How to Deal with Your Horrible BossJust because your boss is “the boss” doesn’t mean that you have to like it. I get it. You don’t want to go to work because your boss is Darth Vader, but you need that paycheck.

In the nonprofit sector having a terrible boss seems to feel even worse. You kind of expect bad bosses in business, but nonprofits are supposed to be the “nice” place to work. But, a lot of charity bosses shouldn’t be in management, or should take classes on how to be better managers. The for-profit and nonprofit worlds are both afflicted with terrible bosses.

Does your nonprofit look like this?

  • Staff turnover is high.
  • It feels like going to work is worse than going to the dentist for a root canal.
  • There are complaints about management to the board.
  • There are deep tensions between the board and management.
  • Gossip is rampant.
  • There’s a rotating list of professional consultants who’ve come into the organization ostensibly to do something else but end up with the political hot-potato of management issues.

I’ve written a lot about leadership. But, what if you’re the employee? Does that helpless feeling have to be something you always exist with at work? What strategies can you use to make the situation better?

  1. You choose how you react to your horrible boss. I know this is a tough one. But, here’s the deal. You do have power. Your boss is external. What he or she does is outside of your inner world. It’s outside of your mind and your emotions. This tip is the easiest and the hardest one to do. It’s easy because if you accept it, you will realize that, in fact, you do have power. You can choose how to react and what to think. Once you really own that, it’s empowering. However, it’s also one of the hardest things to do because it’s easier to simply keep all of the power with your terrible boss.
  1. Stop trying to control what you can’t control. This too is easy and difficult if you’re in the situation, but it’s essential for being able to deal with a jerk. If your boss is unreasonable, you can’t control that. You’re not his parent, therapist or friend. At the end of the day, you don’t have to care what his outside life is. All you have to care about is how you take care of yourself (see Point 1). So, stop trying to figure out ways to control what you can’t control. Horrible bosses seem to have a knack for figuring out how to push buttons. If you walk on egg shells trying to prevent your boss’ hot temper, stop wasting your time. It’s actually healthier for you. You’ll never be able to control what sets him off.
  1. Stay focused on your work. You have a responsibility to your family and to the company that’s writing you your paycheck–even if it’s your boss’ company. Even if your boss lacks skills, one of the best things you can do for yourself is stay focused on your work. Do a good job. Don’t compound the issue by giving into passive aggressiveness and finding ways to sabotage things, even if it’s subtle. This may or may not be a game of attrition seeing who leaves first. Regardless, the best thing you can do to maintain your integrity and power (yes, you have it) is to always do the best possible job you can.
  1. Learn patterns. If your boss suffers from irrational mood swings, learn what sets it off. The more informed you become and the more you understand, the better you’re able to navigate. If you know your boss comes in every Monday morning breathing fire, limit your interactions during this time. Don’t ask for meetings, avoid presenting challenges–if at all possible–during this time, and just keep your head down. Becoming a student of your boss’ temperament may not be part of your job description, but it’ll go a long way to helping you get ahead and stay ahead of Darth Vader.
  1. Work around your boss’ weakness. One of the reasons your boss might be a nightmare is because she has her own insecurities. If you understand the weakness, you can work around it. Let’s say, for example, your boss has a fragile ego. Perhaps one of the triggers is during periods of board meetings. Maybe your boss does not feel secure in her management position. One of the absolute best things you can do for her is to support your boss. If your boss feels and is successful walking into those board meetings, a lot of her anxiety will dissipate. This, in turn, helps you.

Finally, I hate to say it, but some people are abusive. That’s not cool. Period. There’s no need for it and it’s not acceptable. I know you may love your job or need the money. But, if there’s a boss you’re working with that’s abusive, you might consider dusting off your resume. Everyone deserves to work in a place where their worth as a human being is appreciated.


Author of “Not Your Father’s Charity: Grip & Rip Leadership for Social Impact” (Free Digital Download)


© 2016 Wayne Elsey and Not Your Father’s Charity. All Rights Reserved.