The good thing about a bad boss

The good thing about a bad boss

If you work, sooner or later, you’ll have a bad boss.  It’s just like if you drive long enough you’ll have a flat tyre and get pulled over by the cops, but while these last two can be over in a few minutes, a bad boss can last for years.

A bad boss can cost you time and energy

Assuming you care about what you do at work every day, a bad boss makes your job harder.  He or she focuses you on outcomes that you don’t care about, doesn’t help you do your work, get good team mates, or get better at your job.  A bad boss need only do one of the above to occur as a bad boss for you.

An evil boss, the kind you see on soap operas, will sleep with staff, take bribes etc., and fire people who threaten to expose him.

Your boss need not be soap-opera evil to make your life truly unpleasant.  I once had a boss who insulted people in meetings and would throw temper tantrums.  People were afraid to interact with him and one person I know actually went grey during his two years working for this guy.

A bad boss can cost you your dignity, your growth, your joy, and your passion.  Most of all though a bad boss robs you of time, time you could have spent working on something that has meaning for you.

So what could be good about having a bad boss?  To see, first consider two things:

1. We won’t act to change until pain crosses our threshold

There’s a particular phenomenon where something can hurt enough to make us uncomfortable and complain, but not enough to change it.

The threshold for action is different for different people, women—generally speaking—have very low thresholds for acting when it comes to health issues.  Whereas a woman is more likely to go to a doctor for a small discoloration behind her knee, the average Joe won’t act until that discoloration spreads to every part of his body.  ONLY then he’ll say, “Maybe I should go have that checked out.”

2. We prefer to medicate and complain

Many people become accustomed to the pains and discomforts of life.  With physical pain and discomfort they deal with medication, in dysfunctional relationships they deal by avoidance, and with boring jobs they cope by living for the weekends and vacation.   For all three they complain but don’t act to stop the pain.

We all get numb to situations that someone else looking in would say, why do you accept that?  Why don’t you just change it?

We don’t act to change because for us the cost to cope seems less than the cost to act for the sake of that change.  We get used to the pain and discomfort and over time it doesn’t seems so bad.

Our culture also encourages us to play it safe and stay where we are.  “The devil you know is better than the devil you don’t.”

We say, “My job is boring and I hate my colleagues, but the pay is decent.  Plus where am I going to get a better job?”

In other words for many, the threshold to act for a change is high.  Which brings me to the good thing about having a bad boss.

A bad boss can stir you to action

8e5aabae47d5f6c7_640_angry-manI think the value of having a truly bad boss is in pushing over your threshold to act.   If you’ve tolerated a boring job, a bad boss can make you ask

“What am I doing with my life?”

and more importantly,

“What do I want to do with the rest of my life?  Spend it working here?”

If you act NOW

But you need to act NOW, otherwise you’ll get used to even a horrible boss.  Don’t underestimate your capacity to get used to horrible people.  The gift of a bad boss is that he can provide that jolt of incompetence, unkindness and insincerity to shock you into action.

Otherwise, you may look back on your career with regret that you never even acted for your freedom.




Any thoughts? Contributions/acknowledgments welcome.