If you’ve ever seen the movie “Horrible Bosses,” you probably cringe and chuckle at the same time thinking about how the 3 employees jokingly suggest that their lives would be happier if their bosses were no longer around. Initially hesitant, they eventually agree to kill their employers.

While it’s funny to watch a movie based on dealing with truly horrible bosses, it’s not so funny if you have to deal with any in real life. Whether it’s a manager, supervisor, director, owner, or partner, it’s unfortunate that many of us will have to deal with bad leadership at some point in our accounting career.

Unfortunately, bad leaders are far too common in organizations of all sizes. And there’s some evidence to explain why that is.

Researchers at Ohio State University recently experimented with leaderless groups assigned to work together on a set task. As the researchers watched the groups interact, they noticed a disturbing trend.

Most groups tended to elect self-centered, overconfident members to leadership roles. Lacking evidence of competence, groups tend to mistake blind confidence for leadership ability, making it easier for narcissists who are more likely to display that confidence.

This research shows that bad leaders are often promoted for their confidence but lack actual leadership competence. So what does that mean for you? It means there’s an increased likelihood of having to work for a bad leader at some point in your career.

If you haven’t had to deal with bad leadership yet, consider yourself fortunate, but I recommend you continue listening to this podcast because you never know when you might be dealing with a bad leader. Additionally, you’ll want to listen to ensure you don’t become a bad leader as you advance in your accounting career.

While it might seem like you’re either stuck dealing with bad leadership or that you’ll have to find another place to work, that’s not true. There are steps you can take to handle bad leadership that will give you back a sense of control.

While bad leadership can often create decreased productivity, staff turnover, and unhappy employees, there are steps you can take to handle bad leadership. Whether you’re in public or private accounting, there are things you can do to make it easier on you. 

This week I’m going to discuss 3 types of bad leadership and specifically how to handle the most challenging type of bad leader.


3 types of bad leadership  


I’ve been in public accounting for over 30 years, working for some of the big firms like Deloitte and Ernst & Young and small firms as well. I’ve had my fair share of good and bad leaders during my career.

I’ve shared this story on the podcast before, but I once worked for a tax partner at Deloitte who was dismissive and rude. Before him, I had worked for an amazing tax partner who saw my value and offered me the first part-time position in the office after my first child was born.

I was incredibly grateful and worked hard to make sure I got more done in less time than anyone else in my department. Once he retired, a new partner took over the department, and that’s when things went downhill for me.

I put up with that new partner’s dismissive and rude behavior for quite a while, especially since I was the first working mom in the office that was allowed to work part-time, but it finally got to be too much. When I sat down and asked him why he was treating me so poorly, he told me point-blank that, in his mind, I was taking a job away from a man.

I haven’t worked for anyone who was quite as bad of a leader as he was, but there have been some interesting characters I’ve had to deal with. I’m sure if you and I sat down and had coffee together, you’ve probably got some stories to share as well.

As I was doing my usual research for this podcast, I was listening to a podcast that shared 3 types of bad leaders, and I knew I wanted to share it with you all so that you have a better understanding of how to identify and handle bad leadership.

Type #1 – They aren’t qualified or have the skills to help you grow

These types of leaders are typically not far enough ahead of you for them to teach you anything, or they’re frankly incompetent. Sometimes they’re placed in a leadership position to fill a void, not enough thought went into the promotion, or they were able to pull the wool over upper management’s eyes.

It can be frustrating to deal with this type of leadership because you’re both learning and growing at the same pace, possibly with you being ahead of them in some ways. On the one hand, these types of leaders can seem indecisive and unsure, and on the other hand, they can overcompensate by being micromanagers, trying to show you who’s in charge of who.

Type #2 – They’re just not your type

Like in the dating world, certain people are your type, and certain people aren’t. The same goes for leadership – some leaders just don’t have the same values or motivations, or they just don’t have a style that works for you.

Since I’m an introvert, the type of leader that needs a lot of attention, wants to constantly pull my focus from what I’m working on, or likes to micromanage is very challenging for me. I like the type of leader that gives me direction but also space; one that can give me positive feedback and not just focus on the one thing out of 1,000 that I got wrong; one that recognizes my contribution.  

These types of leaders aren’t inherently bad; they’re just not necessarily your cup of tea or good for your career goals. Someone else might be fine working with them, but they’re just not your type.

Type #3 – They’re a jerk

This leader may not like you, may not fairly assign projects, only give negative feedback without offering constructive feedback, talk negatively about you to others, or act unprofessionally. In other words, they’re just a jerk.

Unfortunately, the more senior level this person is, the worse it can be for everyone and the more toxic the work environment they can create. Just like the partner I dealt with at Deloitte who said he wasn’t treating me fairly because I was taking a job away from a man, the higher their position, the more challenging it can be to handle this type of bad leadership.

