Why Your Asshole Boss Might Be The Best Thing For Your Career

“People don’t quit their company, people quit their boss” is as true today as ever before.  With an unemployment rate at record lows, employees have more options than ever for meaningful employment.  As a result, when the boss is an asshole, the first inclination of most employees is to find another job.  But is that the right thing to do? The short answer is maybe.

Assuming you are able to separate yourself from the emotional turmoil presented by the asshole boss, there are two questions that you should answer before making the decision to leave.  First of all, define how your boss is bad.  For example, is the asshole in your case defined as a consistent demonstration of failing to plan, dictating unrealistic expectations, lack of communication or in general just being an asshole?  Secondly, is this pattern of behavior consistent or in contrast to the other bosses in your organization?  Assuming your boss’ behavior is in contrast to the actions of other managers in your organization, then leaving might actually be the worst thing you can do for your career. 

A Zebra Doesn’t Change It’s Stripes

You have to assume that if your boss is an asshole to you, then he is an asshole to others.  The tendencies described above for the bad boss is very likely displayed to others in the organization and is apparent to many.  Additionally, bad bosses don’t get great results from their team.  A healthy organization will weed out these menaces and in so doing create a promotional opportunity for you.  But again, the key here is found in the comparison of your boss to the rest of the organization.  If it is in contrast, then there could very well be an opportunity for you.

A smart man learns from his mistakes. A wise man learns from the mistakes of others.

Secondly, if you can separate yourself from the emotional turmoil in which a bad boss can create and treat the situation more as an opportunity to learn what not to do, you should at least consider staying put.  Early in my career I had a bad boss who was over the top, emotionally reactive to every challenge that was presented – he viewed challenges at work as being done to him and not in spite of him.  His fatalistic view of work resulted in stress boiling over into emotional outbursts.  Once I accepted the fact that his pounding the desk, yelling and kicking trashcans all stemmed from his failure to plan and manage his day to day effectively, I was able to approach work like a journalistic reporter intent on discovering why he failed.  I learned more from those early lessons that I have carried forward throughout my years of work – and he didn’t even know he was teaching even thought it was what not to do.

Even Dorothy Looked Tall Amongst the Munchkins.

Judy Garland was 4’11’’.  But you would never know it as she towered over the munchkins in the Wizard of Oz.  In other words, it’s easy to stand out and look like a genius amongst a sea of assholes.  And like it or not, standing out is critical to getting promoted.  Even a good boss will not be the one promoting you.  Your boss’ boss is the likely purveyor of promotions.  So standing out at work is critical and standing out requires contrast.  It is much easier to positively stand out when your boss has given you the gift of lowering the bar so low for you. 

Managing Down is Easy.  Managing Up is Hard.

Anyone can tell someone else what to do especially when the employee’s job is dependent on doing it.  But managing up requires the art of influence and how to effectively influence is a learned behavior that often takes years to perfect.  Middle manager roles require some ability to influence but as you climb the corporate ladder into a senior leadership position, you will undoubtedly use your expertise in the art of influence every day to achieve the goals.  Managing up and influencing a bad boss can be an incredible challenge that will undoubtedly stretch your abilities.  There will be days that you fail considerably and in those failures learn faster than you could have ever imagined.  And you will pull from those lessons in leadership for the rest of your career.

Bottom line, having a bad boss sucks.  Working with assholes sucks.  But, maybe, with a slight shift in mindset, you can use the experience to your benefit for the rest of your career.

Happy Leading!