How to deal with a bad boss


Here’s what a bad boss is: Someone who lies, cheats, steals, or touches you after you’ve told him, in writing, not to. If you have one of these bosses, quit complaining and start applying for other jobs.

All other bosses aren’t truly bad — you’re just bad at managing them.

A Boss-Management Decalogue

One of the most important parts of being competent at work is managing up: Making sure you give your boss what he or she needs, and then getting what you need in return. That’s no one’s responsibility but your own.

Here are 10 ways to manage your boss:

1. Understand the person you’re dealing with.

Is she detail-oriented? Give her detailed reports. Is she a big-picture thinker? Tell her your big ideas. Does he like voicemail? Then leave some, even if you hate using it.

Understand her personality strengths and weaknesses, because this is usually the path toward forging a relationship. If you know her weaknesses, you can have empathy for her shortcomings instead of impatience. And whatever you feel will show, so figure out how to feel compassion for your boss, or you’ll get nowhere with her.

2. Ask for your quarterly goals, in writing.

If you don’t have goals, how can you even know what your job is? And if you don’t know what your job is, you can be sure you won’t make your boss happy.

If your boss does not know your goals either, write your own. Create a fun job for yourself that will be an integral part of the company’s strategy. If your boss doesn’t like the goals you create, she’ll suddenly be able to come up with them herself.

3. Know your boss’s biggest worries, and help him address them.

Why are you working on projects your boss doesn’t care about? Your job is to make your boss love you so he helps you get the skills you need to grow in your career.

If you have stuff on your plate that doesn’t matter, do it fast, and don’t worry about being judged on the quality of this work because your boss doesn’t care. Focus on the stuff that matters to your boss, because that’s what will make your boss love you.

4. Look at your boss’s weaknesses as opportunities.

If your boss is great at project management, then surely she doesn’t need you to do that. Be great at the stuff your boss is terrible at — like people management, maybe — and help your boss rally her troops. If she’s great at sales but hates the detailed reporting, get great at the reporting and offer to do all the stuff she hates to do.

If your boss is terrible at managing meetings, instead of complaining about it, volunteer to do the brunt of the organizing for him. He’ll appreciate that way more than you helping with stuff he doesn’t worry about.

5. Focus on your own needs by focusing on your boss’s needs.

You and your boss are a team. You make your boss look great in the organization and in the world, and your boss will help you grow and meet your own goals.

To do this, you need to focus more on helping your boss and less on doing work you love. The first act begets the second: A boss who feels indebted to you will give you what you want.

6. See the good in people.

Don’t tell me your boss doesn’t care about you, or that he’s only concerned with the bottom line. It’s not humanly possible for your boss to not care about you if you understand him, are there for him, support him, and genuinely care.

You have to be authentic with your boss to develop a real relationship. Figure out how to care about him deeply — as a person whom you can help. If you can’t do this for your boss, how can you expect it from him?

7. Get a list of your boss’s priorities.

When you have too much work, this allows you to tell your boss that you can’t do x, y, and z because they’re not high enough priorities to him. In other words, you can say, “I could do x, but you said a, b, and c are very important to you, and I don’t want to compromise those.”

This is a great way of saying “no” to work in a way that makes your boss feel very respected, understood, and taken care of.

8. Prioritize your own work in terms of what matters to your boss.

Fit your high-priority items into a reasonable schedule, and don’t do low-priority items until the important stuff is done. This allows you to always deliver on what matters to your boss.

Keeping your boss happy means being a high performer. People don’t care if you perform well on stuff that doesn’t matter to them, so don’t.

9. Give weekly updates.

It doesn’t matter if your boss asks for them or not. This is a team report, for you and your boss; you’re the team, working on your boss’s priorities.

This is when you tell your boss how much you’ve accomplished that will help her. Tell her things you see that might be roadblocks for her, and how you can help her fix them in the next week. Also tell her what you’re planning to do that’s extremely important to her so she’s sure not to ask you to do unimportant work over the next week.

10. Don’t get stuck on personality types.

We each have preferences for the people we hang out with. But the most successful people can get along with anyone. If you can’t get along with the type of person your boss is, it’s your shortcoming, not his.

Read some psychology books about social monitors, and how we can teach ourselves to authentically connect with anyone by practicing empathy. And then do it. After all, why is it your boss’s job to adjust to you? You’re the one with the problem.

The Choice Is Yours

The bottom line: Take responsibility for yourself. No one forces you to have the job you have. You could leave anytime

If you’re not going to leave, then you’re choosing the boss you have. And since you chose your boss, start making her into a good one. Otherwise, why did you choose her?

48 replies
  1. Madhu Prabhaa
    Madhu Prabhaa says:


    All these are great tips, but how should one deal with a colleague-turned-boss, and when she was a colleague she was clearly inferior to you and has risen only because her boss favored her and the ever changing dynamics of “re orgs” made me now report to her :(

    I know I need to have a “positive attitude” but how? Do I need to “re”understand the person?

