Bad Boss BS: “This is a chance to be resilient.”

What is resilience? How can a bad boss warp our definition and put us in danger? And how can we balance protection, loss and growth when times are tough?

Four 2d character stand close to but slightly apart from a 3d bad boss character

Kath says: Resilience is important. It helps us to be consistent, calm and level in the face of change and turbulence. Things like healthy boundaries, a good peer support structure, and clear communication are a big part of that. Digging into the depths of resilience is definitely an opportunity for growth. But I do take some issue with resilience as a competency, because it can have a toxicity to it.

In a ‘bad boss’ situation, it can be used as a get out of jail free card by putting the onus on the individual to endure a hard and sometimes unacceptable situation. And that means ignoring the underlying cause by allowing the person (or systems) actually causing difficulties to avoid taking responsibility.

Instead, the person actually affected by it — who at this point will be feeling pretty depleted — is expected to endure it as a measure of resilience. We should be looking at the systems and ways of working — and building empathy and nuance into those structures — rather than asking individuals to shoulder the fall-out under the guise of a soft skill.

Kath says: If I’ve drawn on resilience for any reason, I don’t particularly want to bounce back into my old ways of being or seeing the world. I don’t want to ignore the hurt or anger or sadness, or whatever else has come up through that situation. That’s where the opportunity lies in resilience-making situations.

Sometimes it’s about protection; establishing boundaries to exercise my right to curate what I do or don’t let into my world. Sometimes it’s about changing my mindset, and the story I’m telling myself about a particular situation or person. Sometimes it’s about acknowledging the fact that I’m human, and can’t possibly be a bottomless well of resilience. And almost always, it’s about self-awareness, self-forgiveness, and self-care (and not the fluffy face-mask kind).

Kath says: It’s not always a conscious decision to ‘be resilient’. Sometimes we have the luxury of time and foresight to gather our resilience skills just before they’re needed, but often not. They’re usually mobilised when we’re in the depths of depletion; when resilience is something we have to take on in order to simply get by. Resilience is a learning opportunity after the fact. But it’s often about survival — whether metaphorical or literal — in the moment.

Occasionally we are able to anticipate and plan for the need to be resilient in the first place. We all have to make hard life decisions sometimes — ones that we know will cause short-term turbulence like changing job, moving house, or leaving a relationship. They all require resilience. Anticipating that — and setting up the structures to support resilience — is something that a good boss should be ready to mobilise around.

A triangular character rests on a single point labelled protection. The other corners of the character are labelled Loss and Growth. A bad boss character looks at the triangle character, perhaps wondering how to help.
I think the secret to resilience might be prioritising protection (because without it we’re likely to fall over) and then balancing this with our relationship to loss and growth.

Kath says: I think this is where great one-to-ones come in. Setting a precedent for emotional safety in readiness for those really tough times is crucial. Bad bosses see those one-to-ones as transactional moments. Good bosses use them as opportunities for genuine connection, which is the ideal setting for talking about hard situations before they get overwhelming.

Kath says: Resilience is sometimes socialised as ‘putting a face on it’. But a measure of good resilience isn’t about retaining a facade of ‘everything’s absolutely fine’.

Sometimes it feels like we’re failing at resilience if we’re not able to uphold the illusion that everything is ticking along nicely despite the turbulence beneath. Nothing could be further from the truth. Bad bosses perpetuate that toxic positivity. Good bosses role model the fact that sometimes, something has to give.

And in some situations, everything has to give . Work has to give, upbeat attitudes have to give, anything ‘non-essential’ has to give — because none of us have endless stores of resilience to smooth over the cracks when shit hits the fan. We can’t outrun our own break-ability, and resilience acknowledges that.

Kath says: ‘You’re so strong’ is a message I’ve encountered when it comes to growth and resilience, but I don’t find it particularly helpful. I want people — and my boss — to acknowledge and validate my brokenness. I don’t think growth can happen until the broken pieces have been seen and heard.

The positive is definitely there, but it doesn’t exist in spite of the hard stuff. It’s there because of it. It’s better to bring that out into the light instead of leaping directly towards the comfort of seeing the good in a situation. Acknowledging what happened (and giving it sufficient air time, even if it is just a good old moan) gives a solid foundation for moving forward.



I'm a Creative director at the BBC. I like words, design, data and magic. These are all my own views (apart from retweets. I borrowed those to look clever.)

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I'm a Creative director at the BBC. I like words, design, data and magic. These are all my own views (apart from retweets. I borrowed those to look clever.)