Work for a Jerk and Succeed Anyway: How to Navigate Bosses Behaving Badly

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We've all seen 'em - those self-absorbed, arrogant, sarcastic, and credit-hoarding managers that, as you read this, are getting under the skin of subordinates from coast to coast.

So, outside of telling such jerks to "take this job and shove it" (no matter how satisfying the fantasy), what can you do to keep your career on a growth track despite the narcissist you report to? Here are a few tips:
  • Take stock. Someone in this position should ask themselves if they have a clear idea of what really makes them happy. If they don't, a Personal Action Plan will help lay out a roadmap of where they are, where they are going, and where they need to be for self-fulfillment.

  • Understand the "circle of success." It's advisable to spend a measurable amount of time ensuring the boss looks good, however deserved or not. When (s)he understands that you are able to help her/him succeed, you and your team will get more time, positive attention, and resources facilitating your own productivity.

  • "Presence" pays. Sharks smell blood. Dogs sense weakness. So do bad bosses. Carry yourself with a good posture and wear attire that imparts your professional stature, abilities, and success. If the boss knows you are easily intimidated, you might as well wear a target on your chest.

  • Pace your boss. Let your boss see that you share the same work ethic, and you might just end up on his/her good side, however shallow that may be. Simply put, if your boss is at work, you should be as well. If (s)he has decided that it's necessary to be there after hours, on weekends, or early in the morning, it is entirely to your advantage to be there at the same time.

  • Circumnavigate. It is imperative that those above and/or lateral to your boss who are in the position to benefit your career in any way know who you are and what you've accomplished. Letting others know about your successes will make you a hot commodity for promotions out from under the appalling administrator. If done properly, it will not be construed as bragging or conceit and may win your parole in short order.

  • Fish or cut bait. Consider having a private, one-on-one dialogue with the boss to discuss what can be done to better satisfy both his/her needs as well as those of the company, and, if reasonable, try to do it. Doing so may help you to better connect emotionally with management at large.

  • Hunting season. If all else fails and one simply cannot muster the emotional strength to deal with the sinister superior, it's time to spit shine the resume. Use this time as an opportunity to re-focus and fine-tune your career path to assure you're heading in the best direction both professionally and personally.
The cold, hard truth is that psychotic bosses, and even psychotic organizations, do exist. The workplace is not a controlled environment in that there are many personalities, politics, and other office culture landmines to navigate. The key is to know how to effectively identify and anticipate a malicious manager's "triggers'" and, subsequently, how to manipulate each problem situation to your ultimate advantage.

About the Author

John McKee, founder and president of, is the author of Career Wisdom - 101 Proven Strategies to Ensure Workplace Success and 21 Ways Women in Management Shoot Themselves in the Foot.  He can be reached at 720-226-9072,, or through his websites at and
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