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Dealing with a Bad Boss

Learn how to keep your cool, bring up problems with leadership, and decide whether to leave a bad boss.

Sales is an interesting industry. It attracts ambitious self-starters interested in building a career with high mobility, with the gift of gab and a desire to make a lot of money. Most people with those traits are wonderful, charming people.

Unfortunately, some of them are power-hungry sociopaths. And others are just a little incompetent. And unfortunately, the latter two groups sometimes wind up in positions of power.

Learning how to handle a bad boss is something almost every salesperson will have to do at some point in their careers. But with the admittedly unpleasant experience under your belt, you’ll almost certainly be more adept, compassionate, and capable as a leader when it’s your turn at the head of the team.


Recognizing a Bad Boss

There are a lot of ways to be nice, but there are only a few ways to be a jerk. Most bad bosses fall into three buckets. We’ll call them incompetent bosses, selfish or narcissistic bosses, and bad leaders. There are other kinds of bad bosses, but most bosses have one or several of these qualities.

Let’s take a look at how you can recognize these types of bad bosses.

Incompetent Bosses

Incompetent bosses are probably the most benign type of bad boss you will encounter during your career. That doesn’t mean they aren’t stressful to work for.

An incompetent boss is a boss who, through lack of sales, professional, interpersonal, or organizational skills, frankly, just sucks at their job. Maybe you like them. Maybe they are a great person, but through their incompetence, your job becomes much more difficult.

Sometimes, bosses screw up, and if you can talk to an incompetent boss about their mistakes and how they affect you, things can often get better. Unfortunately, this is often difficult because incompetence often flows from a lack of willingness to listen. This brings us to:

Selfish Bosses

Selfish or narcissistic bosses are one of the most dangerous and toxic types of bosses because they are not doing a bad job on accident, they are often doing one on purpose. Selfish bosses sell you out. They want all the credit, and enjoy the feeling of power of being a boss.

These types of people are often more likely to harass you, bully you, or sell you out if your team doesn’t hit quota. Unfortunately, due to their deliberateness, they’re also the least likely to get fired. Knowing how to recognize a narcissist is crucial, because often they’ll try to convince you that you’re the problem. If you are working for a narcissist, you are not the problem.

Bad Leaders

Being a leader means being selfless, collaborative, keeping your cool, and celebrating the members of your team for their contributions. It’s also profoundly difficult, and sometimes, people just can’t hack it.

Maybe a fantastic individual seller was promoted and found that they suck at coordinating a team. Maybe a leader has the skills to call plays, but when things go wrong they have unhealthy habits like taking it out on you. Every selfish leader is also a bad leader, but sometimes, a bad leader can just be a good person with no leadership skills.

Now that you know the three primary types of bad bosses, you’re ready to evaluate your options, learn coping mechanisms, and decide whether you want out.

Don’t Get Gaslit

We’ve said it before, we’ll say it again: Don’t let your boss convince you you are the problem. Of course, it’s always possible you are doing a bad job in your role, but there is a very easy way to determine this.

  • Are you being given the support you need and deserve to succeed?
  • Could someone being paid as much as you do a much better job?
  • Are you, through your actions and your actions alone, failing at central tasks of your role or making your coworkers jobs harder?

If you answered no to any of the above, you are probably doing a good job, or at the very least, you are not the biggest problem.
Nor should you make the mistake of thinking there is some social element that’s relevant to the situation. A bad boss is never a bad boss because of you. A helpful way of remembering this is that if you were bad at your job, you would just be fired. If you aren’t fired, you’re probably doing better than you think.

Knowing When to Walk Away

Sometimes, a bad boss increases your blood pressure a few points. Other times, they are a danger to your physical or emotional wellbeing. In the former scenario, sticking it out is an excellent opportunity to learn conflict resolution skills, to build character, and to gain empathy.

But sometimes, a toxic workplace is just a toxic workplace, and you’ve got to get out of there. If your boss is ruining your life and you’ve got the financial resources for a job hunt, pack your things and don’t stay a day too long. And if you don’t have the financial resources, check your local labor laws. You may be entitled to some windfall courtesy of your bad boss’ poor behavior.

“But wait,” you may be saying, “I’ve only been here a few months. Won’t recruiters think I look flighty if I leave?” The good news is that most of the people interviewing you also work in sales, and therefore, are well-equipped to understand that sometimes a boss is so bad you can’t stick around.

If you make it clear in the interview process that you left because of profoundly toxic behavior, then most people won’t mind, and those that do mind are probably not the people you want to work for anyway.

The Serenity Prayer Method

In the event you decide to stay at your workplace despite its stresses, it’s profoundly helpful for your mental health to remember (a secular version of) the standard prayer of Alcoholics Anonymous:

Grant to us the serenity of mind to accept that which cannot be changed; courage to change that which can be changed, and wisdom to know the one from the other.

That is to say, some things you just can’t change. Some things you can. But stressing about the things you can’t change, such as your boss’ level of competence, is a waste of time. Just make sure things you can change, such as the lead time you give yourself to fix your bosses mistakes, does get changed.

You might never make a perfect workplace, but you can certainly make one you’re at peace with.

Getting Out of There

On the other hand, let’s say you simply cannot make peace with your boss. In that case, we’d recommend making like a cheetah and running out of there at speeds of up to 75 miles per hour.

Just remember to be open and thorough in your explanation of why you’re leaving your current workplace, and if you’ve been at your job for 10 months, you may want to consider sticking it out to the one year mark.

Looking for more tips on how to land a job? Check out our post on crushing the job search, or visit Bravado Jobs to find vetted jobs at top tech companies today.

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