March 20, 2023

Small Business Advice

How to deal with a bad manager

"So much of what we call management consists in making it difficult for people to work." ~ Peter Drucker

Jerry Osteryoung | 6/15/2015

I think most people would say they have had a bad boss at one time or another. Unfortunately, it is just one of those things most people have or will have to endure. The good news is there are plenty of things you can do to make this situation more tolerable.

What different people would call a bad manager can be a subjective thing, so first, let me tell you how I define one. A bad manager is one who, for whatever reason, negatively affects the team culture. It may be that they are unapproachable or closed to new ideas. Or it could be that they are picking on individual members of their staff.

Bad managers are not evil people. Nor are they out to hurt anyone. In fact, more often than not, they believe they are doing the right thing. They just do not realize their behavior is damaging the morale of the whole team.

Even if the negative behavior is only directed at one member of the team, it affects everyone. For example, if a manager raises their voice at one employee – no matter what the reason – everyone hearing it will be impacted.

Now that we are on the same page about what makes a bad manager, what do you do if you are working for one? Start by asking yourself, “Can I live with this issue or not?” This is not to say that your boss’ bad behavior is acceptable, but only you can decide what you can tolerate.

You always have the option to leave, but I consider that a last resort. I had an employee who was being bullied by my boss. I had intervened many, many times to try to stop this harassment, but it was not working, and he was making her life miserable. We had tried so many things to improve the situation, but nothing ever worked. It did not matter how hard she tried to make him happy. We knew the administration would not do anything, so we both decided to quit. In hindsight, getting out from under this oppressive boss was the right thing to do. It gave my employee the opportunity to do things she had wanted to do for a long time.

Like my staff member and me, you may find yourself in a situation where leaving is the best alternative. However, being without employment is never easy, so this is not a decision you want to take lightly. It is always worth trying to improve the situation first.

One thing you can do to make a bad situation more tolerable is change your approach. You probably know that arguing with a bad boss just makes things worse. The boss is angry about something and is taking it out on you for some reason. This is a tough place to be, but realizing it is the manager’s problem and not yours can help.

That does not mean you cannot disagree with your boss. However, blurting out, “You are wrong!” is probably not the best way to get your point across. Try saying something like this instead: “I really hear what you are saying, and it makes sense. Before we follow this path, could we consider my suggestion?” This is a kind way to guide the discussion to another alternative.

For example, one bad boss used to come out and yell at his staff all the time. He would storm around telling them how to do their jobs. We found out that if you stood your ground with him, he backed down, so we trained his staff how to stand up to him in a kind and safe way. He still yells, but he does not intimidate his staff anymore because they have the tools they need to do their jobs and deal with him.

Maybe your bad boss does not yell, but he or she just does not do a good job leading the team forward. Instead, they just sit back and are happy keeping the status quo. In cases like these, I recommend the company allows their staff more leeway to accomplish the projects they think are important. This does not interfere with the manager’s role but gives the staff the feeling that they are moving forward.

If you have a bad boss, maybe you think complaining to his or her boss will do the trick. Maybe it will, but sometimes this backfires, and retribution can be tough. Complaining to your boss’ boss should be a last resort. Instead, you should figure out ways you can still do a great job in spite of your boss’ poor management. You simply cannot let a bad manager affect who you are or what you can do for your organization.

You can do this!

Dr. Osteryoung has directly has assisted over 3,000 firms. He is the Jim Moran Professor of Entrepreneurship (Emeritus) and Professor of Finance (Emeritus) at Florida State University. He was the founding Executive Director of The Jim Moran Institute and served in that position from 1995 through 2008. His newest book co-authored with Tim O'Brien, "If You Have Employees, You Really Need This Book," is a bestseller on He can be reached by e-mail at

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