Top 9 Tips to Deal with a Difficult Army Boss

Today, I want to teach you how to deal with a difficult Army Boss.  If you’ve spent any time at all in the Army, at one point or another you have probably had a difficult boss.   Different leaders have different personalities, skill-sets, leadership styles and values.  Some bosses you will admire and some you will dislike.  It’s inevitable.

After talking with hundreds of different Soldiers, I’d bet that close to 75% of them DO NOT like their boss for one reason or another.  Does this mean their boss is bad?  Of course not.  It simply means that there is a personality conflict, a leadership gap, or a communication problem going on.

Bosses are like dating.  When people first start dating, everything is peachy (most of the time anyway).  Everyone puts on the best front to try to impress each other.  But at some point, the two people see the other person’s true colors.  They notice the person’s faults and shortcomings.  When this happens, many relationships go sour.  Of course, some relationships flourish too, even after the initial excitement has worn off.

Bosses aren’t much different.  There are good things and bad things about every boss.  You have to accept that upfront.  Every great leader has things about them that people like and things that people dislike.  If you have a boss you dislike, I can share a few pointers I learned during my 15 years in the military.

Tip # 1 Look Yourself in the Mirror

The first thing you need to do is look yourself in the mirror and ask yourself if you are doing all the right things.  Check your attitude, your work performance, your competence, and the way you treat your boss and subordinates.  Ask yourself “would I like to have someone just like me working for me?”  If the answer is no, make some adjustments and start doing a better job.

Tip # 2 Be Proactive

Most boss’s like superstars.  They really like the people who go above and beyond and perform at high levels.  Are you one of those superstars?  If not, could you be more proactive and do a better job at work.  Are you honestly giving 100%, 100% of the time?

Tip # 3 Be Professional

Always act professional, even if your boss isn’t professional.  Show your boss the proper courtesy, even if they don’t treat you well.  There is a rank structure in place for a reason.  When you talk to your supervisor, use the respective “Yes Sir or No Sir,” stand at parade rest or position of attention and be a professional at all times.  Don’t give them a reason to push a case of disrespect or insubordination.

Tip # 4 Think of Things from Your Boss’s Perspective

This might be hard for some people to do, but try thinking of things from your boss’s perspective.  Maybe they are overworked and understaffed.  Maybe they have some problems at home you don’t know about.  Don’t jump to conclusions too quickly.

Tip # 5 Accept That They Aren’t Perfect Either

No one is perfect.  I’m not and neither are you.  The longer we work with someone the more we see their imperfections.  Even if your boss is good at 10 things, there will be things they are not good at.  They will have some great personality traits and some bad ones.  But don’t worry; the same applies to you.

Tip # 6 Have a Heart to Heart Talk With Them

If you have a problem with your boss, tell them you would talk with them in private.  Schedule a time to meet with them and address the issue.  Be careful not to “personally attack” them, but address the issues.  Tell them you want to do a good job and you want to have a strong professional relationship with them, but that there are a few issues the two of you need to address.  Could this backfire on you?  Yes.  Is it worth taking the risk?  Yes, especially if the problem is really bothering you.

Tip # 7 Talk to a Trusted Peer

Another option is to talk to a trusted peer, outside of your unit or chain of command.  Ask them if they have ever dealt with a difficult boss before and what they recommend.  Whatever you do, don’t talk with other people in the office (or in your unit) about it.  You don’t know who is friends with who and you don’t need to gossip or get accused of saying something bad about your boss.  Be professional.

Tip # 8 Talk to Your Boss’s Boss

I always believe you should talk to your boss first, before you talk to their boss.  You owe it to your boss to give them a chance to fix the issue before you talk to their supervisor.  However, if you talk with your boss and nothing gets resolved in a reasonable amount of time, you could talk to your boss’s boss.  Just remember that this could backfire too and you could get yourself in deep water if you aren’t careful.

Tip # 9 Suck It Up and Deal With It

We are in the Army after all.  By no means should you take harassment.  But if the problem is nothing more than a personality conflict you should suck it up and deal with it.  Assuming there is nothing illegal, immoral or unethical going on, your boss can lead however they want to.  You also have to remember that you probably won’t have the same boss forever, so you might just need to suck it up until you get a new boss or a different job.

