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Toxic Bosses and Strategies for Dealing with Them

With the amount of time we spend at work each day, it's no wonder that a boss can make or break the experience. It's been said that people leave bosses rather than jobs. While it's rare to have a perfectly ideal manager, there are certain characteristics that may indicate you are dealing with a truly toxic boss.


While the best option when you have a bad boss is to seek other employment, this isn't always possible. Successful people know how to make the most of a bad situation. Top performers are skilled at managing their emotions in times of stress in order to remain calm and in control. This can manifest as the ability to neutralize toxic people—even those they report to. This is no easy task. It requires a great deal of emotional intelligence, a skill that top performers rely on.


Identify the type of toxic behavior exhibited by the bad boss you are working for and then use this information to neutralize your boss' behavior. Perhaps you know your boss is less than ideal but can't quite put a finger on what the problem is. What makes a bad leader can be elusive; you might not be able to define it; you just know it.


What follows are toxic behaviors exhibited by bad bosses. This is followed by some strategies that successful people employ to work effectively with them.



Being the Fun Boss and Having Favorites

Everyone wants to be liked, and your boss is no different. One sign your boss is toxic, however, is evident when he or she is more of a friend than a supervisor, working at being liked more than striving to achieve company goals.

Good managers know when they need to enforce discipline and hold their team accountable. Settling for being liked leaves their team in a horrible middle ground of performance where failures are tolerated, and no one strives for excellence because of it.


Toxic managers promote a culture of favoritism among their employees, often protecting or promoting those who reinforce their power. Not only are these arrangements unfair and unethical, but these types of undeserved promotions and special treatment can also cause resentment and kill staff morale. Even worse, if a manager's "favorites" are promoted into positions they are unqualified for, those individuals often perpetuate a culture of poor management and leadership that further undermines the organization.


Choosing favorites and creating divisions among employees, increases team members' frustration by the imbalance in attention and respect. Worse he/she can't make tough decisions involving employees or even fire those who need to be fired.



The Micromanager

This is the boss who makes you feel as if you are under constant surveillance the micromanager pays too much attention to small details. A boss who looks over your shoulder constantly or insists on correcting minute portions of your work is a micromanager and a toxic boss.


Micromanaging stifles creativity and forces an atmosphere of paranoia. You may feel your supervisor doesn't trust you to complete tasks or that you can't do anything up to standard. His/her constant hovering makes employees feel discouraged, frustrated, and even uncomfortable. Micromanaging can be annoying, breeding mistrust and discouraging self-reliance, and is a terrible leadership tactic.


This one can be infuriating. Despite all of your efforts, your boss can't help but insert himself into tasks that you're more than capable of completing and feels compelled to tell you how to do them. No matter how glowing your track record, a micromanager won't be able to rise above their insecurity and trust you to do your job.



Unprofessional Behavior - Bullying

If a boss does not have the discipline and decorum to exhibit self-control and to treat others with dignity and respect, chances are they are a toxic boss.


They resort to unscrupulous tactics and constantly makes decisions that feed their ego. Their primary concern is maintaining power, and they will coerce and intimidate others to do so. They classify people in their mind and treat them accordingly. High achievers who challenge their thinking are treated as mutinous. Those who support their achievements with gestures of loyalty find themselves in the position of the first mate. Those who perform poorly are stuck with the worse assignments and receive an imbalance of negative feedback and no exposure.



They are Physically (and Mentally) Absent

If a leader is not inspired to lead, those who follow can hardly be expected to have good attitudes. A toxic boss is disconnected from work, trudging through the day with a Lack of Enthusiasm and giving off the impression that life is a chore.

Managers need to be present and attentive to the needs of their staff and understand the roles of their employees. Toxic managers are either absent physically (never in the office), mentally ("checked-out"), or both.


This behavior has a toxic trickle-down effect and seeps into the culture of the workplace. A leader's lack of enthusiasm can drain a company's productivity. As the head of the business, the boss must set the tone and goals of the workplace. If your boss isn't enthusiastic about work, chances are other problems will start developing as a result, and you can't expect a toxic boss to handle it well.



They Take No Responsibility for Poor Decisions

When a poor decision has been made toxic managers take no responsibility. At best, they make excuses for themselves or will justify and defend their poor decision any way they can to avoid admitting their mistake.


At worst, toxic managers will blame someone else for the fallout of a decision or point their finger at their staff — the very people that the manager is supposed to lead and support. A toxic boss will be the first to blame you for his failures. Did your company not reach its quarterly goals? A toxic boss will point the finger at you instead of encouraging excellence. A leader that shifts the blame to those he leads is ineffective and will be counterproductive.


A toxic boss is incapable of acknowledging they are a human being who, like the rest of us, makes mistakes. Instead, he or she will gloss over their errors, despite having no mercy when it's time to point out yours. The rules don't seem to apply to them, and they present themselves as infallible.



They Don't Plan and Don't Strive to Make Forward Progress.

Bad leaders settle for less and don't strive to make forward progress. Toxic bosses look at your work and ask for more of the same. One of a manager's primary duties is to develop and articulate a strategic plan to achieve the goals for an organization or project. A failure to inspire and plan is a failure to lead, and if your toxic boss doesn't require excellence and provide a plan to execute, your company will never be excellent.


Without a clear plan in place, staff members have no clear targets and must react to crises as they emerge. They are limited in their ability to proactively address problems before they become full-on "fires." Since staff do not have inspiring forward-thinking goals and are unable to anticipate what each day will bring, uncertainty and unpredictability take a toll on morale and the functioning of the organization.



