How to Manage a Difficult Boss


Here are the best strategies from business experts around the world.

Even the best job can become difficult if you have a challenging boss. Working for someone who is a bully or a micro-manager, or someone who lacks professional competence or emotional intelligence, can be taxing and exhausting.

Studies have consistently shown that employees with a difficult boss are more prone to depression, anxiety, stress, and physical ailments, including heart attacks. If you find yourself reporting to a difficult boss, you may want to consider seeking a transfer or joining another organisation.

But sometimes it’s not an option to leave your job, or you love your work too much to go. Then the question becomes how to manage and work around your difficult boss.

Here are some strategies we’ve found from business experts around the world:

1. Seek to understand.

Having a better sense of your boss’s motivations will inform how you respond to them. If they lack self-awareness, you could try to give they feedback on how they come across. If they are responding to pressure that they’re getting from others, you could ask how you can best provide support. If they lack management experience, you could go to them with specific requests of the resources and guidance you need.

2. Do your own job well and work around your boss’s weaknesses.

Rather than trying to expose your boss, focus on building your own reputation as a productive, reliable team member. Where your boss falls short, see if there is an appropriate way for you to help. Perhaps they’re terrible at meeting facilitation; you could offer to lead the next meeting. Or maybe they forget the decisions they made last week; you could provide clear documentation.

Doing your own job well and genuinely trying to support your boss will earn you respect from your colleagues and other leaders in the company. Your boss will likely also notice your efforts and will appreciate having you on the team (whether they say so or not).

3. Build your own support team.

The pain of working with a difficult boss can be alleviated if you are well supported by others. Establish strong working relationships with your colleagues. If you are in need of guidance, seek out a mentor from other managers in the organisation. Invest in supportive relationships outside of the workplace.

4. Take the initiative.

When your boss isn’t doing their job well, there may be gaps where you can provide leadership. Perhaps you can help guide your team toward a good decision; maybe you can try a new initiative within your department. See it as an opportunity to build up your own skills. But you’re not trying to undermine your boss, so make sure to keep them informed about what you’re doing.

5. Document your experience.

If conditions under this boss don’t improve, you may need to take your concerns to a higher manager or human resources. It will be important to provide specific examples of inappropriate behaviour or incompetent management. Keeping clear records, whether they are your own notes or communication between you and your boss, will bolster your case.

Difficult bosses are not uncommon, with as much as 75% of employees saying that their bosses are the most stressful part of their day. Chances are that you will have a challenging boss at some point in your career. The sooner you can figure out effective approaches for managing this situation, the more you can grow as a professional and a leader.