Final Thoughts

I believe that most bosses try to do the right thing.  However, at some point or another, you will have to deal with a difficult Army Boss.  When that happens, you can follow the nine tips listed in this article to navigate through those waters successfully.

Do you have any situations where you dealt with a bad Army boss you would tell us about? Any questions? Post any, and all below.

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chuck holmes

Chuck Holmes
Former Army Major (resigned)

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12 thoughts on “Top 9 Tips to Deal with a Difficult Army Boss”

  1. Greg Boudonck

    I have to admit Chuck, when I got to the last tip I was almost on the floor laughing. Sometimes all throughout life, we just need to suck it up and deal with it.

    I am also quite taken by #1. Sometimes the boss isn’t the problem. In many cases, the problem is our own attitudes and actions. I was taught many years ago that the only person we can change is ourselves.

    Last, but not least, using empathy is also a huge one. By putting ourselves in the bosses shoes, we may be able to understand he/she a little better.

    Thanks for getting me laughing with the suck it up line though. Have a great day!

  2. Don’t let a difficult boss get the best of you or ruin your career. Remain calm, professional and do the right thing. Remember that you won’t have the same boss forever, probably not more than nine to 12 months. Treat them with respect, follow your orders and learn from your experience.

  3. My best tip for dealing with a difficult boss is to try to figure out what makes him/her difficult and get to the root cause of the problem. For example, maybe your boss has a temper and “blows up” a lot. One of the best things you can do is find out why that happens and see what you can do about it. It’s also important to realize that no one is perfect. We all have issues to some degree. Try to look at the bright side of things.

  4. Bosses and business partners are like dating. You can get tired of each other which means each needs to give space as is best for the job of both involved. You can feel jealousy whether you are the boss, the subordinate or the business partner. This is natural, but when we feel this negative emotion, we should not let it get in the way of the team goal, whether military or private industry. On the other hand, be happy that you are in cahoots with someone … that good! How to deal with a difficult Army Boss or any boss? Remember they worry a lot about their team. It is stressful to have so much responsibility. Honest, respectful communication executed at the appropriate time has the potential to make any situation work better. Appropriate time is the key phrase.

    1. The boss-employee relationship is a lot like dating, Suzanne. It normally starts out exciting and then cools off within one to three months. The key to building a good relationship with your boss is open communication, trust, and being good at your job. This applies to the boss and the employee. Both need to value the relationship and make mission accomplishment the number one priority. If that can happen things will be okay.

  5. Neil O'Donnell

    This is great advice for Army and civilian life as bad bosses are everywhere. The fact that the boss is in charge means that you are required to follow his/her instruction for the most part. If possible, look for a new assignment to get out of the situation. Until then, grin and bear it. If at all possible, leave on good terms with a bad boss as he of she may be your boss again in the future.

    1. You make a good point about leaving on good terms. Never burn a bridge, especially in the military. The ARNG and USAR are small organizations. Chances are, you will meet up with your “bad boss” again in the future. My advice is to always be a professional, keep high standards for yourself, and deal with it. In most cases, you won’t have the same boss for more than 12-18 months.

  6. I had a difficult boss at one point in my life. Though there was no changing the situation, it still happens in civilian life, in the corporate world, even if you work for 7-11, etc. It just depends on the person–in military or civilian life–and how you deal with the challenges as they arise.

    1. It’s bound to happen. Everyone has different personalities, strengths, weaknesses and leadership styles. Just because you don’t “like” your boss doesn’t mean they are a bad boss, nor does it mean they are incompetent. There are a million ways to handle any situation. I always tell people to try to look for the good in people. No one is perfect, including you and I.

  7. These are not only applicable to those in the service, but to those who are not enrolled in the service. Most times we end up having to suck it up and deal with it, but at least there are plenty of things to try before getting to that point.

    1. Dealing with it is our responsibility. However, we can always strive to make things better. We can always get better at our job and look at things from our boss’s perspective. Even if you don’t like the person, you should respect the position they hold and do what you can to be a good employee. You’re getting paid to do a good job at your own job, whether your boss is good or not. That’s something we all need to remember.

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