- The most valuable thing we get out of a bad situation can be our ability to change how we look at it.
- Having a poor boss can ultimately inspire great accomplishments.
- When faced with a bad boss, employees can learn what not to do, ask to be reassigned, or leave.
Ah, yes. A terrible, idiot, no good boss. An affliction that has happened—or is currently happening—to almost all of us at some point in our working careers. I have had the great fortune (or misfortune) of having been on both sides of this equation. I have suffered through an idiot boss and have also been an idiot boss myself. Yes, I just committed that to writing because I believe that no one is born a good boss or leader; it has to be learned1 (and perhaps the subject of a future post). But, for now, there are such few resources out there to help you deal with having a bad boss, and from someone who has been on both sides of the coin and learned how to become better, here are three tools that you can use to help navigate your way creatively through this challenge.
And the results may be shocking: It just may be that having a bad boss is one of the best things that has ever happened to you. Let’s dive in and explore:
1. Learn What Not to Do
Having an idiot boss can be one of the most frustrating things you ever have to deal with at work, but it doesn’t have to be that way. You have a choice every day on how you choose to react.2 You have a choice on whether you are frustrated or not by your bad boss. And while it may be so easy to fall into a negativity loop that draws you closer and closer to frustration, worry, and anxiety over your idiot boss, it doesn’t have to be that way.
Sometimes the most valuable thing you can get out of a bad situation is your ability to change the way you look at your situation. Instead of looking at the idiot boss and their bad decision-making, choose to learn from their errors. This is the perfect example of choosing to make lemonade out of lemons. An idiot boss is a treasure chest of potential learning. In this case, the learning is what not to do.
Careers have literally risen and fallen by decision-making, and sometimes deciding what not to do is as important as deciding what to do. For example, if your idiot boss demands people work weekends, take away what you can from it by understanding that time off is precious and important. Because next time you are in a position of authority—we all are in some capacity already—remember how important time off really is. Or if your boss docks pay for some reason, understand that it’s really his or her fault for doing so as any dock in pay ultimately is a result of employees not fully understanding company policy for expenditures. And next time you are in a position of docking pay—say at a restaurant leaving a tip for a server—remember how important full pay really is. At the end of the day, learning what not to do is still learning—add it to your toolkit of experience. Bide your time and move forward because, ultimately, learning what not to do is a useful attribute.
2. Reassign to a Different Department
Chances are that your company is not fully dysfunctional, and you recognize that there are some departments that are doing well—or at least are managed better than others. So, if you are faced with an idiot boss, ask for a reassignment to a different department. Some departments within the same company can operate in a semi-autonomous way allowing for management styles of all types to be present under the same roof.
Asking for a reassignment to a different department or manager just may make perfect sense when faced with a bad boss. Even if you may not be on track to work in that different department in terms of career goals or linear progress, it may be a blessing in disguise when switching to a new and different department that is run in a more benevolent way. You may learn a new part of the business. You may even learn to love it.
Remember, sometimes switching to a different group within the same company can yield amazing results. Like finding that new spark and passion for the job or training for a new position within the company that you have never been exposed to before. Because when you reassign to work under a better leader, you may find renewed prosperity.
3. Quit and Go Somewhere Else
On one hand, some of the best career advancements that can ever happen occur when you quit a job—like getting more pay.1 It’s not only an opportunity to do something new and fresh, it’s a judgment call on your current place of employment. You are literally firing the boss by quitting. And most companies hate when people quit as it costs more time and resources to hire someone new than to just keep staff and continually develop the folks already there!
On the other hand, the road is fraught with peril and people who quit often regret it.2 Where will I find my next job? Who will hire me? What do I do in the meantime to keep the bills paid? The list goes on and on of what can happen while you are looking for a new job after quitting, and it can be stressful and unpredictable.
Quitting is always a tricky situation. Sometimes you win by having a better job and a better boss, but sometimes you don’t. There is always a balance between quitting some job only to find the same (or worse) situation elsewhere. Each decision to quit is a case-by-case basis, and only you can decide whether the benefits outweigh the risk.
Quitting sometimes allows us to go out on our own to start a new business. There have been countless stories of people working somewhere for an idiot boss who learned what not to do and used that to open their own business. This is not for everyone, but it’s a powerful option that shows how sometimes when we use positivity life presents options that may be a blessing in disguise.
Having an idiot boss may seem like the end of the world. But it’s all about how you view it. You can double over and suffer, go to work and be miserable, and treat all with doom and gloom. Or, you can use the experience to learn and grow and even to start a business or see what else is out there to make more money. When we look at having an idiot boss creatively, we are no longer bound by the heavy weight of our situation; we can get creative and make the situation into something incredible that works for us. Having an idiot boss can be the best thing that has ever happened to your professional life; it just takes will and a few creative tools to not only survive under these conditions but, ultimately, thrive.
1. Boerma, Marjan et al. (2017). Point/Counterpoint: Are Outstanding Leaders Born or Made? National Library of Medicine NCBI.
2. Lerner, Jennifer. Li, Ye. Valdesolo, Piercarlo, Kassa, Karim. (2015). Emotion and Decision Making. Annual Review of Psychology.
3. Kochhar, Rakesh, Parker, Kim, Igielnik, Ruth. (2022). Majority of US Workers Changing Jobs are Seeing Real Wage Gains. Pew Research Center.
4. Job Seeker Nation Study. (2018). Jobvite.