The Three Pillars of a Bad Boss

Ditching bad bosses is so vital that it’s second only to knowing your value.

A bad boss can give you garbage tasks that will not help you grow, downplay your achievements to people upstairs where you have no visibility, and generally make your life a living hell. Of course, it goes without saying that you can forget about any promotions or raises under a bad boss.

However, in order to ditch a bad boss, you have to be able to identify one. A bad boss is incompetent, doesn’t like you, or has no institutional power.


A bad boss is incompetent. If he’s a technical lead, he is incompetent at the work your team is expected to do. If he’s strictly a people manager, he is incompetent at people management. Or God forbid, he could be a technical lead that’s bad at both.

To borrow from Tolstoy – every competent boss is alike, incompetent bosses are incompetent in their own way.

Doesn’t Like You

Even if your boss is competent, you’re better off working for someone else if your boss actively dislikes you.

There are a myriad of reasons that a boss might not like you, some of them outside of your control. Maybe you remind him of his unappreciative daughter from a third wife. Or he’s intimidated by the fact that you’re eight inches taller. Perhaps you’re Turkish and he’s Greek.

Whatever the reason, a boss that is antipathetic towards you will not spend political capital on getting you better work, better pay, or other things that you want. Even worse, they might go out of their way to sabotage your career.

Note that this introduces a personal component to what constitutes a bad boss. One employee’s good boss can be another’s nightmare.

No Institutional Power

Some combination of incompetent and doesn’t like you is what most people have in mind when they think of a bad boss.

But it is useless to work for a competent boss that cares about you if he has no power or status within the company. It is akin to working for a company with plummeting revenues. Good intentions do not pay the bills.

Such a boss will dutifully spend his political capital trying to get you what you want, but it won’t matter because he doesn’t have any political capital to speak of. He won’t be able to save you from layoffs either. And the very work that you spend your weekdays on could go to waste when his projects are binned.

Final Thoughts

The most important pillar is “likes you”. If your boss is apathetic towards you, his competency and political capital is almost irrelevant. And if he dislikes you, you may even be better off if he’s incompetent and powerless.

Naturally, a good boss is someone who is competent, cares about you, and has institutional power. But beware, you may have a great boss and still hit road bumps if your boss’s boss sucks. Don’t make the mistake of just looking one level up.

I was once in a situation where my boss and his boss were both great, yet our situation still went south after my boss’s boss’s boss was replaced by someone who did not support our mission.

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