How to Be Happy and Successful with Bad Bosses: Part 2

This is a follow-up to an article from, titled the worst bosses in film. The article provided a great summary of the different types of bosses we run into. The film versions are exaggerated but still highly representative of the types of bosses most of us have experienced at some point in our lives.


I thought it would be helpful to provide ideas about how you might deal with each kind of boss in a way that will help you be happier and more successful.


Let’s start with two secrets that will help you be happier with any kind of boss.


The first secret is that your bosses, no matter how mean and nasty they are, don’t make you unhappy. It is not what they say or do that makes you unhappy, it is how you choose to internalize what they say or do. They don’t have control of your life or your happiness, you do.

The second secret is having an “Autonomy” account. This is 3 to 6 months of salary in a bank account. We are all happier when we have autonomy, the ability to choose actions that will impact our lives. An “Autonomy” account allows you to get up every morning and decide if you want to go to work or not. You could decide not to work because you have a choice. Your savings will get you through a job search. More importantly it gives you a cushion to make the right decisions at work, even if the boss might fire you. It lets you sleep better at night because you have a cushion if you get laid off. Start building your “Autonomy” account today, even if it is as little as $100 per month.


Now let’s talk about how you deal with the unscrupulous, the ghost, and the incompetent boss.



The “Unscrupulous Boss”


The “Unscrupulous Boss” will lie, cheat, and steal to get what they want and to get noticed or promoted by upper management. This is one of the few bosses where quitting is a good option. Integrity is everything and you don’t want to get caught up in or associated with anything that could damage your reputation or your integrity.


“Your reputation is more important than your paycheck, and your integrity is worth more than your career.” Ryan Freitas


If your company is unwilling to recognize your boss’s lack of integrity, then you shouldn’t be a part of that culture. There is no solution for working with a boss you don’t trust, who takes actions that are illegal or unethical, or worse yet expects you to. Although it may not seem like it at the time, there is always a better option.


There is also a more common form of the “Unscrupulous Boss” that is not as blatant or as clearly unethical as we described above. They tend to cross the line every now and then and seem to be good at heart, but just sometimes make bad decisions due to pressure or ignorance. Unfortunately you still can’t afford to be associated with this type of boss. You have to report their illegal or unethical actions immediately so that you don’t end up becoming a part of the crime or cover-up. The careers of the people with good intentions are often ruined while the truly guilty seem to find a way to slide through unscathed. Don’t stay with a boss who takes actions that are illegal or unethical. Your reputation and your integrity are way too important. You will be much happier and more successful when you find a more positive environment.



The “Ghost Boss”


The “Ghost Boss” is becoming more and more common, especially as the number of people working from home swells exponentially. They never seem to be around and are hard to find when you need them. They are constantly on business trips, in meetings, or just working from a different location. The good news is they are not necessarily a “bad” boss, they are just difficult to work for if you don’t put the right structure in place.

The secret to being happy and successful with a “Ghost Boss” is to schedule regular meetings and provide regular updates via text, email, or voicemail. Send them your goals at the beginning of the week or month and then show them that you accomplished those goals at the end of the week or month. Have an agenda ready for each meeting and ask them regularly what else they need from you. With a “Ghost Boss” it is usually better to solve the problem and tell them your solution, decision, and next steps rather than asking them to solve the problem. They trust you or they would be communicating more often. Reward that trust by making decisions, taking action, and keeping them informed. A “Ghost Boss” can provide you with a lot of autonomy and opportunity. Create a structure that works for both of you and you will be happier and more successful.

“Incompetent Boss”

The “Incompetent Boss” doesn’t know the industry, their particular position, or just doesn’t know how to lead. There are all kinds of reasons the Incompetent Boss gets their job. Maybe they were really good at a lower level job, maybe they have a good friend or family on the executive team, or maybe they have just been around so long, they got promoted because of seniority. Whatever the reason, they are still your boss and you still need to find a way to deal with them in way that makes you happy and successful.


The conundrum with an “Incompetent Boss” is they know they are incompetent, but they don’t want anyone else to know. Even though it is obvious to everyone, their worst fear is that anyone finds out. So they will try to hide their incompetence at all costs and will become very defensive any time it is brought to light; which means they will make you look bad, rather than take the blame themselves. So the secret to managing an incompetent boss is to help them look good. Subtly give them ideas and tips to get them on the right track. Implement what works instead of exactly what they tell you when you know it doesn’t work. They will quietly appreciate your help even if they don’t give you public recognition. Take the role of an unofficial leader and help your team be successful. Don’t let people stand around and wine and complain about your boss’s incompetence. Do what needs to get done so that you all feel good about the team’s accomplishments.


An important note: Don’t wait for your boss’s incompetence to be recognized by the higher level management team. Unfortunately, that could take a long time if it happens at all. Instead, become a leader on your team and look for other opportunities that come your way as your leadership is recognized throughout the organization. Help your team and your “incompetent boss” be happy and successful and you will be happier and more successful.




The most important thing to remember about bad bosses is that they are human too. Many of us are bosses now, and the rest will probably be a boss at some point in our career. The sad truth is that statistics show that only about 1/3 of us will be good bosses. The rest of us will be “bad bosses” and make similar mistakes as the bosses described above. So how do you want to be treated when you make those mistakes? Do you want to be forgiven and helped, or persecuted and demonized? Treat your “bad boss” the way you would want to be treated if you were in their shoes. Help them become a better boss. Help them be happier. Making that effort will make you happier and more successful.


Check out The Worst Bosses in Film:

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.