How to Stay Motivated With a Difficult Boss

Nov 30, 2022

“Employees don’t leave jobs, they leave bosses.”

Motivation is a key driver of productivity and job satisfaction. A "Gallup" study on the 'workplace' topic recently showed that 70% of employees consider themselves disengaged at work. That’s staggering! While most top leaders know the importance of keeping employees motivated, few (if any) actually hold managers and team leaders accountable. In the world of law enforcement, it’s likely worse due to the recent events impacting the narrative about cops. Every week, I hear stories about how officers are literally reluctant to do their jobs because of the fear that leadership won’t have their back if things go wrong.

Every one of us has worked for a less than stellar boss. In fact, more have or probably are working for a bad boss than are working for a good one. With this unfortunate fact being a reality, the key is to learn the tools you need to grow yourself and those around you despite working for a disappointing boss.

Author Simon Sinek addressed how workers and mid-level managers can address some of the morale issues that come from "bad boss behavior" by making sure they do the things they can and be the leader others wish they had. Leading from the middle is the goal of this and he offers some of the same tips we do below. Working for a bad boss isn’t easy, but you can overcome if you and others in your group abide by some of the key elements of keeping a team on track and motivated.

So, how do you personally stay motivated and help others stay motivated when you have a difficult boss? Here are some things you can do to maintain and/or increase motivation among your team – even when you are not the boss:


  • Communicate with Clarity: Too often, leaders are not clear and do not communicate a consistent message to their team. Many leaders will actually “ghost” their employees effectively dismissing them as people in the process. Ghosting occurs when you basically do not respond to emails or text messages from employees, friends, or others in an appropriate time period. The psychological impact on the recipient of such unprofessional behavior has been documented. It demotivates them and creates resentment. It’s as if you are saying to the employee, “You are not important enough to warrant my response or attention.” Be mindful of using this tactic as it will tend to backfire on you. Be clear when you communicate. Using the SMART guidelines (Specific, Manageable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound) for goal setting should be used whenever possible. Employees appreciate clarity of purpose and mission and when bosses explain the “why” before it’s asked. While your boss may be prone to these missteps, it doesn’t mean that you need to be.
  • Recognize Achievement: When you reward an employee for their success and achievement, you show that you are paying attention to their effort and commitment. While not every employee wants praise daily or even weekly, they do want and appreciate a boss who shows they care about their individual employees. Get to know your team members and show that you care about what matters to them. In other words, be the boss they wish they had.
  • Follow Through on Commitments: One of the biggest missteps that a lot of bosses make is not following through on what they have committed to their team. This is uncaring and really shows someone who is untrustworthy. As a team member, you can learn from this and only make commitments on which you know you can follow through. Being reliable as a person who does what they say they will do will garner respect and appreciation among your team members, even when your boss doesn’t.
  • Be Interested and Encourage Development: Always show interest in your teammates and help them find opportunities to grow. Encourage them to take a professional development class and learn how to become better themselves, despite having a boss who does just the opposite.


People want to know two things about their coworkers or bosses: 1) Do you care about them? 2) Will you help them achieve their goals? You don’t have to be the boss to do this, but good bosses do this by default. They want to grow future leaders – period!

These are just a few of the suggested ways that you as a team member can help keep your team motivated. The bottom-line is - don’t expect the organization to do it for you! Take charge of your own personal growth and development. Learn to navigate the organization so that you and your team members can get the training and development you need. Be the support for each other that you are NOT getting from your boss. In time, this will turn each of you into the leader you want to work for and become. By being a positive example for others, you will grow your own leadership skills and help others do the same.

Have a great week!

- Dean

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