Ron Ashkenas wrote an interesting piece for HBR blogs titled If You Have a Bad Boss, These Are Your Options.  In it he simplifies what to do when you have a bad boss – either wait it out or leave.  Even though much literature touts the maxim that people don’t leave companies, they leave bad bosses, I suggest you consider the company as you make your decision.  Not the company’s needs, but the type of company for which you work.


  • Bad company, good boss – Companies, like bosses, can be good or bad.  You may have had a good boss in a bad company in the past.  Sometimes staying with a good boss in a bad company is a good career move precisely because you’ll learn so much.  The problem with this quadrant is that your good boss might move on to other challenges, leaving you adrift without a life preserver.  If this is your situation, be prepared to leave.
  • Bad company, bad boss – If you have a bad boss in a bad company where the culture is unbearable or the morals are questionable, leave as soon as you can.  There is nothing to be gained in this situation.  Even “I need a paycheck” is a weak excuse when you consider the opportunity cost of suffering in a dead end job.  Wouldn’t you be better off applying your skills, talents and passions somewhere else?  Indeed, resist the temptation to settle for the status quo of putting up with bad bosses and bad companies and instead, beat a path to the nearest exit!
  • Good company, bad boss – If the company is good but the boss is bad it gets slightly more difficult to decide.  Mr. Ashkenas warns about subtle and overt retribution as possible outcomes from trying to address and fix the problem.  But good companies are supposed to hire good people so encountering a bad manager is the result of a mistake that occurred somewhere in the organization.  If you’re in such an organization you likely have a vested interest in making things better so I encourage you to stay and help fix the mistake.  The belief in this quadrant is that the good company will recognize their mistake and do something.

The pivot point is that before you flip a coin to determine your fate, consider another factor – the company.  Working for a good company is a rare occurrence indeed these days.  At the best companies, working for a bad boss is rarer still.

What other factors have you considered before you’ve decided to leave a bad boss?

Bad Bosses at Good Companies
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9 thoughts on “Bad Bosses at Good Companies

  • 5 June 2014 at 22:46

    According to this, a good company will not hire bad managers, or at the very least will not allow them to stay for long in their role. The conclusion, therefore, is that if you encounter a bad boss who has been in the role for a while it is necessarily a bad company and you should leave.

    • 6 June 2014 at 07:47

      Thanks for your comment. That’s one conclusion but probably a little more black/white than the gray that exists in this scenario. In my recommendation above I suggest staying precisely because you can be part of the solution. My assumption is that the bad manager is an anomaly.

      When/if you notice a _trend_ of bad managers at a company like this, then I agree – it’s time to leave.

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  • 6 June 2016 at 19:32

    I worked in a good company. Just that my team head is really bad, respectful to her managers and treat teammates very badly, couldn’t take stress threw tremendous bad negative manner. I thought since the company is good so I kept my manager posted of the her behavior (we are in different countries). Again, I mistrusted them, management terminated my contract saying I’m unhealthy. I would like to seek for your advice how I can handle it if I encounter the same issues.

    • 7 June 2016 at 08:02

      Wow, sounds terrible. It also sounds like you took a reasonable approach. In the US, some of your description of you team lead’s behavior might be considered abusive, so you could enlist the help or advice of your Human Resources management.

      An alternate way to look at this is that if your team lead was bad, and your manager didn’t support you that you are actually had a bad boss at a bad company. In that case, you are better off!

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