What do you do when your boss is bad leader? In How To Fail As A Leader, one of the main characters has real problems with the vision and direction of his boss. Sadly, this is not a fictional problem. I spoke this week with a friend who is a similar situation. Here’s what I said:
First, ask yourself if you really are supposed to stay with that leader. Jimmy Collins (former President of Chick-fil-A) taught me that it is our responsibility to choose our bosses well. It’s normal to feel stuck. But you have more options than you probably realize. It might take some time to make a transition happen, but you can find a better job with a better boss.
But what if you believe you’re supposed to stay with that leader? My friend believed God was calling him to stay for at least a while longer.
Then ask the leader how they would like to receive feedback. Before you give challenging feedback, ask them what the best way would be to offer input to them—and on what topics they’re willing to listen. Pre-negotiate how to have that conversation. At best, this opens the door for you to come back later with specifics in the way they want. At worst, you’ll find out they aren’t open to challenges before you stick your foot in your mouth.
But what if—as in my friend’s case—they aren’t open to feedback?
Is time to establish boundaries to protect yourself. Know what you need to stay healthy and protect that. You might need boundaries around how much time you’ll work. Or you might need to limit how often you’ll talk about how bad your boss is with your colleagues and friends. Stirring up frustration after you’ve decided to live with only makes it harder. You might even need to protect yourself from your own passion for excellence and be willing to do what the boss says even when you don’t agree. Choosing to stay means choosing to follow that leader even when you disagree.
If you can’t live with these limits, then I refer you back to the first question. Why are you staying? If the only reason is because you can’t see a way out, then you can decide to leave and give yourself the freedom to start figuring out a way to do that well. There are always options, if you’re willing to be both creative and persistent. And be sure to interview your next boss thoroughly. The second time around with the same type of bad leader you won’t learn as much—and it hurts just as bad.
Lastly, if this is happening to you, do not waste this opportunity. I learned so much from my bad leaders. Hopefully I learned enough that I’m not “teaching” my staff these lessons, too. 🙂 It was painful and exhausting and I don’t recommend staying very long. But while you’re there, squeeze as much learning as you can from it. Don’t let your pain go to waste. You might even want to journal during this season, both to help you process your pain and to crystalize the insights.
This post is my answer to a discussion question from Chapter Four Debrief of How To Fail As A Leader.