workplace culture built on respect and empathy.