What To Do When You Work For A Bad Leader

Photo by Cpl. Tyler Hlavac

Often, subordinates are more capable and more adept at leading than their leaders, but they lack the positional authority to be decisive. Even worse, many fear that speaking up to a bad leader will result in negative performance reviews or emotional turf wars.

While there may be some truth to this, not speaking up can lead to something even worse: poor employee morale, and eventually, turnover.

As a subordinate, the decision-making power rests in the hands of your boss, even if he or she is a B-string player. There’s simply no way around that. However, the influencing power rests within you.

Related: How to fail as a staff officer »

To overcome the hiccups associated with unmet expectations, here are six tips for how A-string workers can deal with B-string leaders:

Identify the why behind your boss’s behavior.

Personal competence and personality differences aside, perhaps there is a reason for why your boss has performance blinders on. Remember that oftentimes how people see the problem is the problem, so the best thing you can do is ask direct questions in hopes of revealing what the real problem is.

If that doesn’t work, then it’s time to…

Position yourself.

It’s not easy having difficult conversations, that’s why they’re called “difficult conversations.” Overcoming the discomfort and general weirdness of direct dialogue is the fastest route to becoming tongue tied for some people. To remedy this, remember that 360 feedback is just that: two way. Meaning, that constructive criticism travels up and down the chain. Former Air force Officer Liz McLean shared her insight with me on this topic, “You don’t even know you’re a leader who has room for improvement until you’ve been challenged by a subordinate.” If you’re in a leadership position and unwilling to face alternative viewpoints, congratulations, you just became “that” guy (or gal).

Conversely, as a subordinate, the best way you can influence “up” is to select the right time and place for an intimate meeting and pose thought-provoking questions that challenge your boss. Doing so conveys two things. First, a private setting says, “Hey, this is important.” Second, your boss won’t be embarrassed and will likely return to you for insight in the future.

Know your role.

Not in the sense of rank and tasks, but rather the value you bring to the team as an A-player. I can’t think of one boss out there who wouldn’t want a highly motivated individual. It’s easy for bosses to work with blinders on; they become so narrowly focused on one objective that they forget about surrounding issues. If you’re aware of this, then raising these concerns helps not only your boss but also you and the team.

Stay ahead of the game.

If your boss is truly a B-string player and cannot anticipate work demand or fulfill role responsibility effectively, then it’s time to be the driver that everyone hates and just cut into his lane. Take over. First, your boss will appreciate it but more importantly, your efforts won’t go unnoticed.

Use your network.

Yes, the chain of command exists for a reason. However, don’t let protocol stifle initiative. In other words, if there is a task or conversation that your B-string boss needs to execute but hasn’t done so for whatever reason, leverage your network to gather all the facts so you can have a more direct conversation. You want to know as many details as possible and really unearth the why behind his or her lack of action.

Find a happy place.

The work environment plays a crucial role in fostering the trust and communication that create open feedback loops. If your boss is averse to collaboration, suggest a time every day for the team to work together.

Managing a B-string boss as an A-string player is more an art than a science. It requires finesse, emotional intelligence, and a willingness to have difficult conversations. Of course, when all is said and done, there is still one thing to remember: Rank has its privileges.


Oh, honey, that Axis of Evil getup is so 2002. You need to get with the times and try on this little number called a Wolf Pack of Rogue States, designed by Mike Pence.

Yes, the Axis is Evil is out, and the Wolf Pack of Rogue States is so, so in.

The vice president mentioned the latest and greatest phrase to describe anti-American super-villain states during a conference in Washington on Wednesday, and clearly, they must all be running around the desert together looking for strippers and cocaine.

The Hangover! Alan's wolfpack speech in Vegas hahaha www.youtube.com

Enter Pence:

"Beyond our global competitors, the United States faces a wolf pack of rogue states. No shared ideology or objective unites our competitors and adversaries except this one: They seek to overturn the international order that the United States has upheld for more that half a century."

According to Pence, the Wolf Pack includes Iran, North Korea, Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela. Notably absent: China and Russia, the two states that actually have a shot at seeking "to overturn the international order."

As Daniel Larison notes at The American Conservative, the Wolf Pack crowd's "ability to 'overturn the international order' is practically nil, and it isn't even certain that most of them desire that outcome. If North Korea, Iran, Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua are our main adversaries, we are as secure as can be and we have very little to worry about."

Pence's wolf pack phrase follows another tried by National Security Advisor John Bolton back in November, when he labeled Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua as a "troika of tyranny" and a "triangle of terror," which make for interesting death metal band names, but seem kind of lame in comparison to the infamous 2002 "Axis of Evil" phrase from David Frum.

But perhaps they can consult with Stitch Jones, the Ayatollah of Rock-and-rolla, for some better branding.

Heartbreak Ridge - Stitch Jones meets Gunnery Sergeant Highway www.youtube.com

Maj. Matthew Golsteyn in Afghanistan. (Photo courtesy of Philip Stackhouse.)

Army Special Forces Maj. Matthew Golsteyn – whom President Donald Trump has called "a U.S. Military hero" – will face an Article 32 hearing in March after being charged with murder for allegedly killing a suspected Taliban bomb-maker.

On Dec. 18, the convening authority for Golestyn's case decided to hold the preliminary hearing in connection with the Feb. 28, 2010 incident, Army officials have announced. The proceedings are slated to start on March 14 at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

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Editor's Note: This article by Hope Hodge Seck originally appeared on Military.com, a leading source of news for the military and veteran community.

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