11 signs of a codependent boss (and what to do about it)

Think your boss always overshares? Does it feel like they seek validation from you or your colleagues?

I hate to break it to you, but your boss might have codependency issues.

Codependent bosses are quite hard to deal with. Working with them will probably take a toll on your mental health and stress you out a lot (and I mean a lot).

So, it’s important to spot a codependent boss as soon as possible.

Here are the 11 signs of a codependent boss—and what to do about it.

11 signs you have a codependent boss

1) They don’t respect boundaries

Codependent people often have a history of abuse or neglect when they were deprived of attention and affection. They, therefore, now have a strong need for these things.

Because they didn’t have the healthiest model for interpersonal relations, they now tend to overshare and try to establish rapport and intimacy too aggressively. For example, they will often:

  • Overshare personal details;
  • Be too touchy;
  • Act like you’re close friends when you’re not;
  • Expect you to confide in them;
  • Act unprofessionally at work.

By doing so, they often invade people’s personal space and boundaries too soon and too intensely. At the same time, when they overshare, they want you to validate their thoughts and opinions.

2) They don’t provide constructive feedback

Despite how friendly they try to be, it’s quite odd that codependent bosses rarely provide proper feedback to their subordinates. (And a true friend will always do that, right?)

Most workplaces require positive and constructive criticism to keep operations running smoothly. However, codependent bosses will either:

  • Refuse to provide any feedback at all out of fear of being seen in a negative light or;
  • Criticize harshly instead of constructively.

This creates anxiety and uncertainty in the workplace, potentially damaging employees’ motivation and stagnating their growth. 

It’s quite ironic, given that codependent bosses supposedly want to be friendly with everyone.

3) They criticize you whenever you ask for help

Somehow—at least in my experience—it’s even worse when you ask for help. Not even feedback, but help.

Do you need clarification about a certain part of a project? Trying to clear up things with your codependent boss might earn you a lecture or a beratement about not listening or not being keen on details.

Is your team struggling to perform under pressure? Your boss might worsen the problem by reprimanding everybody instead of trying to find solutions.

Then, no one will want to bring up their problems. Overall, such an attitude will result in a work environment that could be more productive and safe.

Unfortunately, codependency is more common in personal relationships than at work. And most of us experienced it at some point in our lives. Learning how to deal with relationship issues of any kind is paramount to having healthy connections with others. 

For instance, most of our shortcomings in love stem from our complicated inner relationship with ourselves – how can you fix the external without seeing the internal first? 

I learned this from the world-renowned shaman Rudá Iandê, in his incredible free video on Love and Intimacy

If you want to improve your relationships with others and learn how to talk about difficult topics with others, start with yourself.

Check out the free video here.

You’ll find practical tips and much more in Rudá’s powerful video, solutions that’ll stay with you for life.

4) They don’t admit their mistakes

And even if they have an easy time spewing out criticisms of people’s mistakes, codependent bosses usually have difficulty admitting their shortcomings.

The worst ones will even project their guilt or insecurity and blame others for their own mistakes.

A good manager knows how to hold people accountable in a professional way. Codependent bosses, on the other hand, might blame you in a derogatory way. Remember that there is quite a difference between holding people accountable and blaming them. 

The latter is about making people responsible for their actions and focuses on how one can improve in the future. Blame, on the other hand, is all about judgment and trying to make the other person feel bad about what they’ve done.

In essence, a good boss is helpful and empowers their team to get through struggles. A bad boss—particularly a codependent one—will be judgemental and hypocritical.

5) They make people quit

Perhaps the biggest sign of a toxic boss? Simple. When people who they manage start to quit.

A recent study surveyed over 2000 employees working in the UK and found that nearly half of them cited a bad boss as one of the reasons they left a job. 

According to these people, what does it mean to be a ‘bad boss’? It’s when a boss:

  • Doesn’t listen to employees;
  • Is ‘unapproachable’;
  • Discriminate team members;
  • Can get verbally abusive.

