Almost all of us who have managed others over the years, have had to deal with a boss whose own management style and set of management skills left something to be desired. Managing up — as it is called — is relatively easy when one’s boss has a skill set, style, and personality similar to our own. But how to manage up when our boss has a style, set of habits, or chronic lack of sound management judgment that inhibits and complicates our ability to do our jobs?

In this series of articles under the category “MANAGING POOR MANAGEMENT”, I will share what hard-won experience has taught me about coping with the less than ideal boss with whom we are sometimes required to cope.

But bear in mind, that managing poor management in all of its manifestations is always a challenge, because it means attempting to manage your boss or bosses. Thus, as I have written elsewhere in these articles, it is critical that one asks — and honestly answers — the vital question “does it really matter”? Does this act of bad management seriously affect my ability to do my job, or hinder the performance of the organization for which I am responsible? If it does, then you must act to confront the issue as best you can, knowing you will not always succeed but that you at least went down on the right side of things. If it does not really matter in any significant way, then save your powder for the engagements that really do.


Maturity is an ideal quality in any manager.  From a very personal point of view, it is a great quality in our boss.  And among the most obvious signs of maturity are: self-confidence; openness to the views of others; willingness to admit their mistakes; and the ability to take as much pleasure in the achievements of those they manage, as they do in their own successes.  I have always characterized these managers as “comfortable in their own skin”.

But what if your boss possesses none of the above qualities?  What if they do not seem comfortable in their own skin?  What if your boss, for whatever reason, seems very sensitive, uncertain, and insecure?  What if their insecurity often seems to freeze them in place, unable to decide, to the detriment of your own job requirements?  What if you basically always feel you are walking on egg shells when dealing with her of him?  The following few suggestions may help you navigate such a relationship, although ultimately only a change of jobs for you or them may prove the true solution.

First, abandon any hope of fixing the boss.  Although many of us secretly believe we can fix almost anything — inanimate or human — we can not fix other people.  Whatever lies behind someone else’s lack of confidence or insecurity is beyond our full understanding — that is, it’s guess-work — so don’t go there.  Better to work on a coping strategy with such a boss.

Second, try your best to avoid behavior likely to foster your boss’s feelings of uncertainty and insecurity: like being overly confrontational; openly challenging him or her in public; bragging to them frequently about your own accomplishments; or being unnecessarily critical of what you believe are their shortcomings.  Some honest disagreements with a boss are inevitable and need addressing.  The key is to avoid excess.

Third, Look for opportunities to affirm your boss’s accomplishments, sound decisions, good advice, and positive behavior.  While I am not encouraging one to become a “sycophant”, positive reinforcement — provided in a timely manner — is a powerful motivator and confidence builder for all of us.

Fourth, look for ideas and initiatives that you and your boss can both share and can pursue as a partnership. Having a sense of shared commitment to something, makes a bright idea seem less threatening to an insecure manager; “yet another thing you think they were not smart enough to think of and everybody knows it”.

Finallyand perhaps most important of all — do not engage in frequent discussions with your colleagues in which you share your negative thoughts, criticisms, assessments, and frustrations concerning your boss.  Such negative chatter has a maddeningly predictable tendency to somehow circle back to the last person you would wish to share it with:  your boss.  Such circled-back comments hardly bolster a boss’s self-confidence or allay his or her insecurity.  They are counterproductive to your objective of an effective working relationship and could easily poison permanently your relationship with your boss.

Categories: Managing & Leading, Managing Poor Management

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

10 replies

  1. I believe the best way to deal with an insecure boss is to leave your job once you have managed to find another one.

    Dealing with people’s insecurities is very draining and a total waste of time and potential.

    • I absolutely agree. The folks I feel sorry for are those, who for whatever reason, can not find that other job or are themselves too insecure to give that avenue a try.

