Every human interaction teaches us something. When it comes to who we work with, sometimes we simply learn who to avoid. But usually, the lessons go deeper. I’ve had some great bosses throughout my career. I have had some interesting characters, as well…those special people who made me scratch my head in wonder and mutter the millennial phrase, “I can’t even…”
What Does A Bad Boss Look Like
Bad bosses come in all different shapes and sizes, but the common denominator for bad bosses is self-centeredness. Basically, they are not really on your side; they are only out for themselves. So, whether your boss is a clueless puppet, a self proclaimed superhero, or just plain bossy, the underlying issue is the same: they only care about themselves. But just because you have a bad boss, doesn’t mean you still can’t learn from them. Relationships, while messy, are always an opportunity to growth.
Four Takeaways I Have Learned from Bad Bosses
1. Documentation is your friend.
Perhaps you have a boss who likes to steal your ideas. There’s nothing worse than to work hard and expect to get noticed and build your internal resume, only to have someone else steal the credit. Or maybe you have a boss always waiting to catch you off guard about your tasking or time in/out of the office. Or perhaps you have a boss that likes to twist your words in order to use them against you. Regardless of the situation, documenting each interaction and following up verbal conversations with an “as discussed” email trail can be helpful in keeping a special boss in check. It will also help you firm up your normal, everyday interactions with your other coworkers. Documenting conversations can help your brain better track decisions, and follow up emails can be helpful reminders for your coworkers and keep everyone on track.
2. Err on the side of over preparation.
Whether you have a good or bad boss, consistently being under prepared for meetings or not quite delivering all that was expected of you will leave your boss underwhelmed. The bad bosses in my life have taught me to go the extra mile in my preparations. It’s helpful to have the ability to be flexible and adjust in the moment, but I’m always better equipped to adjust when I show up to the conference room table fully prepared. Sometimes, you will have to improvise in the moment, but make it a habit to consistently do your homework.
It is challenging to show cheerful resilience in the face of a crazy boss, but it will make both you happier and your boss happier to work with you. No one wants to work with a “debbie downer.” No one wants to hear how hard work is for you. If smiling isn’t your thing, try to put some subtle reminders around your office so that you remember. It’s not like the act of smiling is just for the benefit of a bad boss. According to Jessica Pryce-Jones, author of Happiness at Work and CEO of iOpener, “Happiness at work is closely correlated with greater performance and productivity as well as greater energy, better reviews, faster promotion, higher income, better health and increased happiness with life. So it’s good for organizations and individuals, too.”
4. Be confident.
There’s nothing like being around someone who seems out to trip you up or steal your ideas. It can slowly chip away at your confidence. But just like a smile can help you weather the office storm, a steady show of confidence (not arrogance!) can help you keep your job and even help you find favor with your boss. A lack of confidence creates distrust and greater scrutiny. Real or contrived confidence also helps outside of a bad boss situation too. When your words and actions have more conviction, your boss and coworkers will take you more seriously, which can help you advance in your current position and in your career.
Don’t waste the learning opportunity that comes with a bad boss. Let the situation teach you something before you move on, but don’t wait for a situation change in order to implement good practices. Start with every ‘special’ boss, and you will be stronger when you are fortunate to work for a true leader.