    I just hope that my boss is not a dark cloud in otherwise “great” job that I have!


    * * * * * *

    Madhu,Your new boss is not a dark cloud becuase she taught you a really important lesson: That you get what you want by being well-liked by people who can give you what you want. She managed up better than you did. Stop being upset about it and start learning from her. You should manage up well with her so that she teaches you how to be well liked in an organization. You don’t move up for doing good work. You move up for being well liked. It happens that people who do good work are often well liked for it, but not always. And it sounds like you need to think more about how to make the boss like you.


    • sfgsgf
      sfgsgf says:

      This is horseshit advice. Kissing ass is not a good way to “manage up” If your boss gave someone else a promotion and you can’t find a decent reason why then go to them or higher up and ask why you were passed up, why they were promoted and what you can do to do better. America and free markets were built on meritocracy. Not bullshit. Let your superiors you are there to make rank. Not to be overlooked. and then fucking ask for a raise.

    • sfgsgf
      sfgsgf says:

      if your boss promotes someone and you cant find a good reason why go to your boss or higher up and ask why they were promoted, why you were passed up and what you can do to do better. America and free markets everywhere were built on meritocracy. Not horseshit like this. Let your superiors know you are there to make rank. not to be overlooked and jerked around.

  2. Gautam Ghosh
    Gautam Ghosh says:

    Managing your boss is something that is always advised but very difficult to follow :-)

    Mostly because we are so tired after managing clients and subordinates, managing your boss seems quite a chore !

    * * * * * *

    I know what you mean, Gautam. It is a lot of work to manage all three types of people. But the good news is that if you manage your boss well, then managing clients and subordinates is easier.


  3. Recruiting Animal
    Recruiting Animal says:

    “If you know her weaknesses, you can have empathy for her shortcomings instead of impatience.”

    The average worker is not a saint. Ninety percent of the time, the boss’s weaknesses are bound generate dislike and little else. Same goes for “See the good in others”.

    “Don’t hate her too much” would be more appropriate. Or “Nobody’s perfect and you’re not get along with anyone if you let every little thing bother you.”

    Now, the stuff about seeing her weaknesses as opportunities to compensate for them and making yourself indispensable on that account; that makes practical sense.

    * * * * * *


    You do have an appealing bit of realism in your comment. And I know that no one is a saint. But i have found, in all of life, not just at work, that if someone is a jerk, and I respond with kindness, that person usually comes back with kindness toward me. 



  4. Recruiting Animal
    Recruiting Animal says:

    Of course, Penelope, that’s a valid point. But you can save the sermons for Sunday. Jerks (and I’m often one of them myself — as indicated the other day) don’t learn easily and there’s going to a next time and a time after that in which they acted the same time as they did the first. It’s like being an alcoholic. Or a wife-beater who apologizes every time she “makes him angry”.

    As for our ability to meet abuse with kindness, it should be obvious to anyone over eighteen that the high road is usually the one not taken. And not takeable. Many is the time I’ve had to change seats in a coffee shop to get away from irritating jabber about somebody’s ridiculous boss.

    I’m not saying that you should tangle with a cartoon character who’s is foaming at the mouth and has steam rising from her ears. But knowing when to back off from kooks is different from telling anyone to like them. Sorry, I mean empathize, a sorry modern word.

  5. JT
    JT says:

    I have the problem of currently working for a boss that does not give even remotely defined direction. This it not necessarily his fault, he currently reports to an empty box on the org-chart, and gets no direction whatsoever from the person that occupies the box above that one on the org-chart. I can do well when I have even a big picture view of the general direction (I don’t need to be micro-managed by any means), but without even the paper on which a roadmap could be drawn I’m at a loss, as is my boss.

    Also, I see my boss flail on every task assigned him, I watch him off-load half of his work onto a subordinate (who is incompetent in my humble opinion), and I listen to him bumble his way through meetings in which he disseminates misinformation to his reports. All of this makes for a complete lack of professional respect for him. Personally, I think the guy is great, and would have a beer with him any night of the week, but professionally I’m not fond of him.

    I think I am at the point now where I have decided to enable failure to affect positive change. Maybe that’s a jerk move (as with Recruiting Admiral, I am often a jerk, and I definitely take that title more often than I don’t), but it seems to be the only move I have left given the lay of the land.

  6. Dave
    Dave says:

    I think “managing up” is an overused buzzphrase. The points you make are helpful, especially for people who have degenerated into a self-defeating attitude where they see themselves as victims of a bad boss. They need to take a look at things from another perspective and take responsibility for what they can control. But the manager needs to own up to the fact that it’s not an all or nothing situation. It is hard to fire people just as it is hard to quit and nothing is gained by either person who fantasizes about how they wish they could just get rid of the person who doesn’t read their mind and magically do what they want. People need to learn to work together. If the people you manage aren’t good at “managing up,” help them understand what they need to do to meet your expectations!

