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Published: June 20, 2014

 
 

Second Thoughts about Bad Bosses

Susan Cramm, author of 8 Things We Hate about I.T.: How to Move beyond the Frustrations to Form a New Partnership with I.T., introduces a lesson in assessing bosses from The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Getting Ahead: Dos and Don’ts of Right Behavior, Tough Thinking, Clear Writing, and Living a Good Life, by Charles Murray.

No one likes being bossed around. At age 8, I lodged a quiet protest over my mother’s weekly requirement to change my bed by putting the clean sheets in the laundry hamper and leaving the dirty ones in place. In my peanut-butter-and-jelly-addled brain, it was a victory over oppression. I was proud of my sneakiness—a pride that fed my ego, but also, I realized later, stunted my growth.

An overly developed ego can impede a career as well. It’s always tempting to revolt when bosses have treated us badly. But we should be disciplined enough to take a step back and dispassionately analyze the situation, just as Charles Murray advises in the excerpt below.

If your boss’s behavior appears to be criminal, by all means resist—and reach out for help. But bad bosses are more likely to be incompetent or boorish. That’s when it’s worth remembering that getting ahead usually involves more interdependence than independence. And interdependence requires humility above all.

Maybe your boss is a narrow-minded control freak, but you might be able to make that work for you. Or maybe you’re wrong about your boss. After all, it can be hard to like people who give us negative feedback or push us beyond our comfort levels. In any case, take the time to think it through. As my mother taught me, self-discipline is a lot less painful than regret.

Susan Cramm


An excerpt from chapter 9 of The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Getting Ahead: Dos and Don’ts of Right Behavior, Tough Thinking, Clear Writing, and Living a Good Life



You’ve been working at your new job for six months, let’s say, and you’re so unhappy with your supervisor that you’re considering quitting. Here’s what you need to think through: Exactly what is bothering you?

There is one immediate deal-breaker: The boss asks you to do things that you believe to be unethical or otherwise morally wrong. In that case, you should be prepared to quit. Before you actually take that step, however, go to some other senior person in the organization whom you respect and tell that person your story. If the result satisfies you, fine. If effective action isn’t taken, quit. When you’re in your twenties and you don’t have a family to support, there’s no reason to compromise your integrity to keep a job.

What about a boss who is a nice person but incompetent? The incompetence might take many forms. Perhaps your boss is a lousy manager, giving contradictory instructions, failing to check whether his instructions have been carried out and unable to meet deadlines. Perhaps he makes factual or computational errors in the products he turns out. Perhaps he misunderstands the instructions given to him from above and sends you off on a task that you know his supervisors didn’t have in mind. Whatever the specifics, it’s quite clear: Your boss doesn’t know what he’s doing.

You have to ask how much his incompetence is holding you back. If you are trying to acquire a specific skill set, the answer may be “a lot.” If you want to improve your craft as an editor in a publishing house, for example, it is important that you work under someone who is a terrific editor. The less specific the skill set, the more likely that you aren’t losing much because of the boss’s incompetence. You can learn a lot about good management by working under someone who is a bad manager.  Sometimes incompetent people delegate so much work to their subordinates that you find yourself given meatier tasks than you would get from a more competent supervisor. Unless you need a boss from whom you can learn specific technical skills, you might as well stay on the job, though you might want to quietly test your alternatives in the local job market.

 
 
 
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The Reviewer

  1. Susan Cramm is president of Valuedance, an executive coaching and leadership development firm. Previously, she was CFO of Chevys Mexican Restaurants and CIO of Taco Bell Corporation. She is a speaker, a blogger for strategy+business, and author of 8 Things We Hate about I.T.: How to Move beyond the Frustrations to Form a New Partnership with I.T. (Harvard Business Press, 2010).

This Book

  1. The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Getting Ahead: Dos and Don’ts of Right Behavior, Tough Thinking, Clear Writing, and Living a Good Life (Crown Business, 2014), by Charles Murray

    Charles Murray is a political scientist and the W.H. Brady Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. He is the author of numerous books, including The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life (with Richard J. Herrnstein, Free Press, 1994) and Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960–2010 (Crown Forum, 2012).

 
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