5 types of bad bosses – and how to handle them

A nightmare manager can make your job very stressful. If you have a tricky boss, try these practical tips to help you deal with them.

We’ve all had our share of bosses with managerial styles that leave much to be desired.

Thriving at work can be difficult if you’re unsure of how to handle your manager’s particular set of quirks and shortcomings.

Surprisingly, though, there can be an upside to having a tricky boss.

A study by the University of Central Florida has found that having a tricky boss can teach you what not do when it’s your time to manage others in the future.

While you’re biding your time, here’s how to navigate five tricky (and all-too-common) managerial styles.

1.   The narcissistic boss

They’re self-serving and have little to no empathy.

Bosses with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) are surprisingly common towards the pointy end of the corporate ladder.

The American Psychiatric Association estimates up to 6.2 per cent of the population has NPD.

Meanwhile, research shows up to 21 per cent of bosses in the upper echelons of the corporate business world can be considered psychopathic (not the same as NPD, but sharing commonalities), compared with one in 100 in the general population.

“Driven by ideals of power, money, status and control, they don’t care what they have to do to get to, and stay at, the top,” organisational psychologist Dr Amanda Ferguson explains.

While managers who have NPD can be talented, innovative and courageous, walking away is usually considered the best possible approach.

“If you’re keen to stay, educate yourself on their character traits and question your motivation for staying,” Dr Ferguson advises.

Using active listening and getting everything in writing are considered essential tools when dealing with this kind of manager.

2.   The micromanager

This manager closely observes and controls almost every aspect of your work and decision-making, to an extreme degree.

Micromanagers tend to have positive attributes – they’re highly engaged with their teams, offer expertise and can prevent issues.

But working under one can not only play havoc with productivity, it can affect staff morale, UNSW Business School’s Professor Karin Sanders says.

“Now, more than ever, people want autonomy in what they’re doing and – as long as they’re meeting their KPIs (key performance indicators) – the freedom to work when and where they wish,” Prof Sanders says.

To work with a micromanager, Prof Sanders recommends building a good relationship, taking care to show you can be trusted.

“Arrive five minutes before they do and leave five minutes after they leave,” she says.

“They need to know there’s nothing to worry about with you in charge.”

3.   The incompetent boss

Usually the result of nepotism or an undeserved promotion, this manager knows they’re in over their head – and is counting on you to help them save face.

Their lacklustre leadership affects staff productivity and often leads to poor employee retention.

However, one benefit of having an incompetent manager is that you’re much more likely to be “seen” and promoted by upper management.

Dr Ferguson recommends asserting yourself without putting down your boss.

“It’s about highlighting what you offer rather than shining a light on their inadequacies,” she says.

“So saying, ‘I have experience in this so why don’t I …’ instead of, ‘I have a degree in this and you don’t, so …’”

Let your boss save face and let the true nature of your work shine through.

4.   The mercurial boss

They’re the office Jekyll and Hyde.

Their behaviour is unpredictable and volatile, often veering into bullying territory.

But this is the easiest of tricky managerial styles to navigate since their behaviour is so public, Prof Sanders says.

“Most companies these days have a good bullying code of conduct and if your boss’s behaviour is making you uncomfortable, you could speak to your colleagues. And if they’re having the same experience, you could take it to senior management together,” she suggests.

“Just be sure to keep a record of all negative interactions – with time and date – as evidence.”

5.   The absent boss

Absentee leaders rarely show their faces in the office and appear disinterested when they do.

They tend to avoid meetings, fail to give constructive or positive feedback, and ignore staff achievements.

“Unless you know why your boss is absent, you should give your boss the benefit of the doubt – they could be dealing with a personal issue,” Dr Ferguson advises.

“But if you’re struggling to grow in your position, it could be worth discussing another position with your boss, or finding another senior (person) in your team that could serve as your mentor.”

Written by Dilvin Yasa.