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 should act to confront the issue as best you can, assuming you can. If it does not really matter in any significant way, then save your powder for the engagements that really do.


The manager I have in mind here may sound like a stereotype but is very real.  He or she is defined by a range of behaviors that can make a subordinate’s work life a living hell.   Label these managers what you will but many of my readers will have real names to attach to the behavior I now describe.

Specifically, these managers appear totally consumed with themselves and demonstrate little empathy for the feelings, views, or concerns of others.  They are often cruel, mean and ruthless when crossed.  They are frequently charismatic and crave and cultivate absolute loyalty and constant signs of approval. They can also be devilishly manipulative, pitting their loyalists against others .

The “oppressive” manager displays an inflated sense of his or her own ability and accomplishments, often takes credit for the achievements of others and will prevaricate and embellish to impress.    To challenge and oppose them — especially in public — risks almost certain retribution.  They are suspicious, often bordering on paranoia, and can adopt a take no prisoners approach to their perceived enemies.  These managers generally RULE BY FEAR.

Again, this is a stereotype and hopefully one never encounters the entire package in their boss.  But I have counseled my share of victims of such management to know these folks exist.  A few have actually lost their jobs for daring to criticize or challenge their boss’s behavior.

I wish I could tell you how these types get selected as managers or remain in their jobs while their bosses pay little or no attention.  I can not; remember I said they were charismatic and manipulative.  What I can do is offer a few suggestions for coping with them.

First, and I’m not kidding, if you can get another job.  These managers rarely change, seem oblivious to the destructive aspects of their personality, and will make you pay if you try to reform them.  They can literally make you sick both physically and emotionally if you let them, so moving on as soon as possible is a good choice.  It is safe to consider these managers beyond your best corrective efforts.

Second, when another job is not an option, protect yourself.  Keep your head down, do not seek to argue with or challenge the oppressive boss unless you must and limit your interactions to those necessary to do your job.  Trying to befriend or curry favor can easily backfire.  Remember, the oppressive manager is suspicious and will often read devious intent when there is none.

Third, do not play games or sell out in order to convince her or him of your loyalty and support.  Quietly doing your job to the best of your ability — being productive — is the better way to remain under the radar.  Remember, your high quality output makes her or him look good as well.

Finally, whatever you personally may think, try to avoid choosing sides.  Some subordinates assigned to these managers will spend considerable time complaining about and discussing the boss in harsh and derogatory terms.  Try to remain neutral in what you say and stay focused on your work.  The oppressive manager is keen to discover her or his opposition and generally has ways — via selected loyalists — to learn what others are saying.  Try to avoid being part of that discovery.

With luck, you will eventually escape to another job and boss.  Or higher-ups will conclude they have had enough and remove the problem manager for you.  The common thread in all my suggestions regarding the oppressive boss is YOUR SURVIVAL.

Categories: Managing & Leading, Self-Management

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

6 replies

  1. Thank you for this wonderful article. You have a nail on the the roof actually my boss is exactly what you have described today in this article. Well I have been lacking the know how of dealing with the situation. You have inspired me on how to deal with my boss. I must say managing a boss like that is such a challenge and at times frustrating, and you suggestions are noted, and I’m immediately putting them into practice.

    • Pelonomi……I am very pleased that this article proved of some value to you. All of us who have worked in a negative management environment can sympathize with your situation. It is important to be in a self protective mode. If you can escape, do so. Otherwise, avoid unnecessary confrontation, do your work well, and await the right opportunity for change. Cheers. TERRY

      > Date: Tue, 28 May 2013 14:14:37 +0000 > To: >

  2. Dear Terry, I was recently dismissed from my job for a charity and was told that I had an oppressive management style! On looking up exactly why they felt that on google, I saw your article. I must say that it actually looks the opposite of what I was like as I am not a manipulative person or ruthless. I am not saying that you are incorrect, it just concerned me and actually really hurt that they stated this about me after I had been there 10 years! I am very blunt, which to me is the opposite of this type of manager. Any suggestions about how I could improve my management skills if I am coming across in this way? thanks lesley

  3. Hey Brothers and Sisters.. On this 25-08-14, I have come across this wonderful article that has got me at my last bit of frustration. Am a hard worker and a Professional under such kind of superior. Almost felt like undressing myself one of these days may be to feel better. Thanks for the thread. Let me follow your advise. Asante

  4. Yes these types of managers DO exist as I can attest first-hand. Terry is correct in that they can literally make you sick and damage your health, as the stress associated with constant berating and fear often causes your brain and body to react in ways cause disease. Get out even if you have to take a loss. The impact to your health and mental well-being aren’t worth it.

  5. Concise and excellent information. I’m 63 years old and have been a manager too in my earlier career. I have such a “manager” that always seems to undermine what I’m up to. For the third year in a row she’s given me a sub-par annual review. Never in my adult careers have I even been only “competent”. But she seems to berate subtly every chance he gets. At my age I’d be foolish to quit but I have days where it is very hard not to throw up my hands and walk away. Management is aware there have been issues (and they brought it up) but they have given this person a chance at redemption. But she is only “playing the game” and being selectively nice. Thanks for the advice and encouragement.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: