How to deal with terrible leaders

There’s a million stories out there of people who talk about working for somebody who isn’t exactly the greatest person in the world to work for. I’ve made afternoons out of reading horror stories that make me wonder what was the leader or manager even thinking when they said or did what they did.

I think most people expect that having a terrible boss or client only happens in part-time service industry-based jobs. They expect that the professional world is a different animal, where you can expect to work with other professionals. It’s expected that the leaders you work with are good, competant and have your interests in mind.

I’ve had my share of terrible bosses in my career. I felt defeated when I worked so hard to get a job that I thought I wanted, only to find out management wasn’t amazing to work with.

So what can you do?

Don’t beat yourself up over it.

It’s difficult enough when you’re interviewng for a job and get a good grasp of what environment is like. It’s easy to overlook that while you’re trying to impress the people you’re interviewing with. With some practice though, it starts to get easier to spot a bad working environment. If you’re a younger designer, I wouldn’t expect you to get the hang of this right away.

Over time though, you’ll better understand what kind of environment you work best in. You’ll have a better feel for the kind of managers you work best under or the scenarios you might face as a designer.

Eventually, it gets easier to ask the right questions during an interview and figure out what you’re stepping into.

Worry about what you can control

Let’s say you’re past the interview. You’ve got the job — and its not going well. It’s easy to worry about everything. But don’t.

Obviously, the best solution is to find a new job, but that’s not always easy or possible. So focus on what you can control.

Are there small things you can do during your work day that makes life easier? Are there outlets after work that you can embrace? It might come down to picking your battles. 

Focusing on what you can control makes things slightly more tolerable. Distance yourself from what you can and keep a positive mind!

But if you do find yourself in this spot you did get past the interview, you’ve got the job. Probably the biggest advice that I have here is worry about what you can control. So for a lot of people it might be easy to go off and say, you know, find new job, which I’ll get to in a moment, but


If the situation is bad enough, this is likely your ultimate goal. If its not possible to fully leave, there are some other routes to pursue though. It may be possible to work in a new department or with a different manager (assuming your workplace is large enough for this to be an option).

If you’re comfortable, it might even be worth having a meeting with your manager’s supervisor to voice your concerns. Getting your thoughts and concerns out may help alleviate some of the pain points of your day. Proceed with caution though, as some managers end up making the situation worse if they find out you went this route.

Remember leaders are people too

I have to remind myself of this. There is a lot of stress that goes with managing people or running a business. Some people are built to cope with this — others aren’t. I often do my best to understand the circumstances that my managers are working in. It’s not always fun and games being boss.

It doesn’t always make the situation any better or worse, but sometimes empathy can go a long way. And with that, you might get some slack if the person you’re directing it towards picks up on it.

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