Your boss always seems to be watching YouTube videos when you walk in. It’s a real talent. You wonder if he waits until he hears someone in the hallway, then pulls up his browser.
Just to screw with you.
It’s like when you catch a coworker watching porn, but the opposite. He’s proud of what he’s accomplished.
We’re talking about a particular kind of boss.
The kind who kisses ass, then drops their pants for you. Who lies about their qualifications. Who ignores problems until they walk into their office crying. Who feels entitled to put their name on your reports. Who raids your budget to fund their own projects.
A boss who fires half his staff while scoffing at the possibility of a cut to his own salary — which doubles yours.
His main superpower is finding ways to sneak parts of his job into everyone’s back pocket. This kind of boss depends on someone like you. Someone who does all the stuff he can’t be bothered with.
1. A boss that makes everyone beg to do his job.
It’s one thing to take on extra duties if you’re asked to. Something else when you take them on simply because your boss doesn’t understand his own job. That’s effort you’ll never be rewarded for.
Your boss makes everyone want to do his job, for free. Because he drops the ball so often, almost on purpose. So you beg him to take over. He actually makes you feel nuts for wanting to.
As if you’re the unreasonable one. He’ll say, “If you really want that task, be my guest.” Or he’ll say, “This was never supposed to be my responsibility anyway.” Anything to avoid showing appreciation.
2. A boss who gaslights you.
You voice discontent. And he responds with dismay. He’s confused about what you’re trying to accomplish here.
Try being more positive. It’ll help you get what you want. Even if you already tried that, and it didn’t work.
He offers support if you’re overworked, takes it away at the last minute, then asks why you’re so upset. You weren’t entitled to an assistant. He was just thinking out loud when he said all that.
He tells you he’s planning to create a new position, but you‘re probably not qualified for it. And he just wanted to be honest.
3. A boss who manipulates you with praise.
You’re doing a fantastic job. What a rock star. But he doesn’t believe that. If he did, he’d treat you like one. Pay you like one.
After a while, the praise just irritates you. Reminds you that you are doing good work, just not getting paid for it.
Over time, you see a pattern. Your boss praises everyone in public, then does a reversal in private. Tells them they’re not qualified for promotions. He’s not able to fund their project after all. Now you see. You’re being taken for granted. Used up.
4. A boss who says “yes” when he means “no.”
The boss loves your idea. You should write up a proposal. So you do. It takes up most of your week.
He doesn’t read it. Just pretends to. Tells everyone he’s approving it. But when you start asking for the actual resources, he stops responding to your emails. Or he suddenly wants to slow down.
He keeps saying “yes,” but never gives you a dollar amount.
He wants to plan a meeting to talk about things in more detail. Here, read this study. Read that one. Consider this angle. Maybe you could get external funding for this. It’s a clever dance. He gets to remain positive and encouraging, while wearing you out.
5. A boss who likes shiny things too much.
Medals. Plaques. Trophies. He loves award banquets more than anything. And you get an award. And you get an award…
It’s like a shitty version of Oprah.
At least you can sell an SUV. Drive it around with your friends while sipping orange mocha frappuccinnos. All you can do with an award is nail it up on your wall, like an asshole.
And you know what your boss says at meetings? We should divert part of the department budget for better awards. Not raises. Just plaques made from finer wood, probably virgin wood from the rain forest.
6. A boss who always puts himself first.
Funny how all the things your boss wants can magically happen within 24 hours. Like the time he emptied the budget to build a glorified man cave, and called it a media hub.
He’s always looking for a bigger, better conference table.
When your boss doesn’t get what he wants, he shuts down. Reverts back to the strategy of letting everyone else do his job.
7. A boss who talks tough to the wrong people.
It’s easy to take a hard line with a reasonable person. We don’t especially enjoy conflict. We do our best to accommodate others. We compromise. Settle. Put our own needs last.
Your boss loves these opportunities. He talks about “tough decisions,” and screws over the person least likely to complain.
But then your resident nut job causes a scene, and gets everything they want. Your boss stands up for himself at first, then folds. He might even ask you to make a sacrifice to appease the basket case.
Wow, great leadership. He’s not so tough after all, just a bully. A bully who gets bullied by other bullies.
8. A boss who unveils buzzwords at retreats.
This is his moment. His special day. He’s going to prove to everyone why he’s in charge. And you get…coffee and a cinnamon bun.
Get ready, he’s brought his slide show and dry erase markers. An itinerary. Worksheets for you to fill out.
A list of this year’s buzzwords.
He’s even wearing his Converse sneakers, because he’s going to be on his feet for hours, writing things on boards and giving motivational speeches. He’s going to get everyone fired up, despite the gulf in your budget.
9. A boss who wants to be a cult leader.
He doesn’t want a staff. More like an entourage. Followers. People to make him feel important. People to laugh at his jokes. To marvel at his career. To love his stories.
When he calls you his team, you feel the sudden need for a shower.
Maybe it’s the modifier. It’s his team.
Like he owns you, or a part of you. So you’ll do what he says without question, but always with a smile. Always upbeat.
He tells you about all the people he knows, even though you know them as well. Maybe he finally learns that you’re also a big deal — you just don’t make a big deal out of it. Then all of a sudden he wants to be your drinking buddy. He’s still not going to give you a raise, though.
10. A boss who doesn’t want equals.
You’ve tried to get along with your boss. Give them the benefit of a doubt. Second and third chances. To see their side.
But you’ll never really respect them. Or maybe you just believe in completely different things. Your values don’t even begin to line up.
You’re not going to make a toxic boss see the light. They might glimpse it through eclipse glasses. But they’ll forget. They’ll revert to their same behaviors. Because that’s what got them where they are.
Where they are is the top. They don’t see any need to change. They’re king of the hill. Even as a flood washes their hill away, they still might not change. Not until it’s too late. Not until you’re also screwed.
Maybe you’ve crafted a set of strategies to deal with them while you had to, as I’ve written before.
But those run out. They work on mediocre bosses, but not toxic ones. Not in the long run. Eventually, the toxic boss sees what’s going on. They resent you for constantly going over their heads.
They’ll start sabotaging you. Gaslighting you. And more. That’s when it’s time to check out.
Don’t hang around until your toxic boss make you a miserable person. Don’t go toxic yourself.
This is the kind of boss you can’t be honest with. The kind of boss who makes people quit. You might dream of resigning with a dramatic flair. Telling them just what you think. But you can’t. The last thing you want is a boss haunting you from the landfill. Just leave. Every minute you spend on them is one you’re not investing in yourself. And that’s just dumb.