Jenny had been working for her lab for over three years, when her supervi-
sor retired. A new manager,
Tess, was hired from outside.
Jenny tried to like her at
first, but it became increasingly difficult. The atmosphere in the lab changed,
and it wasn’t for the better.
She soon found that her
coworkers shared her frustration and unhappiness.
Jenny tried to think about
what there was about Tess
that made her so hard to
work with. She knew that
she didn’t like Tess picking a
favorite and hanging around
with her outside of work and
giving her the best schedules
and assignments. She also
resented Tess making excuses
for her pet’s poor work.
She observed that Tess took a dislike to some of her coworkers and tended to bully and humiliate them. She also allowed
some employees to bully others.
When she thought about it, Jenny could see a clear pattern.
Tess showed her favor to those who brownnosed her and were
quick to tattle on their coworkers for minor problems. And she
seemed to think that the way to solve any problem was to find
someone to blame—and didn’t hesitate to publicly put them on
Jenny was also frustrated because Tess didn’t seem to really
listen to her when she had an issue she needed to discuss. When
she tried to talk about a problem, Tess would interrupt and tell
her not to bother her, to just take care of it. Jenny began to doubt
her own proficiency. Tess didn’t provided clear goals for her and
didn’t provide her with feedback about how well she was doing.
Jenny felt hurt that when she successfully completed a difficult
project, well before the due date and under budget, she did not
receive the credit she deserved. Instead, Tess took credit for the
project’s successes and failed to reward or praise Jenny her for
When Jenny thought about how much things had changed
since Tess took over, she came to the sad conclusion: Tess was a
Bad Boss. Something had to be done.
How might Jenny manage
her Bad Boss? She had read
about “managing upwards”
and it was time to put some
of those ideas to work. She
realized that her raises,
promotions, and other perks
depended directly on whether she could manage her
It was time to confront—
gently! It would be crucial
to avoid becoming emo-
tional during a discussion
with her Bad Boss. Even if
Tess became emotional, she
promised herself that she
would keep a professional
manner. If Tess became
even more aggravated by
her calm, mature manner
she would still keep her
cool. If Tess became too emotional, she would tell her that
she didn’t want to upset her, but calmly state that she did
need to talk about some important matters and would suggest
rescheduling their talk.
Resolved to “upwards manage” Tess, Jenny knew she had
to change her own perspective. She had to stop seeing Tess
simply as a harsh, unfair taskmaster. And she could no longer look at her, as she realized she had been doing, as an
over-controlling parent. Instead, she had to see her Bad Boss
as a resource, the one who could help her get her own job
done. After all, it was Tess who supplied the resources she
needs, made the decisions that affected her, and ran interference for her with other departments.
Jenny understood that in spite of her abrasive manner, Tess
needed to trust her to get her job done, so she wouldn’t be left
holding the bag if things went south. She needed to build trust,
and force Tess to depend on her. She was determined to keep
her promises and avoid over-committing and would always
come through. When she received an assignment, she would
follow through fanatically.
Although talking to Tess was uncomfortable, she would not
wait until the last minute to deliver bad news, even if she were
afraid Tess would be upset and want to “kill the messenger.”
Frequent updates would be her best bet. No surprises, ever.