Sticking with a Bad Boss

Korn Ferry CEO Gary Burnison describes the ways gutting out a bad manager can turn into a good career move.

It’s not as bad as you think.

Yes, your boss plays favorites. And no, you never get feedback (good or bad), even when you ask for it. You’ve been waiting 18 months for your “annual” performance review that determines your next raise and promotion.

Then there are all the times your boss drops an “urgent” project on you at 4:30 p.m. on a Friday afternoon saying, “I need this first thing Monday morning.” (Ten minutes later you see the boss’s car, golf clubs in the back, heading out of the parking lot.)

These scenarios are the epitome of the nightmare boss. Such bad behavior may be evidence of your boss’s oversized ego inflated by having authority over others or a complete lack of emotional intelligence. There are also bosses who are oblivious—despite the 360 feedbacks their companies provide.

Admittedly, having a bad boss is one of the biggest challenges you can face. But before you despair, there are four ways you can turn having a bad boss into a good career move.

Misery loves company. 

First, here’s the consolation: Just about everybody has at least one or two bad bosses in their career. In fact, about 50% of people have trouble with their bosses at one point or another. It’s so common, people really don’t leave companies; they leave bosses. But before you do something rash—like quitting your job and burning your bridge on the way out (with a few choice words to your boss)—think again. Know that if others survived this challenge, you can, too.

Move forward; don’t run away. 

Quitting because of a bad boss may seem like the perfect escape plan. Unfortunately, it may not turn out well. Bailing out of your job because of your boss raises risk of jumping at the first thing to come along. That could put you in an even worse position: a job you don’t like and aren’t well suited for and working for another boss who might not be better. You would be doubly miserable and all because you let your emotions get the better of you. Remember, you want to move forward in your career, not run away. This discipline will help you keep your eye on your career development to strategically seek out opportunities (whether internal or external) that will increase what you learn and your potential for what you’ll earn.

Expand your emotional intelligence. 

Your ability to manage a difficult boss can help you expand your emotional intelligence, particularly in managing conflict and tense situations. Your boss may fly off the handle, but that doesn’t mean you have to do the same. The greater your emotional self-control, the better you’ll keep your reactions in check. And, when you’re the boss one day, you will have the emotional intelligence skills around managing conflict that will make you a better leader.

Know what not to do. 

Most important, your bad boss is actually a valuable learning experience. Ironically, people are more likely to learn about compassion and integrity from a bad boss than from a good one. Experiencing the how bad it is to work with someone who thinks “it’s all about me” you’ll be far less likely to make the same mistake when you’re the boss one day.

Finally, having a bad boss doesn’t last forever. As interminable as it may feel now, you never stay with one boss very long. The boss will move, or you will. In the meantime, learn all you can, raise your visibility beyond your immediate team or department, and invest in your network to expand your future opportunities.

When the nightmare boss is a distant memory, who knows—you just might be thankful for the (miserable) experience.


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