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How to Handle a Difficult Boss

Having a boss is one of the things I do not miss about being an employee. I had a couple of good ones, but there are so many kinds of bad bosses that if your career is going to last you can’t avoid having several bad ones unless you’re just plain lucky.

There’s the boss who is just a bully and probably has been since childhood. He takes every opportunity to put you down and humiliate you in front of your colleagues, use your shortcomings against you and generally make you miserable. A friend is currently dealing with a boss like this, and she has decided to seek a transfer to a different department. In the meantime, she has resolved to do her job well and submit to authority. If you’re going through something similar, find out if there’s any way HR can protect you from your abusive boss.

There’s also the rigid, dictatorial boss. At the very best, they’re headmasters or principals who missed their calling and now treat their junior colleagues as pupils and students; monitoring every move, sweating the small stuff and attempting to micro-manage everyone, stifling growth in the process. At their worst, they are military types who couldn’t make it into the army. These ones are usually found in “one man companies” which they own, where they can do as they please without proper structure and accountability. They do not hesitate to scream and even curse when you cross them. They are also notoriously stubborn, unyielding and autocratic: it’s their way or the highway. Being disciplined and following their rules is the only way to survive here. If you can’t cope with that, it’s best to find a new job.

Not every boss is difficult in this way, though. An unserious or spineless boss can make your life harder too. The social prefect type who is always joking around and having fun at the expense of work is bad for your career, so make sure you don’t get carried away by their fun and games. Politely and firmly refuse to be a part of it, and take your job seriously. If you have a boss who is a pushover, learn what you can from them and take responsibility for your job and your career. If you don’t do it, they won’t do it for you.

Then there’s the inept boss. My days! An incompetent boss is just as much a pain in the neck as a mean one. If you’ve ever worked under one of those bosses who cheated (or slept!) their way to the top and know little or nothing, you are familiar with the frustration of dealing with an unskilled superior who is also suspicious and paranoid because they have little or nothing upstairs.

You have to do all the work (while they take the credit of course), clean up after them when they do a shoddy job and do damage control when they make bad decisions. On top of this, you have to deal with the insecurity that stems from their consciousness that they really are frauds and not worthy to be boss. It can be exhausting, but you’re upgrading yourself, and the skills you’re learning now, can’t be taken from you. Also, let the fact that you’re already doing the boss’ job console you; if you work in a structured organisation, people are watching. Even if you don’t land a better position elsewhere, they can’t hide their incompetence forever; soon they’ll be exposed and you just might be the one the company chooses to replace them.


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Joy Ehonwa

Joy Ehonwa is an editor and a writer who is passionate about relationships and personal development. She runs Pinpoint Creatives, a proofreading, editing, transcription and ghostwriting service. Email: pinpointcreatives [at]

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