They Only Focus on Short-Term "Optics."

For toxic managers, all that matters is that the organization appears to be running smoothly from the outside and that they "look good" in their position. However, just because something looks good on the surface doesn't mean the foundation isn't crumbling. By only focusing on the short-term gains, profits, or payoffs, instead of deeper, long-term improvements, staff members are directed to adopt temporary "band-aid" solutions, rather than address the root causes of organizational problems to implement sustainable solutions.



They Don't Listen to Their Employees

Leaders who don't listen to their employees are toxic bosses. While the responsibility of decision-making still falls on their shoulders – and they may decide not to act on your input – acknowledging the ideas of employees should be a top priority for a good boss.


A good boss can take constructive feedback and internalize it. A toxic boss is incapable of doing this. No matter how articulately you express yourself, any criticism or pushback, however valid, is viewed as an attack and this kind of boss can't hear it. When you do try and share a differing view, they may punish you later in an attempt to reassert their power.


Toxic bosses have a lack of consideration for other people. A boss who doesn't respect how others feel is not someone you want to work for. You want to work in an environment where your ideas are taken seriously, and your intellect valued.

Bad bosses contaminate the workplace. Some do so obliviously, while others smugly manipulate their employees, using them as instruments to further their own success.



Regardless of their methods, bad bosses cause irrevocable damage to their companies and employees by hindering performance and creating unnecessary stress.


Here are some strategies to help you Deal With a toxic boss.



Attempt an Honest Conversation

Admittedly, this might not be possible with certain bosses, especially those who shut down in the face of feedback. But if your boss has a glimmer of humanity, it might be worth trying to determine the root of the disconnect, if only to bolster your argument later that you tried everything in your power to address the issue professionally and without outside intervention. It may even take several conversations, but if you can get an open dialogue going and your boss is willing to try to improve the relationship, it can pay dividends down the road.



Set boundaries

Regarding a boss's inappropriate behavior, set firm boundaries. Don't allow his/her position to intimidate you. By consciously and proactively establishing a boundary, you can take control of the situation. The difficult part here is maintaining consistency with your boundaries, even if your boss is persistent. By distancing yourself from his behaviors that you deem inappropriate, you will still be able to succeed and earn a positive reputation with non-toxic leaders in your company.



Mind the Patterns & Play the Game

After enough frustrating interactions, you will likely be able to see patterns in the way your boss likes things done or reacts to certain behaviors. For example, if you're dealing with a typical narcissist, you can make them feel needed and validated and, therefore, less threatened by you, allowing you more space to do your job. It can be a tough pill to swallow at first, especially if you hate being superficial with people. But think of it as something you are doing for yourself and your own well-being, rather than for your boss.



Neutralize a Micromanager or Bully

Regarding micromanagers, successful people appeal to micromanagers by proving themselves to be flexible, competent, and disciplined while staying in constant communication. A micromanager is naturally drawn to the employee who produces work the way she envisions. The challenge with the micromanager is grasping the "envisioned way." To do this, try asking specific questions about your project, check-in frequently, and look for trends in the micromanager's feedback.

Of course, this will not always work. When this is the case, you must learn to derive your sense of satisfaction from within. Don't allow your boss' obsession with details to create feelings of inadequacy as this will only lead to further stress and under-performance.


If your boss is a bully, you must choose your battles wisely. Usually they squeakiest wheel gets the most adverse attention from a bully. If you practice self-awareness and manage your emotions, you can rationally choose which battles are worth fighting and which ones you should just let go. This way, you won't find yourself as the lowest person on the totem pole.



Seek Out A Support Network

There is a good chance you are not the sole target of your boss' treacherous behavior. Don't be afraid to confide in coworkers that you trust. The camaraderie reminds you that you are not alone, making you less likely to spiral into a dark place. Nothing unites people more than a common injustice and you may even be able to find some humor in the outrageousness of the as a means of relief.



Go Outside of Your Department

If the previous methods aren't working or are simply impossible, it's time to look to outside resources for support. In most cases, this will be the company's HR department. While very few HR departments operate swiftly and effectively, the company should be aware and on notice of what is going on with your boss so it can be dealt with appropriately. It's also good to have a record in the event you are terminated and believe it was retaliatory. If your company doesn't have an HR department, confide in a colleague you trust who is at a comparable or higher level than your boss. He or she may have some insight or can serve as an ally later on if needed.



Start Looking Elsewhere

A toxic boss can wreak havoc on your mental health, and no job is worth paying that price. If the situation is untenable, leaving may be the only option. Of course, most of us can't afford to just up and quit our jobs. Put a plan in place that allows you to work toward leaving as soon as it's feasible—start looking at other opportunities and networking and set a reasonable deadline. If the situation is dire and you have to get out, assess your finances to see if you can rely on savings for a while and/or talk to your parents, partner, or other loved ones to see if some interim financial support is possible while you look for a new job.



If you're currently saddled with a toxic boss, you're far from alone. Know your value, never waver from it, and don't allow an insecure and likely deeply unhappy person to make you feel less than capable. At the very least, navigating this situation will teach you some valuable lessons about how to be a leader and show you what you should not do when you are a manager.


Because bad bosses come in so many different flavors and sizes, these are just a sampling of behavior patterns of toxic bosses and strategies for addressing the situations. If you are encountering a toxic boss or work environment and need help to neutralize or simply navigate the situation, a Career Coach can be an invaluable objective 3rd party to provide input and help you create an action plan to move forward.

© 2017 by Unlimited Potential with Julie Rose, Julie R Delgado, LLC