USAA Tips: Leaving a bad boss can be a great career move

Content provided courtesy of USAA | By Chad Storlie

In the military, if you have a bad boss, you are forced to wait them out, wait until they PCS or hope they transfer. In a civilian role, you don’t have to wait out a bad boss — you can just leave, which may be your best career choice. You can and should take steps to improve your career situation and move on.

The central question in leaving a bad boss is to identify a bad boss. Bad bosses can be great people, they can be well-meaning, and they can be genuine. The tell-tale feature is that a good boss enables your career and a bad boss holds you back.

There are six primary areas to determine if you work for a bad boss or a good boss.

1. A good boss shares ideas and information – A bad boss hoards it. Information sharing is one of the most evident and easily diagnosed areas to evaluate your boss. If your boss shares information, describes in detail what the executive team is thinking, shares industry trends, and shares what other parts of the organization are doing, then that is a good sign of a good boss. If your boss shares none of these items, then that is an indicator they are a bad boss.

2. A good boss enables employees' outside ideas and initiative – A bad boss knows the answers already and restricts employees exercising their ideas. A good boss is open to new ideas and different ways of doing business that helps the boss reach the team’s goals. A bad boss already knows the answers and already knows how things need to be done and does not need to hear employee suggestions. Furthermore, a bad boss actively discourages new ideas.

3. A good boss promotes team member actions up the chain of command for recognition – A bad boss promotes only their actions. Perhaps one of the best evaluations of a good boss is how often they bring up team member actions and activities in meetings with their boss. If you hear, “Jane did this,” or “Larissa led this,” or “William created this,” in meetings and conversations with the executive team, then this is a sign of a good boss recognizing and promoting their team's results. If you only hear a discussion of results with no attribution of those results to the people that did them, then that is a sign of a bad boss.

4. A good boss regularly coaches team members – A bad boss relies only on the annual performance review. In my opinion, the annual performance review remains one of the worst human resource activities still in use today. A good boss meets with individual team members regularly to discuss with precise examples what they did well, what they can improve, and then how to improve it. A bad boss only discusses employee performance once or twice a year and avoids any other performance discussion.

5. A good boss adapts their leadership style to engage each individual in the entire team – A bad boss has only “their” way of doing things. Leadership is a broad approach to describe how a range of methods and techniques can be applied to get the best performance out of a team of individuals. A good boss applies a leadership style that is unique to each team member so that each individual team member can be led to perform their best. A bad boss has only a “my way” of leadership that is applied to all team members regardless of individual outcome. A good leader employs a range of techniques to get the best from people.

6. A good boss has firm and fast professional ethics – A bad boss has “situational” and flexible ethics. Personal ethics is one of the best evaluations of a good or bad boss. A good boss has firm, well understood, and clear ethical principles that apply to the boss and each member of their team equally. A bad boss has a “muddy” concept of ethics that apply to themselves, their team, and other individuals differently. Different ethical standards are a clear sign of a bad boss.

Once you have determined that you work for a bad boss, you need to make the decision to leave. The decision to leave can be to transfer to a different role in the same company or to leave for a different company all together. First, you must accept that a bad boss is unlikely to change into a good boss. Having a bad boss change into a good boss is a very, very unlikely situation and one that I have never witnessed. Second, if you work for a bad boss, you will never work for a good boss. This is obvious, but unless you decide to change your employment situation, your boss situation will not change. You must take the action to change your work situation. Third, start making career and networking connections to leave immediately. It is tempting to see how things look in three months or a year. Don’t fall for this temptation to “kick the can” down the road – make the decision today to leave a bad boss.

Leaving a bad boss is a difficult but necessary step to enable your full career success.