How to make the most of having a bad boss

It’s time to turn the tables on a Bad Boss so he or she begins to behave the way you want them to

You know you have a Bad Boss when your he or she makes your daily eight-plus hours an exercise in abject misery and loves to hurl mind-bending, soul-searing abuse; that you endure day after day.

Those who don’t know better, say, “So leave.” Right! If only you could. But good jobs are scarce these days, job security is a joke, outsourcing is increasingly common and good pay hard to come by. And too often, even if you do find another job with decent pay, you’ve simply traded one variety of Bad Boss for another.

It’s time to turn the tables on a Bad Boss so he or she begins to behave the way you want them to, so you get more of what you want out of your job and career. As an employee, vendor, supplier or salesperson—you can’t simply survive dealing with these people. You have to find a way to thrive, to be successful.

Work your bad boss

I don’t mean transform your Bad Boss into a better boss. I mean: put your Bad Boss into an effective operation to get you whatever it is that you want in your job or career. How? By learning your boss’s secret desire and secret fear.

Know your Bad Boss’s secret desire and secret fear

Every boss has a secret desire, something he or she really wants but won’t reveal, because underneath that secret desire is a secret fear or insecurity that he or she can’t admit or doesn’t even understand. Your boss’s blind spot is your opportunity. That’s working your Bad Boss.

A real life example

For me, understanding how to work a Bad Boss started when I was hired as an entry-level therapist at a prestigious psychology clinic. It was considered ‘prestigious” because the head therapist of the clinic had some celebrity clients and she was somewhat of a celebrity herself. Beautiful, charismatic, super-bright, great on TV and a tantrum-throwing egomaniac, in other words… she was a tyrant. When my boss was in the building, the tension level went up a 100 degrees. Everyone walked on tiptoes around her. She was all wit and good humour around her celebrity clients, but with us, the staff? Forget it. She never talked. She barked. And she was impossible to please. She demanded perfection and, of course, never got it.

How to make the most of a Bad Boss
It doesn’t matter what an Egomaniacal Boss does, needs, or says, you only have to do one thing: make her look good

Being entry level, I really didn’t have any interaction with her. She certainly wasn’t going to bother with the low fee, court-mandated patients I was assigned—or with me, which was fine. Her kind of grief I could do without.

But one day, I was coming down the hall and I heard this roar come out of my boss’s office: “Where’s Jean?!” my boss snapped. Everybody froze, looked at each other, in a panic. Jean was the assistant director and head whipping girl. She was the one who fixed everything for this tiny tyrant. Jean was out sick that day. “Get me Jean!!” my boss roared. She slammed the door so hard the walls shook. But nobody did anything. Nobody dared go into the inner sanctum when the tyrant was having a fit. Then I thought, “This is ridiculous. Someone’s gotta go see what she wants.” I walked past my co-workers, their eyes big as saucers, knocked once on her door and walked in.

There my boss stood, a mud-coloured tea-stain spreading down the front of her immaculate cream silk jacket. “Look at this!” she yells. “I’m supposed to be chairing a board meeting this afternoon. I can’t go like this, I don’t have the time to go home and change, and where the hell is Jean?!” I say, in my best calm-the-patient voice, “There’s a one-hour dry cleaner right by here, I’ll have your suit back in no time. Jean’s out sick. I’ll tell admin you’re on a conference call and not to bother you until I get back.” She narrows her eyes at me: “Who are you?” I reply, “I’m Dr. Nelson. I’m new.” She practically rips her jacket off, throws it at me and says, “What are you waiting for? Go!”

That was my first lesson in working an Egomaniacal Boss. At the time, I stumbled into the secret: make her look good. And now my research proves I was right. It doesn’t matter what an Egomaniacal Boss does, needs, or says, you only have to do one thing: make her look good. And so I did.

The next day, I came into work to find out I had been taken off court-mandated patient duty and given a pay raise! OK, it was a tiny raise, but still, it was a raise. From then on, my boss relied on me more and more for all sorts of things.

This simple technique allowed me to do something I hadn’t been doing until that time: manage my career. I went from earning a wage to a position of authority and power I didn’t even know I could aim for.

Discover your Bad Boss’s type

Finger Pointer Boss, for example, is one who manages by blaming, a hoary old method that has never worked, but is the only one he knows.

Egomaniacal Boss is a boss who relentlessly toots his own horn, behaves as if he is God’s gift to the department, the company, the world, and who leaves behind a chaotic trail of unfinished projects, misplaced ideas and impossible tasks for you to deal with. Screamer/Irrational Boss reacts to the least bit of upset in the workplace, in her personal world, or in how she feels that day, with a high-pitched screaming fit.

Unlock the secrets of Bad Boss behavior

Knowing your Bad Boss’s type leads to knowing his or her secret fears and desires, your boss becomes predictable to you when no one else can figure out what’s going on. When you understand why people behave the way they do, you are in a position to get what you want.

Let’s say you have a Finger Pointer Boss. You discover that your Finger Pointer Boss’s secret desire is to be a 100 per cent success. Your Finger Pointer Boss’s secret fear is that he’s terrified he doesn’t have the goods, that he can’t pull it off. The result? Whenever there’s trouble, a Finger Pointer Boss just lays it off on someone else. That’s why any time there’s a mess, the Finger Pointer Boss’s knee-jerk reaction is to look for who he can blame. Too often, that’s you.

Once you are able to help your Bad Boss achieve his or her secret desire, you become important to your boss, and now you have power—not power to lord over your boss [that’s emotional blackmail!].

It’s all about the relationship

As a clinical psychologist and trial consultant, I know how critical a good relationship in the workplace is to your success. I’ve seen firsthand how people unknowingly, tragically, let Bad Bosses ruin their careers because they just didn’t know how to work that boss-employee relationship. I’ve helped client after client turn a lousy relationship with a Bad Boss into a success story. Your Bad Boss isn’t going to wake up one day, smell the coffee and suddenly transform into the boss of your dreams. It’s up to you to transform your relationship with your boss.

Does it take effort? Sure! The good news is, you absolutely can work your Bad Boss to get what you want at work!

Adapted from Got A Bad Boss By Noelle Nelson