How to Be Happy and Successful with Bad Bosses

I recently read an article from, titled the worst bosses in film. It 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 each type of boss.


The “I Own You Boss”


Let’s start with the “I Own You” boss. “They are perfectly willing to ruin your life to get what they want and they expect you to be grateful for letting them do it….Think Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada.” This boss is driven by ego, and although hard to see, rampant insecurity. They need friends, support, and an abundance of confirmation. You will be happier working with this boss if you can objectively measure and communicate the value you provide to the organization. It will help you understand how you really are making a difference and give them a reason to treat you with a little more respect. You should also communicate clear lines of what you will and won’t do or put up with. Let them know you don’t mind working late, but you won’t miss dinner with your family. You will endure the petty comments but won’t put up with abuse or insults. Although it seems counter intuitive, remember their birthdays or other special events in their life. Invite them to lunch or dinner with you and your peers. Rather than being scared or intimidated by them, treat them with dignity and politely provide an example of how they can treat you the same. Help them be a little happier and it will help you be a little happier and lot more successful.


The “Unforgiving Perfectionist”


So how do you work with the “Unforgiving Perfectionist,” The tyrant who wants everything and will compromise nothing? Although Darth Vader represents the extreme version of this boss, there is also a much nicer and almost friendly version, the boss who is striving for perfection, but cannot seem to realize that nothing is ever 100% perfect. They are never happy with any completed project or any work you do because they always know they could have done it better. Rather than celebrating successes, they dwell on problems and mistakes.

A great way to start with the perfectionist boss is by clarifying and quantifying expectations up front. When is the project due, how many widgets do they want you to make, exactly what do they want you to deliver? If the project is due on the 10th and you turn it on the 9th, it is hard for the perfectionist to complain. However, they will find something that is not perfect. Although this is their perspective, you will know that you completed your work on time and to the best of your ability. So, no matter what they say you can feel good instead of feeling incompetent.

Another tip is rather than declaring a project complete, you ask for advice about how to make it better. Beat them to the punch by declaring your own imperfections and opportunities for improvement. They will be less motivated to find faults if you find them for them. The most important tip is not to take it personally. Although, it may seem like they are picking on you, they don’t waste their time with people they don’t think could potentially get it right, and they are way harder on themselves then they are on you. The perfectionist wants to be happy, but has such high expectations for happiness that they never feel like they have really found it. Don’t let their eternal search for the perfect happiness make you unhappy as well. Be proud of who you are; faults, mistakes and all. Let your imperfect happiness be the example they need, so they can let go of “perfect” and embrace the fulfillment of “really good”.




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:

Next week we will discuss how to be happier with the “Unscrupulous Boss”, the “Ghost Boss”, and the “Incompetent boss.”

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