Another thing to look out for is ‘quiet firing.’ This refers to when managers stop caring about their employees’ happiness and growth.

This is obviously destructive to the workers, but it is also consequently harmful to the organization’s morale and productivity in general.

Is your manager constantly rescheduling or cutting 1-on-1 meetings short with a direct report? 

Yup, that’s a quiet firing.

Sometimes the best way to see if a boss is bad is to look at the workers—or the lack thereof.

6) They over-manage

Good managers don’t… well, manage all the time.

In fact, one of the biggest and most common mistakes I’ve seen when I coach managers is when they micromanage nearly every single move their workers make.

Do you want…

  • To make your employees work in an unpleasant, uptight environment? 
  • Your employees to constantly be watching over their backs? 
  • Do you want to stress them out and stifle their creativity? 

If so, go ahead and micromanage them!

But if you want them to:

  • Learn from their mistakes in order to reach their true potential;
  • Trust you and feel safe confiding in you about their struggles in the workplace;
  • Be confident in offering input and collaborating with one another.

Then you need to give them some space.

Codependent managers often micromanage as a part of their desire to ‘get close’ to their subordinates. The truth is this only has the opposite effect: the workers will only be nervous and even fearful around their manager.

7) They limit people’s creativity

Many managers will claim that they want an ‘innovate team’ or a ‘culture of creativity’ only to immediately shut down any new idea from workers.

This is actually why codependent bosses tend to micromanage their members: they want everything done their way. They don’t just want the final say; they want the say in everything.

This stringent top-down approach kills the team’s creativity. In fact, it might even make them feel more like slaves who should only do what they’re told rather than active participants in the organization.

This also kills camaraderie among members. And while neglecting team-building isn’t the end of the world per se, it’s definitely a huge missed opportunity. Workers who get along are ultimately more productive.

After all, it’s ultimately the boss’s responsibility to ensure that the team functions as a cohesive unit. And although this sounds ironic or counter-productive, the best way to actually do this is to be less exactingly hands-on.

In order for a company to truly nurture innovation, it needs to be open-minded to the different ideas of its people. And with more space to operate on their own, there is more room for people to collaborate and grow on their own, accomplishing goals more effectively in the long run.

In essence, you need more of a bottom-up approach to truly foster creativity.

8) They’re verbally abusive

The most toxic of bosses will voice out their criticisms by yelling at your or using verbally abusive language. It’s even worse when they shout at you in front of other people.

No one deserves this kind of treatment, no matter how badly they might have screwed up at work. There’s always a proper way to say things.

Of course, we’re all just human—sometimes, stress gets the best of us. In high-pressure and intense workplaces like, for example, medicine, even well-meaning resident doctors might accidentally raise their voices at interns in the heat of the moment.

Don’t hesitate to approach your boss in private to tell them that you didn’t appreciate how they talked to you. How they react is what’s important here.

Did they apologize and tell you they’ll try to be better next time? Or did they shrug you off, call you weak, and tell you to deal with it?

9) They’re disorganized

It’s one thing to be a bit cluttered, but being incredibly disorganized as a boss is a big no-no. 

Messing up schedules, losing documents, and missing meetings will drive an entire organization down to the ground. At that point, they’re not just disorganized; they’re being irresponsible.

And it’s still likely going to be the team members who will suffer the brunt of the consequences anyway!

he likes you but is hiding it at work 11 signs of a codependent boss (and what to do about it)

How can a boss be expected to manage an entire team if they can’t even handle their own stuff?

Codependent bosses are often disorganized because they usually care more about trying to appeal to team members (in, as we’ve discussed, unhealthy and ironic ways) than actually doing their job well.

10) They don’t have empathy

All the unhealthy behaviors in this list fundamentally stem from a lack of empathy.

If they don’t hesitate to…

  • Scream at workers;
  • Overwork and underpay their employees;
  • Gossip about them;
  • Refuse to respect boundaries.

…then it’s all because they don’t really care much about their workers or how they feel.

