How to Fire Your Boss

Bad leaders are the #1 reason people quit.

It’s not breaking news to hear that faults like micromanagement, lack of communication, lack of engagement, lack of feedback, lack of transparency, and work-place politicking all drive people away from organizations. Those same issues come up year after year in studies and surveys from Gallup, Forbes, HBR, Accenture, etc. For instance, a 2015 Gallup report found that less than 1/3rd of Americans are engaged in their jobs in any given year since 2000, when they began measuring it. Such articles go on to lay the blame for up to 70% of voluntary departures at managers’ feet.

That may sound extreme – surely the work itself must contribute to people quitting, right?  It does, though as a 2018 HBR article by the head of people at Facebook correctly points out, who is responsible for crafting the jobs?  Yep, it’s management.

People successfully fire their bosses all the time, have for decades, and in fact are doing it more and more often.

How do you fire your boss? 

It’s simple – get another job.  Get one in the same field, doing work you already know you enjoy, and making about the same money.  You’ll probably even wind up working with some of the same people as before who jumped-ship before you.  The one thing that really changes: the people above you on the org chart.

Ta-da!  You’ve effectively fired all your management.  And if you’re a manager reading this and feel appalled, sorry to break it to you but this happens all the time.

Why bring up this “old” news?  Because it’s getting worse…

I have data!  After reading an article that linked to an article that linked to a study that cited the US Bureau of Labor Statistics I went to the BLS website to pull the numbers and made the graph below.  The story isn’t pretty.

The US BLS numbers cover a lot of different statistics but the one I’m focusing on is the seasonally adjusted job leavers as a % of total unemployed – this excludes people who are unemployed because they involuntarily lost their job or had temporary jobs.  Not surprisingly, the numbers went down sharply after 2008, but they have climbed steadily since then.

This jibes with the conventional wisdom that as unemployment goes down job-switching goes up.  After all, low unemployment means greater competition to fill positions, making it a job-seekers market, so to speak.

Funny story about the boss that was killing me

I once had a boss who was very intelligent, easy-going, and well-liked by other managers.  But he was terrible as a leader, which turned out to be endemic at the company.  The situation got so bad that I experienced severe chest pains and went to the ER more than once.  After ruling out a heart attack or aortic dissection, it was diagnosed as muscle spasms due to stress.  With a wife and young children at home, it was clear I needed to change jobs.

A year later before starting my own company, I attended a talk by a local entrepreneur and I was inspired to reach out for advice.  It turns out we had both worked for that same company.  And when I told him why I left, he laughed and said he had left because they gave him chest pains too!

How to avoid that situation – advice for hiring your next boss

First, learn what you should expect from a good leader.  And really, managers at every level need to be leaders.  For specifics, try my article on that very topic.

Second, check their references.  A lot of people talk the talk, but you need to check with their people to see if they walk the walk.  Sound weird?  Try it!  Employers always ask for references and you may be pleasantly surprised how a potential boss reacts when you ask them for the same.  And if they react poorly, hmm… that tells you something too.

Third and last, don’t burn any bridges.  Don’t let a bad boss poison the entire well.  And don’t use more than two random metaphors in a row.

Advice for bosses

See that link above about my other article?  Hint, hint!

Also, realize that when people leave for essentially the same job and they don’t have any criticism to share, re-read the third point above, and realize that yep, you’ve been fired.