  7. David
    David says:

    I think what you’re saying is a great idea. Before you criticize your boss, you should definitely get to know that person better. And I think this advice goes well in your blog.

    But you write at Yahoo Finance now, and obviously that demographic is pretty different, with its own set of likes and dislikes. You obviously seem concerned about this, because you say most people have not been rating you high in their comments.

    So say I turn this article around the other way, and offer your own advice? An article like this can be more successful over at Yahoo if you know your audience better. (Like you should know your boss better.)

    From what I know, Yahoo features an older, less tech-savvy, more traditional audience. The moms and pops on the web, that is. They are more likely to be from the baby-boom generation and earlier. They are more likely to value positions of authority, company loyalty, and hierarchical chains-of-command.

    Which probably means they expect their boss to manage them, not the other way around. And maybe they experience a deep sense of betrayal and violation when they have a bad boss that takes advantage of them. So an active approach such as yours might be foreign to them.

    You said in your other posts that you need to focus your message to get it heard. Why not focus it for Yahoo too? :) The reality is that the most common reason someone quits a job is because of their boss (one-third of the time, according to a study I read). This statistic probably increases with age. Therefore, maybe the best thing to tell the Yahoo crowd is to quit, change departments, or report their boss. (Which you suggest only in extreme situations.) Just a thought.

    * * * * * *

    David. Thank you for caring enough to challenge me on how I’m conducting myself at Yahoo. Believe me, this stone has not gone unturned.Just like every job, my job at Yahoo is to make my boss happy. So I’ve spent a lot of time asking people what the goals are for my column. What they expect from me. What success would look like. And in fact, what Yahoo wants is (big surprise) traffic. And right now, my column has some of the highest traffic of all the columnists. So things are going well over there becuase I am meeting my boss’s goals.

    And, you wanna know something? Yahoo spent a lot of time asking me what my goals are. And talking to me about how they can help me meet them. Which is exctly what I think happens in a good worker/boss relationship.


  8. august
    august says:

    Look, I regularly have to do tasks my boss doesn’t consider important. She just runs around putting out fires and has no conception of how to keep things running smoothly. Some of us can actually Avoid crisis.
    This is why you should avoid lists. You think you are catching everything because you are putting 10 points out there, but you miss huge chunks of reality and most of your readers will only remember 1 or 2 points anyway.

  9. Your stupid
    Your stupid says:

    Man, you really can give some shitty advice. I am a student at UCLA and I really hope I don’t end up like you. How did you manage to climb so high? You should give yahoo their money back along with the time I spent reading your uninformative article. Seriously, please step down and give other people a chance for your job. I think a dying pigeon could do a better job.

  10. rf
    rf says:

    Re: Dealing with a bad Boss

    And if all else fails, pay your boss a “visit”..don’t forget to take the mace, b-b gun 4 inche knife, mallet, garbage bags and for God’s sake don’t forget the Depends!!

  11. Steve
    Steve says:

    Managing my boss Penelope style could become a full time job and I already have one of those.

    * * * * * *

    AH HA! Thank you for this comment. It is true. This is a full-time job. But this, in fact, is the job we’re all hired to do. Make our boss look good.

    Don’t be fooled by your job description. Your boss wrote the job description when she was hiring becuase she thought if she hired someone to do that work, she’d meet her goals. Your job is about meeting your boss’s goals. And first, you have to figure out what they are. That’s the full-time job.


  12. Stever
    Stever says:

    you have to love when someone uses ‘your’ instead of ‘you’re’ when they’re calling someone a name.

    I had a run in with someone else's boss this morning. I dealt with the matter and not the person — when they complain about me it’ll show me as being consistent with the company values and them being a pain in the ace.

  13. william
    william says:

    This article could be summarised as

    1/ Find out how your boss likes his ass licked.

    2/ Lick it that way

    3/ If they don’t like it or you find it distateful, then find an ass you like to lick.

    All bosses should have to complete a personality profile (i.e. testing for personality disorders and sociopathic tendencies) before they are put in charge of other people.

    This article is shallow and vacuous in the most offensive way.

  14. phys431
    phys431 says:

    From many co-workers I have spoken to throughout my entire working like, and even considering my own circumstances through time, I have found that people are more willing to endure the pain and demands of their job/boss than to quit and look for another one. People in general are weak.

    My former boss has a logic that just did NOT spell right to me. The philosophy that he used in his running of the office was not a style that I agreed with. His style of managing the branch office was HIS decision, not mine. Changing *my* philosophy on work ethics, client relations, and project management would mean to change myself into being like him. I do not believe one must become a clone of thier boss in order to be successful.

