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The Three Stages of Dealing With Bad Managers

May 2, 2017

There’s two types of crazy. The guy who gets naked and howls at the moon and then the guy who does the same thing in my livin room. The first you can ignore, the second you kind of have to deal with.
– Hoosiers

We’ve all had bad managers. Many of us have probably been bad managers. Some of us may actually be bad managers today. But, we’ve cerntainly all had to deal with them at one time or another. Here’s my three step process for dealing with them. The Arbinger Institute (publishers of “Management and Self Deception,” and “Anatomy of Peace”) describes “the box.” When we are in the box we view other people as one of three things: vehicles to help us, irrevelvant, or obstacles that need to be overcome. The Arbinger Institute explains how to get out of the box so that you don’t treat people like objects. However, in this case, these three views of people can give direction on how to work with a bad manager.


Good judgement comes from experience.
Experience comes from poor judgement.
– Unknown author

No one starts out as an experienced manager. We all were new once. And being new, we made mistakes. The first (and best approach) when working with a bad manager is to “manage up.” The best new managers understand they they are new. My daughter was commissioned a 2LT in the United States Army a couple years ago. As a brand new officer, she outranked every enlisted soldier in the entire army. “If you want to be successful in your army career, listen to your sergeants, especially the career ones.”

My friend Howard Tayler describes it as:

A sergeant in motion outranks a lieutenant who doesn’t know what’s going on.
– “70 Maxims of Maximally Effective Mercenaries” Maxim 2

But, what happens when your have a manager who suffers from the problem of thinking they are “The Smartest Guy In The Room“? First you attempt to manage, but if it becomes obvious that your manager is going to insist on making all of their own mistakes, let them.


If you like your job and you’re good at it, just go do it. Figure out how to engage as little as possible with your manager. I had a manager one time who insisted that it was not my role to help out our operations team when they did a data drain every other Saturday. My entire involvment was forwarding an email from the client to our operations desk and then sending the client an email when we were done. It was dead simple and it make the operations team happy if I did it. So, I did.

I just didn’t bring it up with my manager. He understood that I was doing it, and he never did like it. But, it was difficult for him to forbid me to do it. I didn’t make a big deal to Operations about the fact I was defying my manager’s wishes. It only became an issue on those few Saturdays when he needed to cover for me. The funny thing, his insistance on not doing it those days simply made him look uncooperative.

As much as you can, like the assistant coach in Hoosiers said in the quote above, “ignore it if you can.” But, what about when you can no longer ignore it? You move on to step three: Obstacles.


If you ignore your bad manager long enough, one of two things will happen. Either the manager will decide to let you ignore her, or she will decide that she needs to redouble her managing efforts. At some point the job is not worth it. You also have two options, but they are really both the same option: change. You can attempt to get the manager changed, or you can change your own position.

Getting someone removed is really hard to do, and unless you’re related to the company president, you are probably not going to have enough influence to remove a bad manager. You would hope that senior management would realize the problem and make a change, but many bad managers manage “up” well while managing “down” poorly. But, if you love your job, it’s at least worth a shot.

More likely, you will have to move yourself. It’s tempting to go out in a blaze of glory. Don’t do it. My son worked at a fast food place when he was 16. He eventually got fed up and decided to quit. He didn’t give notice. He simply decided he’d had enough of his boss and announced, “That’s it, I QUIT!” and walked out. He felt great. . until he tried to find a new job, and realized that his options were limited. Eventually he went back to the fast food place and asked for his job back.

The need to maintain healthy relationships is even more important in business than it is in a burger flipping job. Twenty-five years ago I worked for WordPerfect. I tried to quit and go to work for Microsoft and they made my life hell for about six months. Evan was the director, and was the only one who treated me like a person and not a traitor. I was moving states and switching companies. I didn’t need to leave on a good note. Besides, WordPerfect went out of business a few years later.

Fast forward to last year and our company hired a new project manager. It was Evan. Even though it had been 25 years, I was really happy I hadn’t stormed out in a huff.

So, if you do need leave, don’t advertise it. Just go find another job and make the change. Shake everyone’s hand on the way out the door and wish your (bad) manager the best of luck.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren. 

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(c) 2017 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved 

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