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this is the best, im a black guy and the position i have is making white people mad so i just sh*t on them

Maxwell Pinto

I once had an impossible boss with minimal people skills and proceeded to find out what motivated him. Then I developed a friendship with him, based on the latter knowledge. From then on it wasn't too difficult to influence him, as long as I could come up with a convincing argument.

Many of these bosses need to be enlightened in the areas of leadership and ethics, unless one believes that the term "ethical leadership" is an oxymoron.

Leadership is the art of mobilizing others toward shared aspirations. In a business enterprise, leaders must take care of employees who, in turn, are responsible for taking care of customers, stakeholders, and related outside parties, such as the government and the community, in an ethical manner. This approach also considers implications for the environment and results in profitable growth combined with an increase in the welfare of all parties involved.

Great leaders are visionaries whose intuition helps them to recognize and capitalize on business opportunities in a timely manner. Their success is based on surrounding themselves with “like-minded” professionals who complement them to help reinforce their strengths and eliminate their weaknesses. They build teams consisting of individuals who complement one another in a way that ensures consistent performance in line with corporate goals. The mantra embodied herein is “Build grand castles in the air while ensuring that they rest on solid foundations.” This is in direct contrast to mediocre leaders who surround themselves with yes-people who, by their very nature, are unable to contribute positively to the bottom line!

The wisdom of effective leaders enables them to appreciate the views of their inner circle and others. In situations where consensus cannot be reached, they have an uncanny ability to cut to the chase and make informed decisions. They foster an environment that encourages the sharing of ideas through brainstorming while realizing that innovation need not be preceded by the existence of committees.

True leaders place a great deal of emphasis on culture and shared values. They realize that business involves human beings and that profitable growth results from fruitful relationships. They normally possess both formal and informal power. Formal power is entrusted to them by virtue of their position in the company. Informal power results from their core belief system. They lead by example, thus earning the respect and admiration of their peers and subordinates. As a result, employees are enthusiastic about going beyond the call of duty for “their” leaders.

Great leaders build organizations that are vibrant and performance driven. They structure employee compensation packages in a way that promotes and reinforces the right behaviors and rewards people on the basis of individual as well as team performance. They believe that a base salary pays the bills, whereas variable compensation, including earnings before interest, taxes, dividends and amortization (EBITDA)-based bonuses, motivates employees to challenge themselves and increase their contribution to the firm on a consistent basis. These leaders find reasons to pay bonuses as opposed to those leaders who find reasons to deprive employees of bonuses they truly deserve!

I have a policy of distributing free abridged versions of my books on leadership, ethics, teamwork, motivation, women, bullying and sexual harassment, trade unions, etc., to anyone who sends a request to

Maxwell Pinto, Business Author

Jason Seiden

When to fight back vs. when not to? You fight back when you can win the fight. You keep quiet when you can't. This isn't a question of suffering in silence or giving in on your principles; it's a question of pragmatism.

Some bosses are vindictive and powerful enough ruin your career if you push back on them; where's the valor in career-suicide? Even quitting these tyrants can be taken as a slight (if not handled appropriately) and can cost you down the road.

If you're working for an ass hole, take stock. If you're weak, build your strength. If/when you're strong, fight.

And then, fight to win.

G Ernesto

I think an important point in the original article is being missed - "refuses to be bullied and sticks up" - a quick take suggests a direct confrontational strategy would not work. Sun Tzu's Art of War would tell you that. On the field of battle, the boss holds the advantage. Take the hit, and make yourself look like a weak victim. Then wage a guerilla war. Find larger allies. Never miss an opportunity to link problems with their name. There are MANY ways to do so without implicating yourself. Its even more entertaining when it can be made to look like its one of their allies is causing the trouble. That can often result in them killing their own career. Very empowering.



Ultimately, I believe that standing up to ones boss will not be a career limiting move if it is done in the right manner. It is very important to have your coworkers in support of you. Not only does this give you credibility with your coworkers as someone who is willing to be the voice of the group, but will also better resonate with figure of authority in question. Also, it is important that when standing up to said boss, you do so in very respective, calm manner. The last thing you want to do is come off as some maniac. You want to present yourself as someone who is calm, and in control of his/her emotions.