    He also told me that he wanted to “mold” me into being an ideal worker. Well again, the way that he ran the office was not that I would be a person to manage highly responsible tasks with an equally respective authority and autonomy. I was to be an extension of him, sort of like a peon, as he made all the calls, yet my very presence at the location placed the responsibility on ME. This was a no-win situation.

    Here is a BIG tip for anyone at an interview. If the boss takes a phone call and doesn’t tell the person that he’s busy, it means that you are not important enough. Anyone who is professional enough to know that a meeting is a prioritized, dedicated time that is not to be interrupted will know not to break it. Otherwise you’re either not worthy enough or the boss is unprofessional, or both.

    * * * * *

    Thank you for this comment. There are two really important points here that I just want to reiterate. One is that people are scared to leave when they know they should. A think a lot of energy spent complaining about bosses would be better spent looking for a new job. The second great point here is that you can tell a lot about a potential boss while you are interviewing. And if the boss does something really disrespectful in the interview, you can bet you’ll have a lot more of that after you take the job.


  15. Val
    Val says:

    Penelope, this is a nice article to deal with nice bosses. You did not cover the people who treat you like a slave and are out of their minds. Like you did 900 pages, and take a 10-minute break to write notes at 10 minutes before quitting, and she comes over and yells at you for not working. Nutsy people are out there, and we wonder how do they get away with it? It’s so bad for production! Guess they don’t care.

    * * * * *

    Val, you’re right. I don’t cover those people. I assume you will go find another job if you are working for someone who yells at you. It’s verbal abuse.


  16. Margaret
    Margaret says:

    Penelope, I’m normally an arden fan of your advice column. I have to say, though, that while I think I understand your advice here — find out how to please your boss to help yourself — it’s a bit naive.

    I am a boss myself. If anyone tries to kiss my ass, I immediately get suspicious and wonder if the work is getting done. Ass kissing often masks a lack of respect, and a sense that you can ‘get around’ on the boss by playing to the boss’s ego. The same ass kisser can often be found slamming the boss with colleagues later. I would much rather have someone not play that game with me and bring up issues they may have, etc. Sometims they are right, and a smart boss knows enough to listen.

    Of course, you were talking about a bad boss. But there are many stripes of bad bosses, only some of which respond to heavy petting.

    * * * * * *

    Margaret, thank you for chiming in from the boss’s perspective. I think the difference between ass-kissing and managing up is that the latter has truly benevolent intentions. When you manage up you truly want to help your boss succeed, and you want to be part of your boss’s team. When you manage up, you care about understanding your boss in a real way, not to manipulate, but to connect, and add value to the relationship.

    I know this sounds a little sappy, but  I really believe that if you conduct yourself this way at work you will find meaning in your work almost immediately, because work will be a way to make authentic connections and increase kindness in the world.

  17. Nati
    Nati says:

    So, in your reality, it’s be the people at the bottom of the bureaucratic pyramid who were responsible for the creative direction and growth of the company.

    Your boss is human, and his/her inherent moral weaknesses should not be encouraged. This is especially true for females with male superiors, who sometimes receive perfect cooperation as a sex invite.

    You’re misleading people into thinking a temporary coping mechanism is a satisfactory way to function over extended periods of time. Absolute adaptabillity can also be considered a convenient weakness.

    Ultimately, one can ascend professionally with this advice, but only to a point. Where’s the leadership?

     * * * * *

    The leadership is what you are doing when you manage your boss. You are leading yourself, and, in some cases, your boss. You can’t force someone to lead. But you can fill the vacum yourself.


  18. Satish
    Satish says:

    My boss has a team of 8 people who each do part of his job for him. He gets paid a manager’s salary for which he works on his personal projects, talking down to those who are doing his actual job for him.
    Any time any one of us has a problem with this, he says in essence: That’s your job now. I will not do it, I refuse to do it. get back to work and suck it up.
    Good work is not acknowledged but a small mistake of any kind is randomly blamed on one of us. The owner of the company trusts my boss completely and keeps a second set of files (containing all the things we have ever done wrong).
    Once in a while, one of us forgets the previous instance and works up the courage to tell the owner how useless and disrespectful our boss is.
    The owner listens and says this can’t continue and you leave and hope something will change. 3 months later, your boss tells you that he not going to do another aspect of his job anymore and it’s now your responsibility.

    * * * * * *

    Here are some opportunities I see.

    1. Your boss does not seem interested in big-picture goals which means that you could get all your work done and then focus on something that matters a lot to your boss’s boss. This would expand your skills and allow you to try something new.

    2. You are getting to do new things becuase your boss is giving you all his work. Have you done this kind of work before? If yes, then great, you can do it fast. If no, then it’s an opportunity for you.

    3. You can learn to get some perspective. If you boss blames you for minor errors that don’t mattter, practice not letting the blame affect you. It’s an important skill.

