The world is full of difficult people — including me and you — at times. But when I wrote The One Sign Your Boss Fears You, I was not sure what to expect. I knew that it would resonate with lots of good folks, but was not sure that people would want to read it or contribute to the dialogue. I was wrong.
Nasty bosses cause a lot of pain — to themselves as well as others. Like you, this is something I encountered before becoming the CEO of Aha! No one grows up wanting to be a bully, but some learn early on to push people around to hide their own insecurities. Fear of being found out as a “phony” causes all types of misery.
I was reminded of this because over 150,000 people read that article and many of you had interesting experiences to share. Here is a small sampling of what you wrote:
A long time ago, I had a boss tell me the following during a performance review: “I want you to know that I am not threatened by you.”
I wish I had the information in this article several years ago. The person I consider my worst boss ever did this to me. I took early retirement just to get away from him.
The comment that hit me the hardest though was this one from Emily (name changed):
Good point on the fear theory. Sometimes your boss tries to instill the fear in you too.
I had not thought of that. It’s so true — fear in the office can be a vicious cycle. Just like Emily, your manager fears you and beats your confidence down to the point that you fear them. But how do you determine if this has happened to you?
The one sign you fear your manager is that you get nervous and feel sick whenever you need to meet with them.
So, what should you do if you ask yourself if you fear your boss and answer, “Yes, I am uncomfortable and afraid.” Remember the following:
You have value
Your identity is not tied to your job. If you were to leave your role tomorrow, you would still have worth as an individual. That’s hard to remember when you’re speaking with your nasty boss and trying to keep your bearings. We often fear bad managers because they threaten our livelihoods — our ability to pay rent, buy what we need, and advance our careers. Tell yourself that you did these things before and will again whether or not you ever see your boss again.
You deserve to be treated with respect
Throughout your career, you will likely meet office bullies who love to form cliques, mock others, and manipulate good people without helping them succeed. It hurts more when it’s your boss. The key is to still behave with dignity. You can’t control how other people act — but you can control your own response. You can calmly explain to any peer or boss that you can handle feedback but expect it to be shared with dignity.
Your future is yours
Your boss does not define your self-worth — and they will not be your boss forever. Don’t give a bad boss power over you that they doesn’t deserve. You have a unique opportunity to learn in the moment. Ask yourself what you dislike about their style and observe patterns of communication. You might be learning what not to do — but that’s okay. Sometimes, poor role models can be better teachers than strong ones.
Feeling sick at work is a surefire sign that something is terribly wrong. Every job has stressful moments, but no job is worth sacrificing your long-term health.
For thousands of loyal employees like Emily, it can feel hopeless to fear the boss. The good news is that fear can be conquered. Even if you can’t change your boss, you can still look deeply at the situation to find your way out.
Sometimes, after staring fear down, you can change yourself and your boss. And other times you realize that it’s best to move on to a better-suited role with a more supportive leader. Tell yourself you’re worth it — and go get what you deserve.