Jim Stern Coaching


I knew this title would get your attention, I mean, really, now, who hasn’t experienced a toxic boss? You know these folks; they make your life miserable because they don’t know how to manage their subordinates. I know personally over the years I have experienced a few. When you think about it, it has given rise to a whole segment of coaching… EXECUTIVE COACHING. Of course, this area of coaching works on different issues within the corporate leadership world, but for some reason, “how to lead” continues to be a big issue.


We’ve all heard of “The Peter Principle,” where people keep rising up the corporate ladder until they hit their level of incompetency, and this is why we find so many toxic managers today.  This happens for many reasons but the main ones are that the company knows this is a problem worker so they figure by promoting him or her it will solve their headache, but too often it doesn’t, and now the company has a whole new set of issues to deal with. The other area where this happens is the worker is great at their job, so they are rewarded with a promotion and end up managing people. The problem here is just because they are good at their current position, like being a great sales or tech person, it does not qualify them to be a great leader in managing people (oh, I see you nodding your head in agreement). Now the company needs to spend resources in bringing in an executive coach for help.

The toxic boss is a big problem for corporate America, because it can affect the entire corporate culture and good people will start leaving. For those who don’t have the option to leave, they will be left walking those hallways feeling angry, frustrated, and downright miserable. Is this what the company really wants for its employees? Unfortunately, the company may not be aware of this situation until the damage has already been done.


When *Sheila, Mary, and Flow hopped into my back seat, the first thing they asked me was… “You are a Life Coach? Boy, do we have issues.” I asked them to give me their most pressing issue and we could try to tackle it on the way to their destination. They were college students headed to do a morning of volunteer work at a non-profit as a requirement for a class they were taking. They would volunteer several mornings each week, and there were many others from their school also volunteering there. The problem they were having was that recently, they were assigned to a new supervisor who was incredibly mean and unfriendly to all the volunteers. It was creating a bad work environment and the students were fearful that no matter what they did they were going to get a bad grade… so what to do?


Obviously, it felt like they had no power, but I wanted to show them how they actually did. We talked out several scenarios and I was hoping they could find the answers through my guidance. Here are some solutions we came up with:

  • Kill their boss with kindness (why give this person any ammunition to justify their actions?).
  • Request to having a meeting with the supervisor and start the meeting by stating something positive about the person or the company before diving into the issue(s).
  • When discussing the issue with this person, make it your problem and not that you are having an issue with them. State it in non-threatening way. For instance, rather than saying “I really hate it when you…” try saying, I am having a difficult time with… and I was hoping you might be able to help me with…” This approach is more disarming, and the boss will actually feel like they are being asked for help they can give you (not to mention feeling valued).
  • Since they were no longer having weekly meetings with the new supervisor (one of their issues), try suggesting this and come up with some obvious reasons why it would be meaningful for everyone (including the supervisor). It’s important to do it in a non-threatening way, like saying “We did this with our last supervisor, and we found it really helpful in setting our expectations for the week, is this something you can help us with?”
  • Keep a log on any incidents for your own protection. Include the date, circumstances, and outcome.
  • Don’t complain to the boss’s boss, as it often backfires. If you’ve tried all the suggestions above, you might want to consider talking with HR, or in this case their college professor, and without naming names; you just want them to be aware of the situation and that you are trying to work things out on your own. Just in case, for instance, the college students might get a bad grade because of this person, they now have the issue made known to the right people and a log they can produce to back up their claims.



It’s interesting that so many managers of people don’t understand how to work with their subordinates. Many times, you only hear from the boss when they want to reprimand you for something or set you up for failure. The first no-brainer for me is why would any manager want to do this? First off, as a manager, you will get so much more mileage from your workers by being kind to them and offering positive feedback when they are doing great work. Just imagine how subordinates might actually like working for their (non-toxic) boss… I know, such a novel idea, right?

Another management suggestion which I learned from my years working in education is just like people learn differently, one must manage people differently. Based on Ken Blanchard’s work in Organizational Management, people need to be managed based on two criteria; a worker’s skill level and their motivational level. So, if a worker is highly knowledgeable in their job and also highly motivated, then the worst thing a boss can do is micro-manage that person… it will drive them right out of the company. On the other hand, if that person is low in their skill set but high in motivation, then a manager can support that worker by getting them the additional training they need to be successful. It is important to not focus on trying to motivate that worker, since they are already at a high level there. As you can see, there are many configurations in-between on how to manage people based on these two criteria.

As the three college women were being dropped off and feeling pretty amped up on turning this situation around… I had to add “Oh, and by the way… this won’t be the last toxic manager you will experience in your life!” They of course laughed as they thanked me and waved goodbye!


*Names & any identifying information on people in this post have been changed for confidentiality.

© Jim Stern Coaching 2023. All Rights Reserved.



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