    If all this sounds terrible to you. Like, you don’t want to use these opportunities, then leave. You are doing a lot of complaining. It’s not worth it.

  19. Seth
    Seth says:

    Advancement based on popularity instead of merit is wrong in most cases (notable exceptions being salespersons and exotic dancers). Just because it’s becoming a business trend in American culture, which is far too obssessed with popularity in the first place, does not make it right. I go to work with a positive attitude and work hard, and that was enough for me to move up to an executive position by the age of 27. I have still never kissed a boss’s ass or failed to stand up for my beliefs (I’ve worked with my fair share of rascist/sexist pigs, and I never hesitated to respond openly to their ignorance). It has caused problems with coworkers and employers before, but we either worked it out or I quit the job. I’ve never felt an ounce of remorse for quitting those jobs. Not even when I was working in food service in the time between jobs and being looked down on by people who had a narrow and short-sighted mindset much like yours. I could not say the same of quitting my integrity if I had just acquiesced as per your advice. You’re looking at things from a purely business perspective, Penelope. There is so much more to life than a salary. It’s much more important to be able to face that person in the mirror for the rest of your life without shame. It’s also more important to do what’s right. What’s right is making that boss do their own work that they’re being paid for. Otherwise that’s called stealing. Telling employees to be kiss-ass yes men is not going to help them. Shame on you for submitting such drivel. You have a responsibility (that you apparently haven’t realized or just aren’t taking very seriously) for the words you set in print; they display the quality of your thoughts, and right now your thoughts are very one-dimensional. While it’s true that such single-mindedness can be a boon in select business environments, it’s not good for just anyone.

    * * * * *

    Seth, I think you might have missed my point. My point is that I think the most important part of work is getting along with the people you are with, and helping them to create a situation where everyone grows and reaches their goals. I agree with you that salary is not the most important thing about work: Being nice is. What else do we have in this world that we know is true and good besides being nice?

    Treating a bad boss with kindness and respect is a way to create more kindness in this world. Not just the kindness you give, but the kindness you receive — becuase really, a bad boss will respond to kindness and caring with kindness  and caring.

    So many people write to me about how they want a job where they can have meaning in the world. But we each have that kind of job becuase we are each in a position to approach the most difficult, surly person we know, and treat them with compassion and empathy.


  20. Dave
    Dave says:

    Penelope, as usual I probably don’t know what I’m talking about. The only reason I brought up that demographic stuff is because you seemed concerned. You seem like you’re well on your way to success though! (And meeting your boss’ goals.) That’s pretty cool. I’m just waiting for you to say you’re going to blog full time. I hadn’t heard you say you were yet (maybe I missed it).

  21. Satish
    Satish says:

    As many have said… We can’t leave our jobs. Anyone who says “then just leave” is either in a field where jobs are readily available, in a job that is perfect and secure, or is already wealthy and doesn’t have real world financial worries.
    Most of the working force is tied to their jobs for income, career, health insurance, etc. I for one am stuck here because of immigration. I CAN’T LEAVE.

  22. Dale
    Dale says:

    WOW Penny you really stirred up a hornet’s nest with this one. The truth is (yes everyone has a perception of the truth:) your advice works. Period.
    The individuals who have their undies in a bunch are operating from the perspective that they are not there to make their bosses look good, but to do a job.
    Wrong! Your job is to make your boss look good!!!
    Making your boss look good does not involve kissing anyone’s ass. It’s about finding out the priorities of the person you work for directly, and making them your priorities.
    The other stuff in the article is about how to make the relationship work smoothly, not brown nosing.
    If your boss is abusive of you or is dishonest, leave that job as soon as you can, otherwise, manage your environment intelligently. That is what this article is all about!

  23. peter vajda
    peter vajda says:

    I’ve been reading these comments for some days and have some thoughts:

    1. Yes, it is about managing your boss. Depends on the perspective or attitude one attaches to the word “managing”. From a collaborative perspective, it works. From a competitive perspective (i.e., a dislike for, resentment for, jealousy of, etc.,) it won’t.
    2. When one lives life from the perspective of “victim consciousnes”, i.e., s/he is doing this to me, making me feel bad, making my life difficult and miserable, the response is silent or overt anger and there can be no win-win solution.
    3. When one doesn’t have the willingness, knowledge, or skills to manage one’s boss, well, there’ll be no healthy relationship.
    4. If one’s life at work is so very horrendous, then leave.
    5. When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change. No one gets up in the morning and says, “I’m going to be a jerk today.” No one, not even your boss. The deal is to begin to work on the relationship from a “non-violent”, more healthy, caring, perspective. This is especially challenging for people who need to, and choose to, be angry, resentful, and feel victimized, etc. But, it’s very do-able…if one chooses to work at it, in baby steps.
    6. Managing your boss is about having an open and honest conversation, a dialogue, with active listening, not about making one-way demands, telling, fixing, criticizing, etc. When one allows one’s emotions and/or ego get in the way, there’s no possibility of having this type of “non-violent” conversation. When one does not know how to have an open and honest conversation, (knowing how is not a “given” in many people’s lives), then it won’t happen and the emotional chasm just widens, the subtle anger and resentment increases and the corticol drips from the increased levels of stress eventually take a toll.