In extreme cases, a lack of empathy can easily be spotted because it’s often outright abusive—like, say, demanding someone to come to work when a loved one has just died. 

However, it can also be quite subtle at other times. For example, instances of insensitivity like:

  • Guilt-tripping employees overtaking a leave;
  • Flaunting their wealth in front of minimum-wage workers;
  • Trying to one-up people’s achievements.

…are also signs of an unempathetic boss.

That’s why it’s so hard to deal with codependent bosses. On the one hand, they’ll try to establish rapport and connections in shallow ways (like gossiping). But, on the other hand, they’ll be extremely selfish and uncaring about important things.

11) They don’t listen

Last but definitely not least, toxic codependent bosses don’t listen.

After all, for leaders, the ability to listen to people is just as important as the ability to tell them what to do.

Or maybe they ‘listen’…

But they definitely don’t understand or empathize with what they’re hearing.

If they refuse to take in feedback…

If they refuse to listen to their worker’s concerns and requests for help…

If they shut down suggestions and ideas from their workers…

Then it’s because they only want to listen to themselves. They want everything about the team, the department, the office to be under their control in the exact way they want it.

Truly, dealing with a codependent boss can be so incredibly soul-crushing because it sometimes feels like you’re talking to a brick wall.

How to deal with your toxic, codependent boss

If you have a boss like the one we described above, you just might be fuming at the mouth right now after being reminded of how they are.

Don’t worry. I understand. I mean, who hasn’t worked under a shitty boss, right? It’s just one of the most frustrating things in the world.

Not only will they take a toll on your mental and emotional health, but they’ll also prove to be detrimental to your career and work-life too.

Here’s how you can prevent that from happening.

1) Confront your boss

Communication is key, yeah?

Now, I understand that it’s not that simple for a multitude of reasons. But maybe your boss doesn’t actually intend to be this difficult to deal with.

While there’s an off-chance that it might make things worse (you might offend your boss and they become even more codependent and toxic), it’s still worth considering.

Evaluate the situation carefully and see if it’s worth a shot. And make sure to talk to them professionally and respectfully for the best chances.

2) Develop coping strategies and find allies

If your boss is toxic, then your colleagues probably feel the same way you do.  It’s easier to bear a situation when you have friends to go through it with. 

Simply sharing your experiences and commiserating and ranting with them about your boss just might give you enough catharsis to power through your job.

Also, remember that you can usually solve problems more effectively through collective effort, which brings me to my next point… 

3) Go to your HR department

You should definitely report your boss to HR if they are being abusive or doing anything that’s illegal or against the company’s code of conduct.

But a decent HR department can still help even with more ‘minor’ issues and offenses, like your boss’s general inappropriateness or constant tardiness.

And yeah, go as a group if you can too. It will give more credence to your claims.

4) Just resign

Sometimes, enough is just enough. Sometimes, things are so bad that it’s just not worth even dealing with. 

If you think there are simply greener pastures elsewhere or your boss is simply hopeless, then it’s probably time to find a new job. O

Again, not that simple of course. This isn’t a simple decision, so weigh the pros and cons of quitting first (and remember that there are toxic, codependent bosses everywhere).

You really need to put and protect yourself first, so don’t forget that this is an option you always have.

Wrapping up

We’re all human. No one is a perfect boss, and no one is a perfect employee either. 

Still, you have to put your interests first. 

While I highly recommend talking to your boss as the first line of defense, it’s not your responsibility to fix or change people for them. And you don’t owe it to anyone to stay in that company either.

But that’s the thing: people can change and grow! 

So if you’re a boss and reading this article made you realize that maybe you weren’t exactly as good of a boss as you thought you were, that’s okay.

What’s important is having self-awareness and the will to improve. After all, the only truly bad boss is one who is unwilling to change.

Also read: 10 signs your boss sees your potential at work, even if they don’t say it

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Picture of Tina Fey

Tina Fey

I've ridden the rails, gone off track and lost my train of thought. I'm writing for Ideapod to try and find it again. Hope you enjoy the journey with me.

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