How to respond to a bad boss


If you’ve ever worked anywhere, for any amount of time you’ve had a bad boss. If I’m guessing right, that boss treated you unfairly, asked you to do things that you didn’t agree with, took credit for your work, and stifled your creativity. The bottom line is, your boss didn’t have good leadership skills. You were actually a better leader, but the Law of the Lid (see the 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership) wouldn’t allow the organization to go to a higher level than the boss.

As a leader you may have tried to take over the leadership role to take the team to the next level, only to find yourself butting heads with your boss. So what do you when you find yourself working for a bad boss?

The first thing you need to do is stop thinking you work for a bad boss. Like with anyone you work with, if you treat them as they currently are, the person gets worse. Treat them as they could be and they become better. All people have potential to be great and part of your job as their employee is to help them reach that potential.

The next thing you must do, stop fighting them on everything and submit to them. Paul in the book of Romans speaks on this.

“Everyone must submit to governing authorities. For all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God. So anyone who rebels against authority is rebelling against what God has instituted and they will be punished. For the authorities do not strike fear in people who are doing right, but in those who are doing wrong. Would you like to live without fear of the authorities? Do what is right, and they will honor you.”

The thing I try to remember is this; I work for God and he told me to obey the authority that He put in place. My job is to make my boss look good and to make his job easier.


18 thoughts on “How to respond to a bad boss

  1. Scott Beavers says:


    Who is your Bad Boss?

  2. I personal have never had a bad boss. However, I am the exception to the rule and as you know, of course, it is always wiser to work with the rule rather than the exception.

  3. Excellent article! I have had some of my own experiences with this. In the psychology world, we call it re-framing, and it works beautifully. This doesn’t mean that it all goes away, or becomes perfect, but it certainly creates much less stress and tension. However, recently there was a study in the Academy of Management (Chan & McAllister, 2014) that talks about this from a much deeper mental situation. Essentially, poor behavior on the part of the supervisor, to the point of verbally and/or mentally and/or emotionally abusive behavior (even if only perceived by the employee) can create a state paranoia for the employee. This creates behaviors that affect everything else, and creates usage of essentially coping skills that can further create paranoia and maladaptive coping skills. I definitely suggest checking it out for more details, especially as it seems to be a topic that could use further study!

    Chan, M.E. & McAllister, D.J. (2014). Abusive Supervision Through the Lens of Employee State Paranoia. Academy of Management Review, 39(1), p. 44-66. doi:

  4. Tom Heuerman says:

    Sorry, this is terribly wrong advice. We can conform and comply to a point and we can change ourselves to a point. Then we must stand up to the bad boss (see my current blog post on the dangers of pseudoinnocence).

    I had a bad boss that went beyond run-of-the-mill bad bosses. I led an industry-changing transformation effort. The boss became destructive (see my e-book: “Value-Driven Leadership: A Story of Personal and Organizational Transformation” on Amazon).

    I did everything I could over two years to engage him; he only continued to be a bad boss. I decided to stand up to him. I knew I would have to leave, but someone had to stand up for the greater good. I did what I could and exposed him in front of those higher up the ladder. I left and was well treated by the company. They knew the truth. Three months later, he was removed from his job to the benefit of hundreds of people.

    My values told me to live true to myself and I did. Our spiritual lives require us to be spiritual warriors at times, to bear witness, and to do what is right even when it hurts us. Our organizational worlds have a real deficit of courageous people who stand up and speak up. Conforming to “bad bosses” is to collude with “badness” and contribute to it.

    I went on to get a Ph.D. in leadership, write, and consult for 13 years. I stood up for those mistreated in my client company’s each and every time. I lost some work but made a living in three markets over those years and never regretted being a courageous and authentic warrior from value-driven leadership.

    • We will have to agree to disagree on this one. I agree that we should stand for what’s right, but never try to expose (impose judgment) our boss to higher ups in the company for being a bad boss. Not only do they look bad, but so do we. From your own words both of you left the company. We have to be better than that. We must act in accordance to correct living. When we try to correct EVERY wrong out there, we become the combative, aggressive, problem causing one. The cream will rise to the top if we are patient and trust the Lord to do his work, but not if we keep shaking things up every chance we get.

      This isn’t a principle I came up with. This is from the holy scripture.

      I do hope you have a great day and I really enjoy your blog.

    • NO DOUBT!!!!

      ha ha

      But there is true power in submission. Histories most powerful people are the ones who knew when to submit. (Jesus, Ester, Nelson Mandela, Colin Powell, Warren Buffet, Ronald Regan ect….)

  5. gratia17 says:

    Excellent post. This is a lesson I learned from experience myself. Not only does infighting between a boss and a subordinate cause frustration for the people involved, but it also breaks up the organization and limits greatly its potential/efficiency. You have a subordinate who starts to think they’re the boss and forgets his place in the organization, and a boss who’s trying to deal with someone who’s gone astray. This is very damaging. I think that as a subordinate you’re allowed to voice your opinions but only if it is done in a constructive manner so that – as you say – the boss could become better than they currently are. It’s easier to let them respect you and listen to you than to stand up to them constantly and aggressively challenge them on the things you disagree with.

    I think that, however, this sort of conflict stems from a fundamental difference in personal values. A “bad” boss probably sees the world differently and deals with issues in a way you wouldn’t. Best bet is probably to figure out their personal values and use them to your advantage… Because let’s face it, the boss isn’t going to change his personal values quite easily.

    That, or you could quit your job. 😁

    • Great lesson in your words. Thanks for ” A “bad” boss probably sees the world differently and deals with issues in a way you wouldn’t. Best bet is probably to figure out their personal values and use them to your advantage…”

      Good Stuff.

  6. Tom Heuerman says:

    Often those who do what is right in a dysfunctional system will look bad to those invested in those systems because they are invested in demonizing anyone who illuminates and threatens the dysfunction.We call it shooting the messenger. It goes with the leadership territory.

    The “cream” does rise to the top, and we can see how people live and lead over time.

    No one can RIGHT every wrong or even be right about every wrong. I didn’t mean to imply that. There are egregious actions by leaders that I must stand up to or live ashamed of myself.

    I like what Scott Peck wrote about making judgments about others in his book, “People of the Lie.” He said that we MUST judge others but first look within ourselves before we judge others.

    Perhaps God looks to us to do his work. I will judge myself by my actions.

    I don’t think we should “shake things up” every chance we get but often enough to get people thinking.

    I love the engagement and getting people’s comments, thoughts, and experiences.

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