    So, in many cases, certainly not all, it’s a choice. Do I choose to have this conversation? Am I capable of having this conversation? Have I already made up a story in my head about why I can’t have a conversation, why s/he won’t have this conversation, why it won’t work? And, if so, have I explored the “truth” of my story to see if it is really, really true?

    If I choose not to do anything, and stay where I am, hoping, wishing, wringing my hands, becomming more and more stressed and angry, why?

    And, what can I do right here and right now to make my life at work more manageable?

  24. Mike Hennesy
    Mike Hennesy says:

    Of all the business buzz phrases I’ve come up against “managing your boss” may be the offensive. When you use this phrase you are immediately devaluing the person making the complaint and subtly shifting the blame for the problem onto the complainer.

    Good bosses are like gold and equally hard to find. Bad bosses are everywhere. Bad bosses are sometimes people who are well meaning, but overwhelmed by their jobs. For people working for those bosses some or all of your suggestions make perfect sense. (In fact I’m using some of them now on a boss that I consider fair minded and competent).

    But what your column fails to address or downplays to too great an extent is that many bosses are dishonest bullies only interested in advancing their own agendas no matter what the human cost to those under them. Even worse, some of them measure their pleasure in work by how much suffering they can instill on people they don’t like.

    For them, your suggestions are worthless. In fact, they are worse than worthless. They are psychologically damaging. How do you think a rape victim feels if someone tells her she was “asking for it” by wearing a short skirt?

    That’s the equivalent of what you or human relations “experts” are doing when you come up with a non-sequitor question to someone who may be emotionally distraught that the problems are really their fault for not managing their boss.

    Perhaps your advice might not have set so poorly with me if you had simply acknowledged in some way that there are bosses out there who are beyond redemption. (I’m sorry, saying “look for another job” doesn’t cut it)

    I think it would be worth looking at a practical checklist of items to determine which bosses are inept, overwhelmed or just slightly less able to do their jobs than we would like and which are truly nasty people who are not interested in anyone but themselves.

    Perhaps such a checklist would help some people who think they are working for the second type of boss realize they are actually working for the first type and there might be some hope for salvaging their situation.

    I realize that’s thinking outside the box when it comes to employee relations, but I have had enough of workplace advice from Pollyanna types who blame workers for their workplace problems and/or refuse to acknowledge that there are people in management positions who are not in any way, shape or form good people.

    Thanks for listening to my rant.

    * * * * * * *

    Hi, Mike.

    I agree with you that the bosses who are truly terrrible cannot be managed. The only way to deal with them is to leave. I list, at the top of the column, the traits of a boss who must be abandoned, and my list and your list of terrible traits look to me to be very similar.

    I think all of life is a balance between when to take responsibility for making change and when to say the person you are dealing with is terrible and must be out of your life.


  25. Mike Hennesy
    Mike Hennesy says:


    Take a look at the first paragraph:

    “All other bosses aren't truly bad – you're just bad at managing them.”

    Do you see how this could be interpreted as blaming the victim? How can you expect someone to take your advice seriously when you start off by saying the problems with a boss that they didn’t choose are their fault?

    As host of the blog, you get the last word. I promise!

  26. Monica
    Monica says:

    I think it’s very telling that most of the people who agreed with your article are managers who assume the employees have the same goals as they had-to reach management.

    That’s not always the case. There are those of us who just want to go to work, give 200%, and go home to our families. If you have someone who constantly talking about behind your back and verbally abusing you, “managing up” is not going solve this problem. You’ll end up with 2 full-time with energy outside of work for yourself or your children.

    Finally, I think that people who say just quit are out of touch with reality. If you are a single mom, you can’t just quit your job. If your spouse has been recently downsized or sick, you can’t just quit. There are a number of situations where quitting would not be the thing to do. I also think that people whose first answer is to quit have no concept of working poor. If you living hand to mouth, trying not to go into debt, quitting a paying job isn’t the thing to do.

    Please keep the corporate buzzwords and directives passed down from corporate management and offer advice people can really use to maintain their integrity at work and be effective, productive employees.

    Thank you

    * * * * * * * *

    Hi, Monica. You have hit on issues that come up often in emails to me.

    It’s true that a person who is dealing with trauma at home should not engage in a job change as well — job change is traumatic and we can only deal with so much at one time. And it’s true that it’s true that a homeless person or someone with an eight-grade education cannot use this advice. But most people are capable of making big life decisions that will accommodate a career change if they really want it.

