A Blog series by Elise Misse

September 2021


“When they go low, we go high” – How to deal with bad or toxic bosses


“When they go low, we go high”
Michelle Obama said that, and I couldn’t agree more.

Have you ever wondered how successful people deal with bad or generally toxic bosses? Surely, you must have wondered it because we rub shoulders with them at some point in our careers, don’t we?

Now, irrespective of the kind of toxicity or “badness” these bosses spread around the workplace, it’s important to know exactly when “to go high” as “they go low” – if that makes sense? The stress of enduring a tough boss is no joke, after all – many studies indicate that working with a boss who’s difficult can increase the likelihood of a heart attack by up to 50%.

How employees should deal with a bad boss – Common types explained

Successful people will always persevere and make the best of a generally ‘bad’ situation. I’ve put together a few common types of bad bosses and your strategy for dealing with them:

The bad boss who micro manages too much

This is the kind of bad boss who makes you feel as if you’re always being watched. He/she would wait until everyone leaves and then approaches you just to tell you that you need a ‘proper office pen’ and not a pencil because your handwriting could use a little improvement!

The micromanaging boss is obsessed with the little details, making you feel discouraged, underappreciated, frustrated and often uncomfortable.

What’s our strategy then? Continue to demonstrate a high level of flexibility, discipline and competency. So, communicate frequently, look for ongoing trends in their behaviour and feedback, even though you know you’re about to get over-analyzed one way or another! Don’t let your boss’s obsession with the little things drive you to feelings of stress or inadequacy. Perhaps your writing could use some improvement, and no, you don’t need an expensive office pen for that!

The bad boss who thinks everyone is a robot (including themselves)

In the mind of a robotic bad boss, you’re an employee bearing a badge number who is capable of x amount of productivity in y amount of time. This kind of bad boss will always make decisions based on numbers and data more than anything else – so when they are forced to make a real decision or arrive on a conclusion, they will just self-destruct!

Want to know how to succeed with a difficult boss who’s half a robot? Speak their language. For instance, if an idea pops up in your head, do back it up with some numbers and data – and enjoy the look of glee on your robotic boss’s face! The trick here is to connect directly without coming off as rude or pushy. Additionally, don’t be afraid to schedule face to face meetings and respond to an email by knocking on their door.

The bad boss who doubles up as a seagull

Oh, we’ve all been there so don’t pretend like you don’t know what I’m talking about – sitting quietly and concealed well in one of the shadows is your seagull manager, who tends to roll up their sleeves, swoop in unexpectedly and squawk, er, stir up a storm. Rather than actually spending time with employees to get the facts right and working with everyone to produce a fruitful solution, the seagull will squawk out piles of golden advice and then abruptly fly off, expecting everyone to make sense of the mess they left behind and clean it up too.

How do you neutralize a seagull boss, then? A group approach works best. Have a frank discussion, explaining that this abrupt approach to solving issues makes it very difficult for everyone to do their jobs properly. Make sure that the group feedback is highly positive, constructive and 100% non-threatening!
You see, this manager along with their sudden ‘squawkings’ and then disappearing into the abyss is typically not aware of the negative impact its having on employees. So a group nudge is all you may need.

The bad boss who calls you on your day off

Congratulations, you just hit a new level of frustration in your life! You put in all the required hours and even got permission to take a longer than usual weekend off – but your boss being your “boss” does not hesitate for a moment to call you and ask to get something done during your off time. Well – there’s hope.

Dealing with this kind of difficult boss means setting your boundaries fairly early on in the process, especially if your boss is power-hungry, which means “separation anxiety” may kick in the moment the weekend begins. What we need to do here is slowly chip away at that power.

Instill a sense of comfort in your boss much like you would with a difficult 2-year-old – whether you’re planning to leave early, take a day off or go on vacation – the same approach applies. Always go the extra mile right before the weekend is about to start to let your boss know that everything is under control, giving appropriate detail where necessary, and that you won’t be available over the weekend as all the work has been submitted!

Closing thoughts

As a Twitter user going by “@debihope” once famously tweeted: “Before you diagnose yourself with depression or low self-esteem, first make sure you are not, in fact, just surrounded by a**holes.”
Yep, I second that!

On a highly positive note though, not all bosses are bad. Who can remember the boss who:

  • Provided us with a safe place to grow?
  • Defended us when we needed it?
  • Recognised and rewarded our efforts?
  • Developed us as leader?

Yep, those are a dime a dozen. But they do exist and I salute them. Safe to say, Steve Carell’s character from “The Office” is probably not among them.

About LEAD Network Europe
The LEAD Network Europe is a non-profit and volunteer-led organisation whose mission is to attract, retain, and advance women in the consumer products and retail sector in Europe through education, leadership, and business development. The LEAD Network is run by and for its members, women and men, and we value every individual for their unique perspective. With a primary focus on promoting gender equality the organisation strives for the advancement of women of every race, ethnicity, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, age, educational background, national origin, religion, physical ability and lifestyle. Its vision is of a fair, diverse and vibrant industry where everyone can thrive. A diverse workforce where both men and women are enabled to contribute their full potential and lead their organisations to the next level of value creation. LEAD Network accounts for 12,000+ members – both women and men – from 81 countries.

For more information, please visit www.lead-eu.net