Career Center Blog

July 30, 2008

Bosses from hell: Is it our responsibility to manage them or does HR need to send them to Good Boss Boot Camp?


It's no secret that a number of middle managers are simply worker bees who did their job so well that they were promoted to a supervisory position, regardless of whether they had any inkling about how to manage and motivate others.

As an homage to Hell Bosses everywhere and the employees who put up with them, Harvard Business Publishing's David Silverman wrote a funny blog post this week called 11 Habits of the Worst Boss I Ever Had. Here's my personal favorite from his list (which, by the way, happens to freelancers all the time):

Agree to deadlines and then accelerate them. Ask loudly from the hallway if the document is ready at 4:59 p.m. Announce: "I'm here late tonight if you want to finish it up."

The hilarious comments on bosses gone bad at the end of Silverman's post are well worth the read, too, including the ones suggesting (albeit sarcastically) that it's an employee's job to take some responsibility for his or her relationship with a Hell Boss. For the record, I agree -- to an extent. In the above Hell Boss scenario, for example, a little laying down the law couldn't hurt. Behold:

Sorry, Boss. But if you honestly expected me to have that 16-page report on your desk Monday morning, you shouldn't have assigned it to me Friday afternoon. I'm out of town this weekend, and that's not going to change.

Of course, we all know that attempting to set boundaries with a highly irrational or abusive manager won't get you very far. In some cases, putting your foot down may even get you shown the door. (Probably why this bigmouth has worked for herself for more than a decade.)

So, readers, what's been your solution when you've found yourself mismanaged by an inept boss -- and your once-balanced life suddenly off-kilter as a result? How much ownership have you taken of the situation, and how much have you had to just grin and bear it? Have you ever left a job because your boss was "untrainable"?

Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide." E-mail Michelle at

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I am in the hotel industry. For my boss to be in this industry for as long as she has really suprises me. She is never in a good mood, she communicates by cursing, yelling and screaming. She is untrainable She cant learn a new program or just how to be hospitable. She is a manager on paper. Our property is performing extremely well and has been for sometime now, But you cannot please her. I have to pick by battles because or I would never get anything accomplished. No one is willing to speak up or support you if you do because of the aftermath they know will happen, and it will. Her exposive behavior has become too much that I decided to leave the company.

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Karen Burns Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.

Kristen Fife Kristen Fife is a senior recruiter, career mentor, blogger and resume consultant based in the Seattle area.

Lisa Quast Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.

Randy Woods Randy Woods writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.

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Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.

Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.

Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."


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