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You expect your managers to possess basic values, communicate clearly and act like responsible adults. But sometimes, you get a bad apple.

Most workers endure a bad boss at least once. Good employees learn from the experience. The rest let anger and self-pity overrun them, and you risk losing them.

If you’re regretting a management hire, first judge the degree of badness. A “continuum of badness” has been developed to help you:

Annoying --> Flawed --> Value-Averse --> Unethical

Annoying. The irritating boss may be disorganized or possess grating personal habits. Most of the time, these bosses have good qualities, too, but that one, jarring behavior may drive your employees to distraction.

The usual antidote: Help them get over it by giving them wider range through the organization, such as cross-divisional projects that will take them away from the annoying boss for short periods of time.

Flawed. This is not just a tic but a personality defect that affects a boss’s management style. Examples: arrogance, indecisiveness or volatility. They’re worse than annoying because the intimidation or unpleasantness they cause can chill your employees’ performance.

Solution: Get management training for the boss and professional coaching for yourself.

Value-Averse. These bosses hold values in conflict with those of your organization, but they may operate far underground. They go along with shady clients, promote cheaters, openly humiliate direct reports and ignore industry standards. Your people never know where they stand. And while employees can trust an annoying boss and work with a flawed one, amoral bosses leave them untethered.

Answer: You can’t fix antisocial behaviors. You have to fire them.

Unethical. This one’s scarier. Bad to the core, these bosses violate established ethics, laws and regulations. They lie and cheat. Working for these devils will feel like a journey through hell for good employees.

Solution: Although you will feel loyalty toward your manager, consider it a gift if a worker blows the whistle. Hire an outside investigator to look into the matter, sideline the manager and fire anyone who’s complicit if violations emerge.

—Adapted from Leadership Passages, David L. Dotlich, James L. Noel, Norman Walker, Jossey-Bass.


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