    I have made a lot of huge life choices to allow me to be the sole breadwinner for a family of four and have career flexibility to do work that I love. For example, I took a 70% pay cut to become a freelance writer, and it was very scary. And I moved from New York City to Madison to have less financial pressure. Most people will not make these decisions to accommodate career flexiblity, but I’m just pointing out that we all have choices.

    There are many ways to make career changes that are not huge risks but take a lot of planning. For example, many people reading this blog are living paycheck to paycheck, but that doesn’t mean you can’t switch jobs — you just need to get a job before you quit your job. Getting real career flexibility is a big, life choice and a commitment to planning. Not just a where-should-I-send-my-resume choice.-Penelope



  27. peter vajda
    peter vajda says:

    Hi Monica, some thoughts from a life (including career)coach.

    One of my recent clients is a father, 41, whose partner was not working, who has two adopted children one of whom is learning disabled. Quit his job after seven years when he could not take the culture he was working in. It was self-destructive. Just quit! Not a lot of savings. Worked diligently at a job search..every day…Has since found another job (5 months later) that he loves which, BTW, has spurred him on to go to Toastmasters (had a tremendous fear of public speaking) and now he also presents at conferences in his field. age 41 He actually looks forward to going to work every day. Initially, scared skinny that he would never find a job.

    One client, single mother with teenage son, up and leaving MI and moving to CO in June, with no job prospects in mind as of today. age 36…is working the job search process as well…every day…and energized and excited. No saving as of a year ago when she took a second, part-time, job for past year to amass some savings.

    So, it is do-able for those who choose to make it do-able.

    I don’t know you, Monica, but I work with many clients who initially echo one of the sentiments in your comments.

    “You can’t just up and quit.” me: yes you can; however, it depends, like Penelope says, on having a job before you quit, or having some monetary reserves or support during the period of time when one is job searching, and having the internal strength, fortitude, stick-to-it-ive-ness and self-disicpline to go that route.

    So when a client says “I can’t just quit!” to me, my response is “Who says so?” What would you do if, for some reason, your company went out of business tomorrow? Are you prepared?

    Again, Penelope is right on, IMHO. It does take planning and conscious planning. For many folks, their short term life plan is tonight and their long-term life plan is next Friday night. Of course they panic when they’re not prepared for life changes, or even begin to just “think about” change. So, for many, it’s denial and staying in jobs that are really self-destructive.

    In addition, many folks are caught up in a lifestyle that is strangling them financially, emnotionally, psychologically…it’s a fact of life that one’s expenses rise to meet their income, so most folks who life such a lifestyle (rather than a life) will never have enough. So, we explore their lifestyle…the “need to have”, the “want to have” the “nice to have.” Job change may take some cutting back, or even a different lifestyle altogether, but in my experience, not one client, not one, has gone into the tank, or into deep depression or become an ax murderer because they had to give up on buying a plasma TV screen. They have re-ordered their priorities, re-thought their values, i.e, what’s really, really, important in their life, and moved forward, consciously and with intentionality…more toward having a life as opposed to a lifestyle.

    Clients are aware that job change may require knowledge and skills they do not have. Focused information interviewing helps them become aware of what these are and how best to acquire them giving some added support…knowing what to do, and what one needs, is a relief for many who are initilly lost and have no awareness of new job requirements..and thus this awarenessleads so formulating a plan for growth…inn baby steps.

    Also, for clients, an important consideration is whether are they surrounded by a positive support group who can be there for them if they decide to change jobs, or are they surrounded by toxic people, especially spouses or partners, “rainy-day fans”, naysayers, whose every response to a potential job change is “no!”, “are you crazy?!”, or “what will the neighbors/your friends/family/relatives say?” or worse; these folks serve only to keep them fearful, and paralyzed, stuck in a victim mode of thinking. “Everyone else can do it, but not me.”

    It’s quite easy to dwell on the “why not” “why I shouldn’t”, “why I can’t”, state of thinking. “Outside”, all the stories and folks who we allow to scare us to death. On the “inside”, our Inner Judge and Critic who keeps running the script of “you better not.” “you can’t.”, “you shouldn’t.” “It’s a scary world out there.” etc.

    But, it is do-able. If one takes a conscious,structured, pro-active and well-thought-out, planned strategy and approach, surrounded by positive people, and a deep trust in one’s self and in the process, it is eminently do-able.

  28. Denzel
    Denzel says:

    Yeah, I am encountering a different host of problems. When being told of my job requirements, which come in Willy-nilly, he constantly stops and asks me questions like, “You probably think I am the biggest a-hole don’t you. I am sure you go home and tell your wife that I suck and I am bad boss.”
    He also tells me how bad of a boss he is, and my job satisfaction is all his fault of not being organized. Do I hang on, or just bail and find someone who can delegate?

