Do you work for a Wannabe, Suppressor, Pretender, Confounder, Dumbfounder, Propagator, Player, Bully, Manipulator, Cult Maker, Pilferer, Saboteur, or a Combination Type?
Bad bosses are a fact of working life. No matter what career you choose, chances are you're going to have to deal with people who steal your ideas, criticize your work constantly, and flake out just when you need them most.
It's not illegal to be a jerk. But that doesn't mean you have to silently accept this bad behavior and the damage it can do to your career.
"Who's Afraid of the Big, Bad Boss?" by Marilyn Haight identifies 13 common bad boss types, and offers advice on how to cope with them. She also saves you some wasted effort by explaining what definitely doesn't work with each of those personality types. While the book would be useful to workers of all ages, it is especially helpful for those new to the workplace, who haven't mastered the basics of office politics.
For Haight, a "bad boss" is a boss who intentionally harms her or his employees and employer, not someone who is merely inexperienced. These people can't be reasoned with, or educated into being better bosses. They don't want to be better bosses.
There are plenty of decent books out there about incompetent bosses, but Haight said it was time for a book about bosses who were intentionally bad. "We needed a book about what to do if you find out your boss is incorrigible," she said in an interview.
Haight, an organizational development consultant, said she came up with the idea for the book after years of working as a management consultant for employers. Oftentimes, she said, she would be hired by managers who wanted her to help them lay the blame on their workers, when it was really their own fault that there were so many problems. Later, when she moved on to other work, "the voices of those employees kept echoing in my mind," she said.
For young workers in particular, she recommends the section in each chapter about interview strategies. In it, she mentions phrases that workers can listen for to find out what kind of boss someone is likely to be. For instance, a Suppressor, whom she describes as a boss who regards employees chiefly as nuisances, will often say things like "I run a pretty tight ship," or "I like to stay involved in the projects my people are working on."
If you hear those phrases, which sound innocent enough on the surface, probe a bit more deeply, Haight advises. Follow up with questions of your own, such as "How do you recognize people for doing a good job?"
That can help keep you from getting into a bad situation, but what if you are long past the interview stage? Then what? In that case, Haight outlines strategies for surviving each bad boss type. For example, if your boss is a Pretender -- someone who talks a good game, but is actually incompetent -- she suggests the following actions (at least until you can switch employers or get a transfer):
* Subtly teach your Pretender boss the technicalities of the work, without letting slip that you know the boss is faking it.
* Defer to your boss for big decisions.
* Allow your boss to claim your work as his or her own.
* Function below your full potential to avoid intimidating your boss.
At the Web site she's set up for the book, BigBadBoss.com, Haight includes reader submissions about their own bad bosses, including November's entry, about a Bully:
"I once worked with a shooting star of a company. There was a 120-person worldwide sales team; only 5 were women. The VP of sales harassed me with words such as, 'I don't know why you have so much self confidence; you certainly don't have anything to back it up.' He also called me fat; . . . I was only 125 lbs at the time. . . . I had made four important sales, but he fired me for lack of performance. . . . The guy who took my territory was with the company 12 months with no sales.
"I was so crippled by the constant hammering and the leaving events, I couldn't work for anyone else again. He did me a favor . . . in hind sight; I started my career as [an entrepreneur] after that incident."
Calling All Bosses From Hell
Do the types of bad bosses described by Haight ring a bell for you? Who was the worst boss you ever had? How did you handle it? E-mail your stories to email@example.com.
Join Mary Ellen Slayter for Career Track Live, an online discussion of workplace issues affecting young workers, at www.washingtonpost.com at 2 p.m. on Dec. 5.