Coping with 5 Boss Personality Types

Great bosses share similar traits–they’re clear communicators, good listeners, and confident decision-makers, for instance–but as many of us can attest, each bad (or just difficult-to-work-with) boss is bad in his or her own way.

Nonetheless, there are some boss personality “types” that are so recognizable they’ve been immortalized in pop culture. Here’s how to deal with five of them:

1. The Authoritative Boss (a.k.a. Don Draper, “Mad Men”):
The authoritative boss is the ultimate risk-taker and has a flair for drama. On the downside, he can be a poor communicator. He’s creative and perceptive, but he’s also suspicious of others.

Leadership and communication expert Sylvia Lafair, the author of “Don’t Bring It to Work,” says, of this boss type, “Most important is to acknowledge how clever they are, how they seek justice, and how they find really good shortcuts to get the work done.”

Lynn Taylor, the author of “Tame Your Terrible Office Tyrant” and CEO of Lynn Taylor Consulting, suggests that when you’re dealing with someone who is suspicious, you should “get specific” and allow little room for misinterpretation. She also suggests putting communication in an e-mail–this can help prevent miscommunication.

2. The Narcissistic Boss (a.k.a. Miranda Priestly, “The Devil Wears Prada”)
The narcissistic boss is hugely self-entitled–often justifiably so. She puts herself on a pedestal far above subordinates, of whom she is ruthlessly critical. She does not welcome feedback and has little empathy.

Taylor recommends using something she calls the “C.A.L.M.” method (Communicate, Anticipate, Laugh, and Manage Up) with these bosses:

“Communicate frequently, honestly, and regularly with aggressive bosses, so you understand what’s behind all the blustering. Anticipate problems before they occur or become more stressful (don’t encourage a tantrum with bad timing, either). Laugh: A little levity goes a long way when tensions are running high. Manage up by being a role model of good behavior, using positive and negative reinforcement as you would with a child.”


3. The Everyman Boss (a.k.a. Michael Scott, “The Office”)
This boss is likable enough, but he’s sometimes inappropriate. He manages “from the gut,” and he’s just too wish-washy to lead effectively.

Janet Civitelli, workplace psychologist at, says that one of the best strategies for dealing with an indecisive boss is to train him that decisions aren’t so scary. “Indecision often stems from fear of making a mistake or looking bad,” she says, “so try to find ways to help your boss shine.”

Vicky Oliver, the author of “301 Smart Answers to Tough Business Etiquette Questions,” says, “Try to view his lack of leadership as an opportunity for yourself. … Take the lead in the discussion, but stay detached from any particular outcome. Use logic, rather than unbridled passion.”

4. The Autocratic Boss (a.k.a. Vito Corleone, “The Godfather”)
Regardless of his physicality, Lafair describes this boss as “large and in charge.” He is cruel (even a bit of a bully) and sometimes very frightening.

Lafair advises, “The best way to handle these bosses is to let them know you appreciate how they have situations under control. [Demonstrate that] you’re willing to be another pair of eyes, so that when chaos and anxiety are stirring, you can be available to help find ways to calm situations down.”

Andy Kanefield, a coauthor of “Uncommon Sense,” cautions such bosses that fear is a poor motivator: “You bring the best out of people by inspiring them, not by making them afraid.”


5. The Pace-Setting Boss (a.k.a. Donald Trump, “The Apprentice”)
This is the boss who creates a competitive environment at work. He sets very high goals and standards–and is very demanding of employees.

Kanefield advises that, with a boss who sets very hard-to-achieve goals, you ask for as many details as possible: “Ask for details about what it means, what the steps look like, who they’ve seen that have done it well–try to get a picture of what success looks like.”

Then, Lafair says, you should acknowledge how much you appreciate the clear goals–“and then the great policies and procedures fall into place.”

Who’s your boss?
Do any of these boss types sound familiar to you? We asked people which type most reminded them of their boss, and the majority (38 percent) said that their boss was most like Don Draper. We also asked people, “If your current or most recent boss were a TV or movie character, would the character be the villain, the hero, the comic relief, the mentor, the oddball, the heartthrob, or a bit part?” Most–41 percent–said that their boss was the villain

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