So what can you do when you’re dealing with a jerk? Here’s what I learned listening to that podcast that I think is very helpful.


How to handle the jerk


First, let me be clear – if you are in an unsafe environment, you do not need to tolerate bad behavior. Report them or quit; you do not need to try to “play the game” because it’s not worth it.

However, if the person is just a jerk, I want to help you learn how to handle them better instead of feeling like you need to change jobs each time you deal with a jerk. The truth is that there will probably be other bad leaders on your accounting career path, so why not learn better ways to handle them now, so you don’t have to feel like you always have to change your circumstances to feel better.

If you think about it, mergers and promotions happen all the time in accounting, so who your leader or manager is today will likely not be who you work with forever. It’s best to be prepared because if there’s one thing that is constant, especially in accounting, it is change; sometimes for the good and sometimes for the bad.

The truth is, if you are in a rush to get away from a jerk, that signals to me that you may need to do a little coaching work. You cannot entirely avoid bad leaders, and honestly, I recommend you learn and grow from every single one because they offer you the best opportunity to do some of the work I’m going to suggest.

I recommend this with any challenging relationship, whether it’s professionally or personally – use the current challenges you’re experiencing to do some great work that you can carry forward. You’ll learn much more about handling bad leadership when you actually have a bad leader to base your work on.

It’s important to understand that when you constantly try to get away from bad leaders, you’re giving your power away. You’re putting them in charge of your career and living at the effect of their jerk behavior.

I want you to have some better coping skills so that you can take your power back. I also don’t want you to be afraid to leave the comfort of what you consider “good leadership” because you’re afraid of what’s out there.

You are holding yourself back when you’re so afraid of working for a jerk that you stay too comfortable where you are. You have to be honest with yourself if you’re not going after opportunities because of fear of the unknown.

The truth is that when you know how to handle working for anyone, nothing can stop you, even the jerks in leadership positions. So what can you do if your leader is a jerk?

First, you have to realize that the worst that can happen when you work for a jerk is how you feel. Whether you’re feeling frustrated, stressed, overwhelmed, or annoyed, the best news I can give you is that you can take back 100% of your power because how you feel is entirely within your control.

How you feel is only ever caused by what you’re thinking, not by what the jerk is doing or not doing. This can be confusing to understand, but it’s true – the things people say and how they behave do not cause how you feel; only your thoughts about what they say and how they behave can cause your feelings.

If you’re dealing with a jerk, the first step is to name how you feel. What is the one-word emotion that describes how you are feeling? If you answer that question with anything other than a one-word emotion, you’re not actually naming the feeling.

For example, “I feel like he is so frustrating to work for” is a thought, not a feeling. The feeling would be frustrated in this example.

Now that you’ve named the feeling, the second step is to ask yourself what’s the thought creating that feeling. When you think about what that person says or does, what is the thought that creates the feeling of frustration?

For example, the thought might be, “He is so difficult to work for,” or “She has to stop emailing me when I’m not at work.” In this second step, you need to become aware of the thought creating the feeling you’re having about the jerk.

The third and final step is to process the feeling. That simply entails describing where you’re feeling the feeling in your body, does it have a color, is it hot or cold, does it move slowly or quickly – when you allow the feeling without resisting it or pushing against it, you’re processing it.

The beauty of learning how to process an emotion is that you can still have a jerk boss, but when you know how to feel any and all emotions that come up, you don’t let those feelings take over. In other words, you have a thought, that thought creates a feeling; you process the feeling by describing it, you don’t resist it, and you let it go.

The best part is that it only takes 90 seconds for the chemical that was released by your brain that’s causing the emotion to dissipate.  Allow yourself 90 seconds to feel what a feeling feels like in your body, and the chemical will have time to go through your bloodstream.

The truth is that the jerk will not stop being a jerk just because you have a negative emotion about them, so you might as well learn a much better way to deal. The faster you learn how to process an emotion, the more power you have to handle bad leadership.

Here’s the key -be willing to feel all the feels by noticing them, naming them, describing how they feel in your body, and then letting them and the jerk go, in your mind. That is how you handle working with anyone and not letting them derail your career.  

Don’t let other people’s personalities, their style of leadership, or lack of self-awareness get in the way of you having what you want.   The truth is that you’ll most likely deal with various bad leadership over the course of your career, but hopefully you now know how to take your power back if you’re dealing with a jerk.




  • While bad leadership can often create decreased productivity, staff turnover, and unhappy employees, there are steps you can take to handle bad leadership.
  • The truth is that there will probably be other bad leaders on your accounting career path, so why not learn better ways to handle them now, so you don’t have to feel like you always have to change your circumstances to feel better.
  • The faster you learn how to process an emotion, the more power you have to handle bad leadership.