How to Stop a Bad Boss from Impeding Your Career

If you have a difficult boss, you know what it is to feel stuck. You can always quit, of course, but leaving without a new job is risky. Most people can’t take the financial or professional hit. Or maybe you are at a great company and simply don’t want to leave.

The thing to remember in this situation: “Your career is a marathon and not a sprint,” says Mary Abbajay, president and CEO of management consultancy Careerstone Group. “Every long run has rough patches, but that’s when you grow—when you’re being challenged.”

That’s right: there is a silver lining to having an awful boss. This experience will help you develop your relationship-building skills, which are essential to success. Abbajay wrote a book specifically about bosses, Managing Up: How to Move up, Win at Work, and Succeed with Any Type of Boss; here, she shares how to handle three of the most frustrating types.

The Selfish Boss

On the bright side, this boss appreciates your talent and abilities. The downside: that is exactly why she won’t help you move up. It would inconvenience her if you left and she had to take the time to hire and train your replacement. This is not fair to you, and you are angry.

What to do: “Build a big network within the organization, so you can make a lateral move,” Abbajay says. “Introduce yourself to people at work events and volunteer for projects that will give you more visibility and access.” Once you make connections, nurture and develop them—and make sure they know about your successes. “Women often assume that they’ll be noticed if they do a good job, but that’s not how it happens,” Abbajay says. “You have to talk up yourself and your wins.”

The Disorganized Boss

The job posting didn’t mention firefighting experience, but that is what you spend a lot of your time doing: putting out the big and small conflagrations caused by your boss’s lack of order. Any minute, he can throw something at you that needs to be done yesterday, leaving you on edge and anxious.

What to do: “Take the initiative and install the order that is missing,” Abbajay advises. “Schedule regular meetings with him, do extra check-ins, always take notes and recap everything.” Abbajay also recommends getting out ahead of the (weekend-wrecking) ball by paying attention to your boss’s responsibilities and workload. “Stay on top of his projects and deadlines, so his last-minute disasters aren’t yours,” she says.

The Micromanager

This boss seems to think you’re an idiot or a child—or both. The way she is constantly checking on the smallest things is insulting and infuriating. You have no sense of autonomy, and this makes you feel oppressed.

What to do: “Micromanagers are perfectionists who crave either control or information, so figure out what she wants—and flood her with it,” Abbajay says. If your boss returns memos to you with the Oxford comma added, use the Oxford comma. If she wants to know what you’re doing every hour of the day, send her updates and reports. This is going to be a lot of extra work that feels unnecessary, but instead of resisting it, try to embrace it. Early on in her career, Abbajay had a boss who required a daily status report of all her projects, “and that memo eventually became my résumé,” she says.


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