Navigating a Bad Manager

Sheila Murphy
January 31, 2023

A bad manager can have a tremendous impact on your career and mental well-being. In movies such as 9 to 5 and Working Girl, lousy managers can be funny. However, in real life, they are far less amusing.

When in a situation with a bad manager, it is best to do two things as soon as possible.

First, enlist the aid of allies to help you understand and evaluate the situation. Because these people are usually not as emotionally invested, often they are better assessors of the conditions. They also may leverage their own experiences to help you navigate the situation.

If possible, I recommend having allies both inside and outside the organization. The inside people may help you better understand the company culture, current environment, and politics. The outside people may be better suited to help you take an unbiased view of the company’s culture and what the outside world may offer you.

Second, keep notes as close in time as possible about situations where your manager engages in horrible behavior. This will help you and your allies understand the situation better. And having this information helps your allies offer the best advice.

In evaluating the situation and discussing it with others, you should consider these possibilities. We do not all have the luxury of leaving bosses right away - so this list includes strategies if you are staying. Under no circumstances, however, should you put up with an abusive relationship. In those cases, you should seek out HR.

Are you really dealing with a bad boss? Is your boss really terribly or is there a reason for a behavior? For some reason, are you being hard on the boss?

Identify triggers.

Are there certain situations that trigger your boss? By understanding this, you may better influence the outcomes. Allies may help you handle the situation and create a stronger relationship with your manager.

Try Talking to Your Boss.

Some people do not know how they are perceived and what they are doing to you, and guess what? They do care. It is worth speaking to your manager about the behavior. Make sure you discuss their behavior and not them as a person and explain how it impacts you. While this does not work all the time, I do know of people who have been able to improve their work environment by doing this dramatically.

Actively Manage Your Career.

Possibly, if the situation is not killing you emotionally while you are trying to improve it, you should also be working on preparing for a possible departure. Readying yourself means looking at your marketability - obtaining any skills or experiences that may be needed, updating your career documents, and beginning to warm up your network if you have neglected it.

Consider Raising Up the Chain or HR.

If you are unsuccessful in working with your manager to improve your working conditions, you can consider elevating the issue. This is where an ally can help you best navigate the situation.

Decide if it is Time to Leave.

Staying in a bad situation does not make you a better worker or help your career trajectory. On top of that, a horrible boss can lead to emotional exhaustion, depression, and chronic stress that can tremendously impact your mental and physical health. Leaving a bad situation is a mature decision, and most likely, you will find yourself in a culture that better supports you.

You should explore internally (if the organization’s environment is not toxic) and external opportunities in deciding to leave. You should also develop a list of questions to ask during interviews to evaluate your next manager better. And to the extent possible, try to research the person you will be reporting to - to make sure that they do not share characteristics of your lousy manager.

There is no reason in the current job market to stay in a situation that is not working for you and impacting your health and career. Having astute, and politically savvy and connected allies can help you navigate your current work environment or, if need be, help you launch a new job search.


Want to learn more about how to become the in-house leader you are meant to be?

Check out Sheila's 10 Tips for In-House Counsel Struggling to Advance.

In this guide, Sheila shares her time-tested tips for in-house counsel to release fear, jump-start your career, and propel towards promotion.

Accelerate your business and career growth

Hiring a coach-consultant is an investment in you, your team, and your business that can lead to a rewarding and prosperous career and business.

Curious as to how this works?

Book a complimentary 30-minute session with us where we can discuss your opportunities and challenges, as well as a pathway forward. The session is entirely free of charge, with no pressure to work with us further.

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.