4 Types of Toxic Bosses—and How to Handle Them
She seemed nice enough in the interview. It all started out great—but now it’s week 2 on the job, and you’re quickly realizing you might have a boss-from-you-know-where situation on your hands.
Unfortunately, you’re not the only one who could write a tell-all work memoir that would make The Devil Wears Prada seem like a bedtime story. Bad bosses are out there—in every industry, at every level, at every organization.
The good news? They usually come in one of a few identifiable varieties. And by recognizing what kind of monster (er, manager) you have on your hands, you can come up with the right tactics for dealing (until you move on to the next job, that is).
Check out our guide to the four common types of bad bosses, plus tips for managing the crazy.
1. The Slacker
The slacker spends Monday through Thursday online shopping, taking long lunches, and “networking” on her smartphone (a.k.a. brushing up on Words with Friends). Then comes Friday, and she’s panicking about deadlines and projects that haven’t gotten done—and calling on you to help pick up the pieces.
One of my high school teachers had a sign on her desk that said, “A lack of preparation on your part does not constitute an emergency on mine.” Unfortunately, you probably shouldn’t repeat this to the person who signs your paycheck. Instead, try looking at your boss’s laziness as a way to advance your own career. Ask her if you can take the lead on a few projects that interest you. Chances are that your boss won’t mind relinquishing the extra work, and you’ll be fattening up your resume for future job opportunities.
2. The Land Mine
It’s mid-afternoon, and you’ve been a model of productivity. Emails have been answered, projects are being completed ahead of schedule, and you’re just getting ready to grab some well-deserved lunch, when—wham! Out of nowhere, your boss is at your desk yelling at you (in front of the entire office) for forgetting to submit your timesheet.
What’s the best way to diffuse this bundle of human dynamite (short of anonymously leaving an anger-management flyer on her desk)? The key is to not set it off in the first place. Yes, there will always be unanticipated freak-out sessions, but do your best to control them by understanding what triggers a meltdown, and avoiding those things. For example, if your editor flips when you misspell a source’s name, be sure to double and triple-check your notes. And if your boss starts foaming at the mouth if you arrive a moment after 8 AM, plan to get there at 7:45—Every. Single. Day.
3. The Egomaniac
She seems to think that the rules apply to everyone but her. She acts like everyone else (including you) exists only to confirm her awesomeness or make her life more convenient. She regularly takes all the credit for team projects, and passes blame for anything that goes wrong onto everyone else.
Think the boss equivalent of Kanye West: You’ve got an egomaniac on your hands.
Short of changing jobs, the best way to deal with egomaniacs is to ignore their calls for validation as much as possible. You certainly don’t want to disregard your boss, but feeding the ego monster with unnecessary compliments and attention will only reinforce bad behavior.
Then, work on cultivating relationships with other people in the office. Look for someone else to act as a mentor, give you solid career advice, and serve as a reliable reference. And make sure to keep a paper trail of your accomplishments and projects so that you don’t have to rely on your boss for recognition.
4. The Michael Scott
Arrogant yet incompetent. Desperate for friendship but unintentionally offensive. Finishes other people’s sentences with “That’s what she said.” Okay, so the last one might be a (slight) exaggeration, but the point is that the Michael Scotts of the world do exist outside of prime time television. These are the bosses who can’t decide if they want to be your supervisor or your friend, and who, quite frankly, aren’t very good at either.
The good news is that Michael Scott-type bosses tend to be pretty harmless. Usually, they’re just lacking in confidence and social ability, and want nothing more than to be considered one of the guys—or girls.
If you’re stuck with a Michael Scott, take pity on him. Include him in office chit-chat or visit with him over lunch. And then, get back to work. Seeing good social skills in action can help your boss learn to act in a more “office-appropriate” manner.