I know I’m qualified to lead our team but I would be working for a boss who is consistently critical. The existing team leader has accepted another job, so the position is vacant. I’m not sure my skin is thick enough to report directly to a superior who meticulously scours every tiny detail, eager to discover any imperfection. Our boss’ style drains the team’s creativity, motivation and confidence because he also ignores all signs of progress.

Our team could be at least twice as productive if we had a leader who could manage this guy and make up for his pessimism. Our team members are capable and we respect each other’s work and opinions. When we feel stuck or need a resource, we solve everything we can internally instead of alerting the boss.

The team probably would have had higher turnover if we didn’t really believe in the company’s mission. I’m sure some employees are hanging around because salaries are good and benefits are excellent.

Other team members want me to apply for the open leadership position. The timing is great. I’ve been in this job for over three years, waiting until I had the right amount of experience and training to move up. I have both now, but I don’t know if I want to set myself up to work with a toxic boss.


Don’t! Please don’t short-change yourself by thinking you’re confined to only two alternatives:

• Becoming a key support person for a boss you don’t respect or
• Remaining on a team that feels captive to his constant criticism.


Treat this situation like an alarm signaling you to become crystal clear about your long-term career goals. Since you said the timing is excellent for you to move into a leadership position, you may want to consider changing organizations or making a geographic move.

Some people with low EQ (emotional intelligence) are, by nature, critical of other people because they feel incompetent or unworthy. Individuals who are not willing to work on their own insecurities and flaws project them onto other people. One example is a consistently critical boss who fervently searches for imperfections while ignoring strengths and achievements.

Daniel Goleman’s groundbreaking work decades ago showed that EQ is more important than IQ. Your team is giving you clear feedback that you have EQ leadership potential. You already know that fear of being criticized or shamed is not an effective long-term motivator. Stinging criticism stifles creativity, trust and transparency. Unlike constructive criticism, it is truly toxic for both teamwork and personal development.


We need to look at the possible scenarios if you volunteer to play a key support role for a person you already know could harm you personally and professionally. First, consider just a few of your possible choices.

Plan A

You ignore your boss’ ineffective management style and apply for the open leadership position. You willingly forfeit the normal excitement and opportunities in a new leadership position because you volunteer to endure consistent criticism from a man you’ve told me is a pessimist searching for problems. Over time, your health deteriorates as you try to shield your team from the boss while you struggle without the professional upper management support you deserve. How will doing so affect your close relationships if you’re consistently exhausted or snarly when you leave work? What would make you think your loyalty to such a boss would be rewarded with a good reference later?

Plan B

Since your team has been solving its own issues to avoid dealing with the boss, it’s possible that upper management is unaware of his inadequate leadership skills. You and other team members may want to address this with the intention of creating a more permanent change. I won’t know until you and I talk about the specifics. Since it sounds like you’ve observed his unsupportive behavior for over three years, it is likely that upper management has thus far chosen to overlook the situation. Before you and I talk, see what you can observe about upper management. Does the chain of command above your boss’ level treat employees and lower management in the way your boss treats you? If this is happening, corporate culture will most likely not support you and your team. In a truly unhealthy organization, when upper management disrespects subordinates at any level, shabby treatment travels down the entire chain of command, layer after layer. It’s similar to the way many children bullied by adults act out their fury on the playground, beating up smaller children.
Plan C

If you enact Plan C, you refresh your resume and enjoy learning from an active interview process. You eventually select a leadership position where you respect the boss, delight in the people on the team you lead, believe in the mission of the organization and you relish an abundance of opportunities to learn and grow while you provide support for your new team. If you notice guilty feelings when you consider leaving your old team members behind, remember they also have free will. You could become an excellent role model for colleagues who also need to break free of the dysfunction you’re describing. It’s possible that you may eventually recruit one or more of your team members to move to your new organization at some time.


Since, after three years, it is highly unlikely that your boss will change for your benefit, it’s essential that you use this experience in a positive way. You are the one person who has the power to create a leadership career that will reward you with long-term career joy, pay and other perks commensurate with your performance and a solid support system.

Since we are always consciously or unconsciously training people how to treat us, you have more power than you may think. How are you and your team serving as accomplices, unintentionally feeding the unhealthy drama you described? Example: You mentioned that your team resolves issues instead of involving the boss in ways a superior . . . a true leader . . . is normally expected to be a resource.

Is it time for you to discover healthy assertiveness skills so you no longer allow yourself to feel intimidated by a person who uses controlling behaviors to disempower people instead of assisting his team to perform well? Even though it can feel frightening to stand up to a bad boss, complying with bad behavior reinforces it.

If you decide you want to stay where you are and apply for the open leadership position, there are many ways you can avoid some, not all, of the boss’ unproductive criticism. To the degree possible, I can help you “manage up” the chain of command. I also want to make sure you know how to work with your inner critic and manage your emotions at work, so you don’t turn your boss’ criticism inward and believe untrue negative comments.

Sign up for coaching so I can help you learn healthy new ways to influence your boss. When you gain the confidence and clarity you need, you’ll let go of unhelpful feelings like powerlessness. You’ll gain the leadership position you really want.

Leadership coaching is a proven way to help you gain a leadership position in which you’re supported by upper management that:
• truly values and respects your strengths,
• helps you build a winning team,
• functions with a healthy Emotional Intelligence (E.Q.), and
• provides you with the mentoring, skill development and other training you’ll need so you can enjoy becoming an exemplary leader.

Just complete the short application form on this website so I can contact you for a complimentary 20-minute consultation. If we decide we’re a good fit as client and coach, we’ll discuss a coaching agreement. I look forward to helping you gain the leadership position you truly want.

Author's Bio: 

© 2019 Doris Helge, Ph.D. Interviewed on “The Today Show,” CNN and NPR. Author of bestselling books, including “Joy on the Job.” Certified Master Leadership Coach Doris Helge has helped people like you meet every challenge you’re facing. Discover all the resources you need here now!