Four Types of Frustrating Bosses – And How To Manage Them

If you’re the boss it’s best not to frustrate your people too often.

But if you are one of the four types of bosses below, rest assured you probably do.

The ‘Moving Target’ Boss: I’ll know it when I see it. And that’s not it. 

This boss will drive you crazy.

  • Their expectations are vague
  • Or their expectations shift
  • Or their expectations are vague and then they shift

Usually, these bosses aren’t trying to be difficult. Most are intuitive and maybe introverted thinkers. They struggle to articulate what they want because they aren’t sure what they want. Until they see it. Or don’t.

How to manage The Moving Target boss:

  • When beginning a project or task ask a lot of questions up front
  • Touch base frequently along the way
  • Don’t wait until the end of the project to fill them in on your thinking. Unless you really enjoy being disappointed.

The ‘Ask But Don’t Listen’ Boss

This boss thinks they want input on decisions. But they don’t. Because when they ask for input they discard it. They have already made up their mind.

  • So what do you think Mary?
  • Bob, how about you?
  • Well, I think we’ll do it this way anyhow.  

If your people often walk away thinking If you already knew what you wanted why did you ask us?! that’s a sure sign you are this specific type of frustrating boss.

How to manage The Ask But Don’t Listen boss:

  • Gently confront
  • Ask if they are looking for confirmation of their idea or want new ones
  • If all else fails, answer as quickly as possible and go back to work. No sense wasting time when you know your input is not truly wanted.

The ‘I’ll Get Back To You’ (But They Never Do) Boss

This boss is great in meetings. They listen. They consider input. They lay out a plan and commit to it.

Reliably, they don’t follow through.

Let me translate:

  • I’ll get back to you on that means You’ll never hear from me again on that
  • That’s a good idea we’ll have to pursue means That idea is dead
  • Let me noodle that means What did you say? I already forgot. 

How to manage The ‘I’ll Get Back To You’ boss:

  • Pin them down on dates and times and hold them to it.
  • Get it in writing: Summarize what you and they agreed to (with specifics) and send in a follow-up email so you both have a written record.
  • Follow up with them on the dates agreed because they probably won’t. But if you initiate they’ll usually respond.

The Indecisive Boss

This boss is perhaps the most frustrating of all. They’ve never met a decision they can’t delay. They tend to considers things to a fault. They always want more input or time or something before making a decision.

  • Let’s get Mary’s group input on this before moving forward
  • Let’s postpone taking action and dive into the details next time
  • Can someone work up a spreadsheet on this?

Certainly there are times thoughtful consideration is required before reaching a decision. But this boss does not differentiate between those times when the stakes are high and caution is called for and those times when the answer is obvious and the stakes are low. A new coffee pot for the break room gets almost as much scrutiny as a new strategy or product launch.

How to manage The Indecisive boss:

  • Volunteer to take on whatever is being discussed and make the project your own
  • Gently point out that we’ve covered this ground before and maybe it’s time to act
  • Take a shot at what you think Mary’s group would say and see if that helps!

How can you tell if you are one of the bosses I’ve described? Well, if one of your reports forwarded you this post, that might be a clue. And if you work for one of these bosses, well, you’ve been nodding knowingly all along.

And that’s okay.

Because none of the frustrating bosses I’ve described are trying to be frustrating per se. But due to queries and quirks they manage to be nonetheless. It takes all types to make the world of work go ’round. We can all learn how to cope a just a little bit better.

Bottom line:  Act. If you recognize yourself as one of the bosses described above, try tweaking how you operate. If you work for one of these types, maybe you can tweak how you respond. Working together we can lower the frustration level for all.

Dr. Gary Bradt is a dynamic keynote speaker on change and leadership.Videos and info at His latest book is The Ring in The Rubble: Dig Through Change to Find Your Next Golden Opportunity.

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