It is really hard to tell where to draw the line between a situation that requires one to keep their head down and be quiet, rather than speak. The best advice I can give on this, is that if your first instinct is to speak up, then it is probably appropriate for the situation. Opposite to this, if you hear or see something that you are unsure on how to react, it is probably best to keep quiet.

Finally, my best suggestion for "fighting back" would to do so with the support of your coworkers. Whether they are with or not when you choose to speak up is not nearly as important as if they support you or not. If you have their support, it is very likely what you will say will stick with the boss. Also, it is very important to not act emotions. You should always think long and hard about the situation and whether what your doing is right or not.

This was a very fascinating post Bob. It really got me, along with others thinking. Keep up the good work!



I'd have to agree with Peter Edstrom. There is no point fighting if you don't fight to win. If you can't do what is necessary to win, or you aren't certain that you are in the right, then you will lose. That's what is career-limiting, not the fight itself.

Jason Telerski

Sometimes a boss just seems impossible and demonstrating your competence and not taking their shit is part of getting them to trust that you will get the job done. If that's not the case then they are truly an asshole.

The biggest problem with doing something about an asshole boss is that their presence generally indicates that the organization tolerates or even promotes their behavior. If there is more than one layer of assholes then fighting back is unlikely to be a positive net present value activity--spend your frustration by accelerating your job search.

Since I read your book I've been watching at my firm and my observation is that asshole bosses are like roaches--there is never just one.

working girl

Sounds like people who suffered in silence under poor managers became (good???) managers and people who fought back became CEOs. But seriously, I think whether or not you can fight back depends largely on what sort of person the poor manager reports too. If that person also isn't good, you may be best off leaving the position and sticking the company with the cost of turnover. And if anyone actually cares at the company, an honest exit interview.

John McCoy

Being in the semi-retired twilight of my work life I can look back on several occasions when I worked for an impossible boss and see that as I matured my ability to handle the situations grew exponentially and the damage to my career diminished by the same measure.

The first situation was very damaging. Being a rebellious person by nature I went into full intransigence and suffered mightily. The jerk made a very concerted attempt to end my career, and I made a concerted attempt to deserve it. I was saved only because he was transferred and I was rescued by a truly compassionate boss who capitalized on my potential and helped me move from the gangplank to the wheelhouse in a short time.

In the second situation, I chose to suffer in silence. I weathered the storm, but paid a price in stress with all its attendant consequences.

In the third, I recognized the situation very quickly and left the organization within five weeks.

In the last, I made it a win for everyone by employing open, compassionate, brutal honesty. I laid it out for the jerk and detailed the effect on my productivity, creativity and contribution. He made an effort to change with a little success. My approach was often to be the loyal opposition. The neat thing was that the concept of loyal opposition became the norm on the team and colleagues who had previously suffered in silence became very vocal. Managerial retribution became impossible because everything was exposed.

Kyle Zive


I don't think fighting back against an impossible boss is career limiting but rather it might just put a hiccup in someones career goals. Ultimately good employees will land with good bosses as they either work to oust bad bosses or simply move on.

I think a lot that will drive the decision fighting a bad boss vs. running from a bad boss are personal factors. Can the employee afford to be laid off, family stresses (new baby, buying selling homes) or other circumstances. The other factor is having colleagues willing to take on a bad boss. If everybody is a yes man except you it might be a good time to leave quietly.

Unfortunately I don't know how to answer the third questions. I haven't have the opportunity to witness a bad boss being fought. I doubt there is an easy answer but it would be great information to have!



Bob, I'm with you, completely.

Sure, there are times when it's best to suck it up or to move on. These courses are especially advised when it's very early in the horrible boss's career and he or she is in the honeymoon phase with his or her superiors, who will not hear, believe or care about any complaints, no matter how many participate or how adroitly presented they are. Note these circumstances are not all that common.

Other times to suck it up or move on: when you're on your way out anyway, for other reasons (like, in a university, really close to finishing your degree, or you have another job lined up, or...); when you are truly the only person in the environment perceiving it that way (hard as it might be to hear, it might be you, not the boss); when you're so very low on the totem pole that you're easily replaceable.