    * * * * *

    First of all, thank you for showing me that Willy-nilly is capitalized. I never noticed that before.

    I think your boss is very insecure and knows he has a lot to learn, and it’s a great opporutnity for you to help your boss get better at his job and in the process take the parts of his job that you want. He sounds like he wants to make you happy but feels he is incapable of it. If you tell him exactly what you need him to do, and show him how to do it, and show him how good the results are from that action, you will proabbly both be happier. In fact, you will have to be the manager, not him. But he sounds like maybe he’s manageable.



  29. Cory
    Cory says:


    There’s also a really cool pdf about bosses over at Maybe a little snarky, but pretty cool.

  30. aonetowne
    aonetowne says:

    Help rid the world of idiot bosses! Get You’re an Idiot, and People Talk About You Behind your Back. Yes, this is a shameless plug, but the book is a gem of true stories about the many idiot bosses out there. It’s on Amazon–worth the read–great anaonymous gift for your idiot boss. Truly a quick, funny read–possible guide to change for your boss. If not, at least you will feel good having let your boss know he/she is an idiot!!!

  31. ICE
    ICE says:

    Hi Penelope
    Just recently I was introduced to the concept of managing your boss. It was an eye opener: I analysed what my previous jobs were like for me personally and how I “managed” my boss.
    This is good stuff:I considered myself a victim in my previous job/with my previous boss and did not achieve anything but unhappiness. He did not understand the role he had to play; I considered him the ‘wrong’ candidate, etc. In the same job but with another boss, I anticipated what he wanted and delivered on time / before time – result: he achieved his goals, the company excelled and I was rewarded and felt I had a worthwhile job.
    Lesson: If I had ‘coached’ / ‘managed’ (whichever term you want to use! the ineffective boss better, we would have had a win-win situation. Instead, he directed his efforts to my ‘willing’ co-workers and our graves were dug as we achieved nothing. My boss resigned.
    Keep up the great work!!

  32. ICE
    ICE says:

    Dear Penelope
    I have received three blogs from a chap called William who is an art teacher and who either a) doesn’t know how to think positively b) has a psychological problem c) was only taught how to spell “f…” or d) doesn’t understand your site.
    I pity him

  33. Penelope Trunk
    Penelope Trunk says:

    Hm. This is a problem. It didn’t occur to me that the insane comments that I delete go out to all the people who commented on that particular post. I’m really sorry for the spam. But at least you all get to see what I deal with on a daily basis…


  34. Dale
    Dale says:

    Hey, keep the crazy comments coming. It is an interesting experience to see what people in the public eye have to face.
    That nutcase was rather scary though.
    Be well.

  35. Kevin
    Kevin says:

    It is interesting that you use “him” to describe the bad boss. Don’t worry, as a man who is also a boss, your appology is accepted. How about sitting down with your boss and actually having a conversation rather than some Machiavellian behind the scenes manipulation? Most bosses can see through this quite easily… that is why they have advanced in the workplace. Also they tend to be better at politics so underestimate them at your own peril. Don’t waste your time working on managing your boss, work on improving yourself.

  36. neveryoumind
    neveryoumind says:

    As someone who was just fired, I was happily reading your blog for some career info in the brave new world of corporate America. Then I saw this column and really, I threw up in my mouth. Where in your utopian world do you think these “managed up” bosses really exist? There is a world of woe between bosses whose behavior is illegal and those who’s behavior is just wrong. For the record, I was fired by my boss’s boss who’s sole skill is networking. Hey, if that works for her, cool. This boss torpedoed the individual responsible for her coming to the company, and drove out several talented individuals. The only good hire she made was my boss, but she did so by alienating the woman already in that position. In a large company that is part of a huge corporate behemoth in a work-for-hire state, you can do pretty much anything you want. And managing up won’t help you if your boss knows and takes advantage of that and could care less who likes her when her position as V.P. of Incompetence is secure. This is the second boss that got away with treating folks like shit at this company because there are no consequences. Being solicitous in the face of contempt and trying to be nice despite this woman giving me her ass to kiss got me fired. Of course I should have quit, given your logic, because apparently all anyone should have to do is pull up those bootstraps regardless of who’s depending on you or who you need to feed at home. Or if in my case, it’s just about paying your bills and trying to work in a company and an industry that you have worked in an succeeded in for your entire career.
    I know, I know, it’s my fault that I didn’t see the knife in my back coming and ask my boss to pretty please change its aim. I though this was a site for those interested in career advancement, not a tool for corporate America’s bad boss clique.

  37. Rebecca Cortright
    Rebecca Cortright says:

    Having a bad boss isn’t an excuse to be a bad employee. In fact, one of the keys to managing a bad boss is to be an unusually good employee. Take this strategy one step further and maintain a positive demeanor at all times.

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