It's Not In Your Head — 9 Signs Your Manager Is a Bad Leader

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Heather K Adams734
Content + Copy Writer
May 16, 2024 at 5:45PM UTC
Going to work day in and day out can be tough enough. Really enjoying what you do can help you beat most of your Monday blues, and so does liking most of the people you work with. But your work environment and the people in it can just as easily make each day a struggle just to get through. For example, the effects of an overly critical or even tyrannical boss can bleed into your personal life and affect your mental well being. Learning to catch the warning signs of a bad boss can save you a lot of stress and anxiety. Here are nine big ones to looks out for.

Warning signs of a bad boss.

1. They're hypercritical.

One of the classic warning signs of a bad boss is a hypercritical attitude. Nothing you do is ever quite right, no matter how much effort you put into doing the best you possibly can. The boss with this attitude can have a terrible effect on the morale of the entire office.

2. They micromanage.

Walking hand-in-hand with hypercritical tendencies is the bad boss' habit of micromanaging. A micromanager is someone who feels no one else is quite good enough for the work assigned to them. This results in a boss who's constantly hovering over everyone's shoulders, directing and critiquing when it would be much better to step back and allow employees to handle things on their own.

3. They're insecure.

The insecure boss may feel unstable in their position at work, have personal issues of inadequacy or more likely both. Whatever the true cause of their feelings of vulnerability, you and your coworkers have to walk on eggshells around them at all times. In fact, you probably spend more time trying to babysit them emotionally than doing your actual job.

4. They offer zero feedback.

Receiving neither positive feedback nor constructive critique leaves employees operating in a vacuum, assuming what they're doing is fine but never quite knowing for sure. Employees doing excellent work go unrecognized, and employees with poor behavior or sub-par work performance go undisciplined. This boss may be too insecure to offer praise or too afraid of confrontation to enforce the rules or maybe just doesn't care.

5. They lack professional boundaries.

Not respecting professional boundaries is one of the major warning signs of a bad boss. They'll end up expecting you to be on call for them at all hours of the day, demanding more from you than your original job description spelled out. She's taking advantage of you by placing more and more responsibilities on your shoulders and making unreasonable demands.

6. They lack personal boundaries.

Oversharing personal details is one of the biggest warning signs of a bad boss. The fact that they have no problem airing the bitter details of their divorce or the issues they have with their parents means people will start to run in the other direction when they see them coming. You can't be an effective leader if people cringe when they think about talking to you.

7. They play favorites.

A boss who plays favorites is encouraging a kind of perpetual jockeying for position among their employees. Not only does this decrease the productivity and effectiveness of an office or company, but it creates an unstable emotional environment in which to work. Knowing you have to curry favor with the boss at all times is exhausting, not to mention demoralizing if you don't end up being part of their inner circle.

8. They play politics.

This boss stirs up trouble by discussing employees with their coworkers, spreading gossip or overheard comments and generally turning your entire workplace into a weird Game of Thrones type of environment. You and your coworkers will spend more and more time just trying to survive your boss and their maneuvering and less doing your work. This is one of the warning signs of a bad boss because it shows you that your boss is more concerned with drama than productivity.

9. They're a know-it-all.

They're arrogant, never admit to a mistake and always pass the buck when it comes to blame. This know-it-all boss lets everyone know they won't be held accountable should things go wrong because it's obviously always someone else's fault — which makes all of their employees live in fear of becoming the next scapegoat.

What to do when you have a bad manager.

1. Watch out for the warning signs.

Keep an eye out for the warning signs of a bad boss listed above, of course, but also remember to pay attention to your own personal alarm bells. Does going to work make you feel drained, unhappy, anxious or even scared? Make a point of keeping an eye on your mental and emotional health, and note any time work is the actual cause of disruption.

2. Look at the situation as dispassionately as possible.

This is difficult to do in an emotionally-charged environment or situation, but it's an oh-so-necessary step for processing what's actually going on. Talking with someone you trust is a great way to help you work through how you're feeling. Make sure to discuss all the reasons you're upset about your job to see if a bad boss really is at the heart of the matter.

3. Recognize when you have a bad boss.

Accepting that the person you're working for just isn't super great at their job is a crucial step. Knowing you're not the cause of the unhappy situation relieves a great deal of the emotional burden from you. You'll no longer be left wondering just what you did wrong because you'll understand that you aren't really the problem.

4. Remember not to take it personally.

Most of the time a bad boss is simply a bad boss, and the situation has nothing to do with you. Being singled out or caught up in a favoritism situation makes divorcing yourself emotionally from that environment difficult, but it's worth doing. You need to acknowledge that this isn't your fault.

5. Consider constructive confrontation.

If you feel that a private discussion about your personal concerns and experiences will be beneficial, ask to meet one-on-one with your boss. This is an especially useful step if you feel that they maybe aren't aware of how their lack of boundaries, for example, is affecting you and possibly other employees.

6. Afraid of your manager? Go to their boss.

Sometimes, someone is just too toxic to confront, at least on your own. If your work environment is simply too much for you to handle, but you're afraid of your immediate boss or supervisor, contact their boss or the human resources department for an assist. You shouldn't have to deal with someone you find toxic and emotionally or psychologically disruptive on your own.

7. Get support.

Whether you choose to have a private word with your boss or to go through your HR department, dealing with this kind of situation can be a very difficult time for you. You need some support while waiting for the resolution of this challenging period. Keep a friend, loved one or even a trusted coworker up to date so you have someone to talk to when and as needed.

8. Give it time.

Once you call attention to the situation, give it time to be resolved. Your boss' behavior won't change overnight, but it might indeed change now that they (and their superiors) are aware of the effects of their poor attitude and choices. Just give it a little time.

9. Call it quits.

In the end, you just don't have to put up with someone's bad behavior or poor leadership abilities or stay in a disheartening or outright toxic environment. Difficult as it can be to leave one job and be the new gal somewhere else, making that change can land you in an office environment that's healthier and safer for you mentally and emotionally. Don't be afraid to take agency over your situation and your own well-being.

Bad bosses happen to good employees.

Bad bosses happen to the best of us. No matter how stellar you may be at what you do, at some point or another, you're going to end up working for someone who just doesn't know how to lead. Then your job becomes less about doing good work and building your career and more about just getting through each day as best you can. Learning to recognize the warning signs of a bad boss early on can help you deal with (or duck out of) a toxic situation. Because while you don't have control over how good or bad your boss is at what they do, you do, in fact, have total say over just how much poor behavior you'll put up with.
This article reflects the views of the author and not necessarily those of Fairygodboss.
Heather Adams has designed (and re-designed) many business cards. She also writes, makes pictures & creates little notes. As a content creator, she believes that the art of business is storytelling. From brand work to writing the copy that converts, the power of good storytelling is what builds success. Follow her work here.

Do you have any advice or experiences that may help someone dealing with a bad leader or manager? Share in the comments to help other Fairygodboss members.

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