Otherwise, virtually always there are ways to retain your dignity and to contribute to improvements in the situation--and that's worth doing. Supervisors are incredibly influenced by the group ethos of those supervised and there are ways and ways to go about that process. Similarly, there are ways to improve the situation for yourself, even or especially if for a variety of reasons that occur frequently (absolute need for health insurance without interruption for you or a family member; need to vest in a pension system; need for a job, etc). I've just given advice on a related situation in my column at this week where what's needed is to look at it differently for oneself--one's first impression isn't always right and sometimes, the only thing you can change in a situation in yourself. And, that can have remarkable effects on other aspects of the situation, including the conduct of the boss. I've seen that happen multiple times: if you stay on the high road and change what you do, it has ripple effects, and what you do does not always have to be an in-your-face approach.


... Additionally, the most impossible bosses are the "superstars". Very competent at engineering but no managerial skills at all.

I see it all the time, the very competent engineer is "promoted" to manager. No training. Arrogant as all hell. Annoyances when the person was an individual contributor are magnified. Its like being in high school. I rather work for a manager who is incompetent technically (and recognizes this) but knows how to build, run and lead teams.

Peter Principle applies even to brilliant people.


Fighting back against "impossible" bosses only works if the boss is can be demonstrated to be incompetent. An impossible but competent boss can not be fought against. ("Competency" is determined by the boss' manager, not the underlings)

In my career, I have discovered fighting back against impossible bosses is a good way to get fired. It is better to suffer in silence and get out.

Bret Simmons

It is terrible advice, Bob. You never, EVER surrender your dignity to anyone, for any reason. So I think you must confront the jerk at some point, but how you go about it is highly contingent. The sooner you confront, the better. Have you ever read Ira Chaleff's The Courageous Follower? It is exceptional.


Whether fighting back against an impossible boss will prove to be a career-limiting move depends on two factors: (1) how good are you at what you do? (2) does your profession tend to involve creativity and problem-solving (e.g., software) or not (e.g., at the extreme, running a McDonald's, but even less extreme than that, e.g., accounting, actuarial work, etc.)?

If you are very good at what you do, then intolerance for bad bosses can, as Bob pointed out, enhance your career. The people in your profession who have brains will recognize your intolerance for assholes as a manifestation of your talent. More than anything else, what frustrates extremely talented people is for their talents to be unnecessarily limited, and that is one of the hallmarks of a bad boss.

All of that is true if your profession values creativity and problem-solving skills. However, if your profession tends to value adherence to management structure and loyalty to the company more than creativity and problem solving, then the news that you bucked a boss will follow you everywhere, and will indeed damage your career.

Peter's comment about not fighting back against company culture is a corollary of this idea. If it's just one boss, great. But if that boss's attitudes and actions are supported by company culture, then don't fight back -- just lay low and get out as soon as you can.

The best example of someone who could stand up to idiot bosses is my wife. She worked in a company where supervisors casually making onerous requests (to work weekends, take on additional tasks without relinquishing any, or meet ridiculous deadlines) was part of the culture.

She alone stood her ground, said "no" when it was justified, negotiated comp-time before working weekends, and didn't accept new work without getting agreement to stop doing something else.

Rather than this limiting her career, she was continually given above-average raises and promoted.

Now, she shares a characteristic with Brad Bird and Robert Townsend: she is a superstar performer. She is intelligent and hardworking and can do lots of things.

I imagine getting rewarded for this kind of approach is more difficult when you're not the very best performer. Then, you probably need to work in groups to get things changed.

What do you think?

regards, John

Peter Edstrom

If it's an impossible boss, and you have support from your coworkers and others in the organization, then yes. Fight back.

I find, however, that it isn't always that clear. Sometimes an impossible boss is simply a reflection of an impossible organization. Don't fight that fight -- you'll loose.

Fight only when you a) have a chance, b) have HR and coworker support, and c) you can afford to loose.

Best way to fight back will depend on the situation and the offense. Find out what motivates the boss, and use that to encourage a change. Forcing a change (either by their mgr, or HR, or group pressure) can easily degenerate into a nasty exchange.

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