How to survive a horrible boss - Michelle Gibbings

Hollywood has made an industry creating movies and TV shows that portray a horrible boss. Think Miranda Priestly, Gordon Gekko, Katharine Parker and Montgomery Burns to name a few.

Whilst the reality may not be as extreme as what’s portrayed on the silver screen, sadly many people find themselves working for people they don’t like or respect.

What do you do when you find yourself working for a horrible boss? Throw in the towel? Put up with it? Hope it gets better?

While the approach to take depends on your circumstances, here are eight ideas to consider:

1. Think long term
If I reflect on my career, some of the toughest jobs and hardest people to work for turned out to be pivotal and vital experiences in my career. Before you throw in the towel, consider the long-term benefits and what you gain from the role.

Ask yourself: What am I learning? Is this setting me up for a bigger or better next role?

2. Mind your health
Working for a bad boss can take its toll on your physical and mental health, so make sure you take care of you. Find time to exercise and meditate, and ensure you get enough sleep and eat well. If you aren’t in peak physical condition it will be far harder to manage the impact and stress.

Ask yourself: Am I taking care of myself enough?

3. Build a support base
Focus on your network and create a diverse network with people you can turn to for advice and support. This includes having a network of advocates who can help put your position forward and speak for you.

Ask yourself: Who are my supporters and detractors, and how much effort am I putting in to building a healthy and sustainable network?

4. Assume good intent
Brené Brown in her book Dare to Lead writes about how you can change how you approach issues and people by assuming that people are doing their best.

She writes “The assumption of positive intent is only sustainable when people ask themselves this question: What boundaries need to be in place for me to be in my integrity and generous with my assumptions about the intentions, words, and actions of others?”

Setting boundaries in this context is about making clear what’s okay and what’s not okay, and why.

Ask yourself: What would I do differently and how would I think differently if I assumed that my boss was acting with good intent and trying their best? What boundaries do I need in place to be able to do that?

5. Protect yourself
Behaviours are infectious and if your boss acts unethically or poorly, be wary and ensure that their behaviour doesn’t rub off on you.

It’s critical to know the line that you won’t cross, because as soon as you put your toe across the line and behave in a way that’s out of kilter with your value set then it is easier to continue that way.

Ask yourself: What are my core values and what do I stand for?

6. Search for learning
There’s a well known saying – ‘I am thankful for all those difficult people in my life, they have shown me exactly who I do not want to be’.

We learn something from everyone we work with; whether they are good, bad or somewhere in between. Your search for learning helps to expand your understanding of self and of others.

Ask yourself: What have I learnt today?

7. Embrace corporate karma
Eventually most horrible bosses move on or get moved on. There time will come, so rise above the noise and most importantly, don’t become like them.

Ask yourself: What else do I need to do to maintain my sense of self and my resilience?

8. Vote yourself off the island
If your work is making you so unhappy that it’s impacting your well-being and the well-being of those around you it’s usually time to consider ‘voting yourself off the island’. By that I mean taking control and making the decision to go somewhere else or do something different.

Ask yourself: Is this role impacting my mental health and well-being?

It’s your career and so take charge of it and make it work for you, not against you.

Getting you ready for tomorrow, today®.

Michelle Gibbings is a change leadership and career expert and founder of Change Meridian.  Michelle works with global leaders and teams to help them get fit for the future of work. She is the Author of ‘Step Up: How to Build Your Influence at Work’ and ‘Career Leap: How to Reinvent and Liberate Your Career’. For more information: or contact

Publication: | | |