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The Uncomfortable Truth About Evil Bosses

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Many of us have a “big evil boss” tale that makes for good water cooler gossip. But maybe it’s time to stop pointing fingers at the boss. Author Liz Ryan, who has several years’ experience as a Fortune 500 HR SVP, suggests that self-refection—and initiative—is the path to success.

It is hard to find anyone over thirty who doesn’t have at least one evil-boss story. Some people  have many of them. It’s hard to work under a person who doesn’t get you, doesn’t appreciate your talents or just treats you badly. It wears you out and makes you doubt yourself.

I’ve had a half-dozen horrendous bosses and I remember the sickening feeling in my stomach when one of them would call me on the carpet or tell me how to do my job — a job they  hadn’t the slightest understanding of – while I had to stand there and take it. I  understand completely why people like to swap tales about their awful managers.

There’s only one problem, and that is the uncomfortable truth we don’t want to talk about. Our evil bosses choose  us, and we also choose them. In any situation where we end up working under someone  we don’t respect, somehow or other we put ourselves in that situation. The longer we stay in the job, the more we own it. We can say “I hate my job” and even “I hate my boss!” but at a certain point we have to take responsibility for our situation, too.

Responsibility is not the same as blame or shame. When you are beaten down and discouraged, the last thing you want to hear is “It sounds like you’re in an awful situation at work, but then again, you chose it!” Those might be the most painful words you could possibly hear. “I chose it?!” you’ll say, aghast and indignant. “I didn’t choose this situation. I hate it. If I could change it, I would!”

We always know the names and descriptions of the barriers that stand before us. We are always ready to describe the chains and shackles that keep up in lousy situations. “You don’t understand — it’s hard to get a job in my field!” you may think. “You don’t know how hard I’ve got it,”  you might say. I don’t blame you for feeling unequal to the challenge of changing your work situation. Everybody feels that way at times.

Sometimes it feels comforting to believe we don’t have a choice — that we are victims of circumstance, not to mention a victim of the evil boss. Being a victim means we are not responsible for the awful things we experience at the hands of our horrible manager.


One day you may get tired of being your boss’s victim. You may wake up and say “If I really  hate my boss that much, why am I still in this job?” The minute your viewpoint changes, you will begin to see a path out of the woods. You can job-hunt at night and on the weekends and land a better job before you quit the one you have now.

It can feel scary to make changes. When we feel nervous about stepping out of our comfort zone, the evil boss can serve as a handy scapegoat. The evil boss becomes the reason your career isn’t going the way you hoped it would. The horrible manager is responsible for your unhappy work situation.

It’s her fault! It’s his fault!

When something clicks in your brain and heart and you realize that your awful boss is just an ordinary person, scared and unequal to his or her assignment and more to be pitied than feared, you might soften and stop giving your power away to a person who doesn’t deserve it. It’s very easy for us to lose sight of the fact that our evil bosses are seldom as dastardly or as powerful as we make them out to be.

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