    • The problem with the ‘leave & find another job’ solution to thwarting an insecure boss it is temporal as there is great likelihood that you may just land yourself into another poor manager. Jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire! I’ve had a bad experience of working for not only an insecure boss but a poor manager as well and I must attest that it is really a daunting task. However, option of changing jobs to avoid a bad boss may not be the best way to go and I would suggest you get on to deal with the situation head on. Only when you foresee a situation of eventual disaster or permanent damage to your career should you opt to leave or “chicken out” though I know this is easier said than done.
      Good luck in your quest to survive your ordeal. Good news is that your situation is transient and not permanent it will at one point come to an end.

  2. I agree with all of your points in the article. From my experience I feel that insecurity will be noticed by their management and eventually that insecure manager will be either demoted or the position will be eliminated. There was a time when the relationship became so tarnished that I found another job and received an offer. During my resignation process I reached out to a higher level, since there was nothing to lose at that point, and discussed all the issues. The end result was a promotion and different position for my old manager. There is a lot of truth in the movie Office Space. haha

  3. I am dealing with an insecure supervisor. I made the mistake of accepting additional responsibilities on a regular basis from my supervisor’s boss on a new franchise business only to quickly discover how insecure my immediate supervisor is. I applaud her when I can, thank her when I can, yet every time she makes an error, she tries to explain it away as a technical error or even pass the blame on me. I’ve even picked up her slack asking for no recognition in return thinking she will be too afraid to lose me. She thanks me in private, but then publicly gives credit to our weakest team member (in their absence) a day later to the rest of the staff (jaw-drop). I’m only part-time, but minus her, I love the job and am trying to decide if I love it enough to deal with her insecurities. Any other advise?

    • EXHR…….I believe you are asking the right question at the end of your comment. Do you like the job well enough to put up with an insecure boss? In a way, it always comes down to that.

      One can never make an insecure person into someone who is suddenly secure. The more insecure, the worse it is. It seems you are now doing the best you can not to feed the insecurity. Clear with her first any additional responsibilities offered to you from those above her. Grit your teeth and try to smile when she manifests the worst of her insecurities.

      But avoid going overboard by walking on egg shells around her. You have a right to be yourself and to the credit due from your efforts and accomplishments. That your boss may be threatened by your success is her problem not yours. Do not make it yours.

      Above all, keep asking your big question. When and if the answer becomes no, start a new job search. Cheers. Terry

  4. An insecure/immature/childish boss is nothing but a drain on those who try to excel at their role.

    Calling out these character issues in these persons in a public environment/embarrassment is the only way of making them evaluate their own character.

    You see, an individual must accept the consequences of their actions, and the only way this happens, is by making them aware.

    Nobody is better than the other, this is what all people need to remeber……

    Or there is always the good ole way of dealing with it 😉👊 then they understand.

    Keep life simple, and grow up!!

  5. Interesting article- I can’t help but feel that personality types who are more likely to accommodate and attempt to empathise with insecure bosses are most at risk here.

    I’ve had this happen with a new boss and it’s actually bullying when the person derails credit, talks over you etc. When I realised that it helped me understand it and maybe it will be helpful to others.

  6. I have a insecure, childish and very immature boss. We work for the federal government so getting rid of her is harder then passing bill with Congress. She manages by intimidation and fear so that no one will question her about her decisions. If you ask questions or even act like you don’t agree with her, she gets furious. She has kissed butt her way in to management and they don’t know or see her for what she really is, She loves making my life hell because I stood up to her a few times. I went to ask a question which she doesn’t like you to do and she went off and so I then told her her what we all felt and she has been mad at me since( 4.5) years ago. She has told people in the office personal things about me, a lot of them don’t talk to me any more or if they speak it is with a very short hateful tone, but can speak very pleasant with another co worker next to me. That’s her thing too, she will isolate you from everyone else, totally speak to everyone but you. I have been here to long to leave and to old to look for another job, which she knows and uses it to her advantage. I NEED Help.

  7. Terry: I have no idea where you are or who you are, so imagine my surprise when I Googled the phrase change and a sense of loss and up comes a magnificent picture of Mt Taranaki, formerly Mt Egmont near New Plymouth New Zealand, my home town. And as I look at it I wonder if I walked those fields. I now live in Canada. Magnificent, and I recall happily the many tracks and walks I have up and down and around that awesome peak.–Graeme

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