Real-Life Horrible Bosses!

No, I haven’t seen the movie – I don’t need to because I’ve not only read the book I’ve seen the stage production in far too many workplaces.  There’s not much the movie can add to the real life experience.  

People want to know what they can do to improve the situation when reporting to a horrible boss and recently I saw someone from a recruitment organization on TV who shared his perspective on how to handle a horrible boss.  His take was to meet with the horrible boss and explain the situation from your perspective.  Let them know how their behaviour affects you and your work and then discuss how the two of you can work differently in the future. 

That's a very reasonable approach and one I would support if you weren't dealing with an unreasonable person.  You can try to be reasonable, but it's at your own peril.  In my experience you might as well pour gasoline on yourself and strike a match.  You’ll get the same outcome. 

Here’s my perspective and it’s based on years of experience in the HR trenches.  Under no circumstances try to reason with a really horrible boss.  I’m not talking about the boss who has high standards of performance, looks for regular results or expects you to act in a responsible and accountable manner by showing up on time.  Those are reasonable expectations.  I’m talking about unreasonable, abusive, intimidating psychos who treat people disrespectfully and leave a body count in their wake.  There is no reasoning with these individuals and if you try to go there you’re just setting yourself up for more pain.  A great person I really respect tried the “let’s sit down and have a heart to heart” recently.  In her words, she knew she was in trouble as she watched the neck veins start to bulge and the face get redder and redder.  Nothing was resolved and she found she became a target from that point on until, guess what, she was made redundant.  A top performer for many years, well liked by peers, direct reports and former bosses, and yet it still wasn’t enough.  And this is the real lesson .....

Until  the company is prepared to hold the horrible boss accountable there’s really nothing you can say or do that will change their behaviour.  And why should they – you don’t have the ability to withhold their bonus, promote or fire them and if you don’t hold greater power over them than they hold over you then your concerns not only mean nothing to them, they may even fuel more unreasonable behaviour.

Here’s my best advice – get out!  Focus on a job search and don’t waste time or energy thinking you can actually change this person. Like my mom always used to tell me, "when someone shows you who they are, believe them." Find another job and until then, do your best to cope by keeping your head down, comply with as many demands as possible (with certain exceptions of course!), and see if you can actually find a way to get the horrible boss to see you as someone who makes them look good. 

Now you may be thinking “but doesn’t that mean I’m just buckling under and letting the horrible boss win?”  Not really.  I see it as running your own game – how can you convince this piece of work that having you there is a real benefit to them and that you’re on their side.  It’s a short term solution to get to the real end game which is getting yourself out of there unscathed and maybe even snag a good reference.

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