Does A Scary Boss Make Your Job A Nightmare?

Julie Bauke

21 March 2015

“My boss pushed me. Yep. He physically pushed me. I told HR and he is still here.”

“Our company is owned by a husband and wife, and they hate each other. You’ve heard about staying together for the children? They are literally staying together so they don’t have to divide the company. They scream at each other in the hall and in meetings, regardless of who is around.”

“Our boss flosses in meetings.”

Sometimes I think the work world has gone crazy. In the last few months, I have had several meetings with top HR and other leaders. As you might imagine, because of what I do, the conversation naturally turns to discussing their careers. Talk about scary.

Way too many people are in organizations with leaders that are at the very least, difficult.

Caroline told me that her boss gives her 2-3 hours of work at 5pm and wants it by 8am. This happens at least twice a week- but only since Caroline had her baby. The manager? Childless of course. “She almost seems to get joy from the look on my face as she drops it on my desk.”

It seems to me that so many of these situations arise out of insecurity, fear and just general “I’m miserable, so let’s see how I can make you miserable too”. I am no trained psychologist, but this is what I see and hear:

Insecurity says “I need to prove that I am just better and smarter than you are- and that you would be nothing without me. I will take credit for your ideas, belittle or humiliate you so that I can prove my superiority, and just generally try to control you and your work so that I feel significant.”

Fear says “This job is the best thing in my life and I will do anything to hold onto it, even if it means mowing down everyone in my path. I will not take risks, speak up, or stand up for my people. Everything I do or say is based in my fear of losing what I have. I will suck up, flex my values, and do things that deep down, I may know are not right, but I will not risk what I have, even as I compromise who I am.”

Misery says “My whole life-or a significant piece of it- is a mess. (Relationships, family, finances, health. etc.). Because I don’t know how to fix it, I will stay this way- and I will spread my misery to everyone I encounter. And because the only place I have some power is at work, I will use it- and overuse it.”

And to me, the worst part is that these behaviors are often a secret to no one- but those who could do something about it won’t or don’t. Guess leaders at all levels suffer from the same things.

What can you do about it? That is the tricky part! Here are some thoughts:

• If your health or personal life is suffering as a result, start a job search immediately.

• Consider all of your options (and yes, you always have options!). If the offender is a member of the family that owns the company, or is adored by the senior leadership, then it is probably time for you to find your life’s work elsewhere.

• If you know that this leader’s behavior is also causing issues throughout the organization, you may want to hang tough and try to ride it out. Look around the organization to see what else you may be able to do as well.

• Speak to a trusted colleague that may be able to give you a fresh perspective and good ideas on how to mitigate the damage.


Remember, you deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. If you aren’t getting it where you are, take your talents elsewhere.

Now it’s your turn:

What can you do to make your employees feel safe and valued in your organization?

If you work with a difficult manager, how can you take one step in the right direction for yourself and your career?

Join the conversation by sharing your thoughts with us!

Julie Bauke

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