Tame Your “Horrible Boss”

If you’ve seen the new movie “Horrible Bosses”, there’s a good chance it made you think of someone you have to deal with on a daily basis. The movie’s exaggerated villains reminded me of childish behavior I have so often observed in real life. In my recent article for Psychology Today I reviewed some of the more common behaviors of “baby bosses”.

Tame Your “Horrible Boss”

How to Manage a Big Bad Baby of a Boss

He looks like an adult, but if you make a blunder just before lunchtime, watch out! In other words, some bosses can easily revert to fussy, unrestrained babies in corporate suits. While out-of-line behaviors portrayed in “Horrible Bosses” are thankfully more fiction than the norm, you may be facing disguised babies in their terrible twos, otherwise known as a Terrible Office Tyrants – or TOTs for short. Rather than contemplating extreme measures from the popular movie, you can tame the more typical “bad boss” – and even thrive in the process. (A lot less palatable than serving jail time!)

If your boss is often: stubborn, demanding, fickle, self-centered, has a short attention span (afflicted with B.A.D.D. for Boss Attention Deficit Disorder), needy, whiny or throws tantrums – just a few of the classic 20 childish, bad boss types from Tame Your Terrible Office TyrantTM: How to Manage Childish Boss Behavior and Thrive in Your Job (John Wiley) – you can take steps to save your sanity and your job.

Even though the baby of a boss would be “helpless” without you, you needn’t give up your power. No need to be a servant or a saboteur, but rather a savvy survivor who can outsmart naughty behavior. See if these parallel behavior excerpts strike a chord. Then consider some of the tips that follow.

Toddler/Boss Parallels: STUBBORN

Toddler Behavior 1: Your toddler refuses to go to bed even when his head rolls to the side, his puzzle piece falls out of his hands, and drool rolls down his chin.

TOT Behavior 1: Your TOT refuses to end a late meeting, even after the staff begins tapping, the janitors turn off hallway lights, and your boss begins nodding off himself.

Toddler Behavior 2: She tries to stick the hippo puzzle piece into the guppy-shaped hole 20,000 times, and gets angry when you offer the correct piece. She angrily rejects your suggestion and goes back to pounding Harry Hippo into Gary Guppy’s tail.

TOT Behavior 2: Your boss uses the same ineffective sales pitch 20,000 times and gets angry when you suggest that she try something new. “This exact pitch built this company,” she hisses.


• Temper your boss’s obstinacy by giving him choices and having a back-up plan.

• Choose your words carefully when making requests.

• Listen intently, so you allow your TOT to be heard.

Toddler/Boss Parallels: FICKLE

Toddler Behavior 1: Your toddler announces his favorite color is green. He will only wear green from now on. After you scramble to assemble an all-green wardrobe, he declares: “My favorite color is yellow,” and will only wear yellow.

TOT Behavior 1: Your TOT insists on a suit-and-tie dress code one week, then switches to business casual the next, and then back to suits again, leaving staffers scrambling to adjust their wardrobes.

Toddler Behavior 2: On Monday, your toddler says Jim is his best friend. Tuesday, it’s Sam. Wednesday, it’s David. Thursday…

TOT Behavior 2: On Monday, your baby-in-disguise TOT says Anne is the department’s top performer. Tuesday, it’s Ellen. Wednesday, it’s Martha. Thursday…


• Like a toddler in a toy store, your “horrible boss” may be immobilized by the vast possibilities. Don’t give her lots of choices, just recommend what you know works.

• Be in command, make a plan and structure her day so she follows the path of your choice.

• Pick your battles. Be sure that when you decide to argue with your boss, the reasons are valid.

Toddler/Boss Parallels: SHORT ATTENTION SPAN

Toddler Behavior 1: Your child eats five chocolate cookies she got from a friend and spends the afternoon playing “trampoline” on the sofa, her bed, your bed, and the dog.

TOT Behavior 1: After her third espresso, you notice that your boss is talking on her cell phone, glancing at a webinar, checking e-mail, and texting while “listening” to you.

Toddler Behavior 2: You’re in a hurry and try to get your toddler to dress himself so you won’t be late for the kiddie gym class, again. He runs from room to room, turning it into a game, not noticing that you’re not smiling.

TOT Behavior 2: Your TOT brings you along so you can talk as he’s heading down to his car. However, he stops at every desk along the way to “touch base.” You never get to say anything except “Bye-bye.”


• Help yourself by keeping your baby/boss from having a mind that wanders. In meetings, focus on the objectives and make sure communications are lively and interesting.

• Babies like bright colors. Baby bosses like bright colors. Make your pie charts accordingly.

• Be vigilant. With a very busy boss, you have to watch for opportunities that will allow you to get his or her attention.

Toddler/Boss Parallels: TANTRUMS

Toddler Behavior 1: He won’t let you near his toys, because you always end up taking them from him.

TOT Behavior 1: He won’t let you near his pet project because he prefers to let his “yes men” work on it.

Toddler Behavior 2: She yells, “No, no, no, spinach is yucky! Noooooo!”

TOT Behavior 2: She yells, “No, no, no, don’t you know how to write a proposal? You did it all wrong. Noooooo!”


One of the most glaring similarities between toddlers and TOT bosses is that when faced with a situation out of their control, they resort to rage and tantrums. When a toddler feels his authority is being threatened, watch out! His displaced rage (a good boss admits his mistakes and moves on; a bad boss blames you) can make you a target unless you know how to step out of the way. Then you are best served to use positive and negative reinforcement when things settle down and role model positive behavior. (More on this in prior blogs.)

Change Your Thinking (Think Professional Pacifying, with Boundaries) You can make a difference in your job and in the workplace – and enact change, if there’s something in it for your boss. Learn to manage your TOT through a professional form of pacifying, but with clear limits and boundaries. You will help preserve your sanity, ease tension, and keep your workload manageable. And you won’t have to hire Jamie Foxx to solve your “horrible boss” dilemma.