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How resilient people deal with bosses who never give praise

Sometimes bosses never give praise. Annoying, I know! It’s not great practice as a manager, but it’s a fact of life for many. Resilient people know that while these leaders will never win ‘boss of the year’.


  1. Bad bosses often create resilient people
  2. They use metaphors to reframe their thinking
  3. Resilient people with bad bosses ask:
  4. They can find humour even in their ‘dark stories’

However, there are ways to work around them and get the recognition you deserve elsewhere.

1. Bad bosses often create resilient people

I was reminded of this in an executive coaching session with a client; a senior woman in a tech firm. Amandla had been working with the same leader for nearly 20 years, but he rarely gave praise. This is despite how frequently she and her team were able to turn huge projects around.

Indeed, when she asked for feedback after a particularly onerous project, he’d sniped: ‘You get a paycheck don’t you? Isn’t that evidence enough?!’ 

Time to leave? Not quite. Amandla liked the work and loved the resilient people on the team. Indeed, that’s where we spent most of our coaching time. She reframed her thinking to focusing on who she could best serve. Plus, we discussed who she needed to nurture her in such a barren environment. 

Amandla realised her boss would never be pleased. So I asked who else she knew and respected who had an energy she admired? I essentially asked where else could she get more support. She easily rattled off the names of three resilient people and decided to seek them out more often.

2. They use metaphors to reframe their thinking

As an MCC ICF coach, clients and I often use metaphors. It helps them work through the situations in which they find themselves. Metaphors can help resilient people visualise both how a situation is; but also ideally how it could be.

A keen gardener, Amandla referred to these more positive colleagues as the ‘nutrients’ she needed to get for her soil. It was a hugely useful metaphor we still utilise in sessions.

Her boss ‘drained’ a good deal of her earth, but she realised could get her nutrients in other ways.

3. Resilient people with bad bosses ask:

  • Where else can I get my ‘nutrients’? 
  • What even small ways does my boss evidence that they value me?  
  • If I was to regard this boss as an ‘anti-role model’, what would I be learning?

As we continued the discussion, she remembered how relaxed and joyful she felt after taking a jazz dance class. Rather than see it as a drain on her expenses,

Amandla reframed it as a much-needed source of nutrients and increased her class schedule to twice a week.

4. They can find humour even in their ‘dark stories’

Towards the end of our time together, Amandla retold a story that illustrated how valuable it was to find her nutrients elsewhere. This also enabled her to see the ‘value’ her boss did afford her. Amandla recounted: ‘We were in a recent succession planning meeting. We were discussing everyone’s roles and debating who could take over from whom in our talent pool.’ 

Amandla smiled as she said: ‘When my role came up and names were mentioned. He kept saying ‘No, that guy would completely suck at replacing Amandla’. Another name would be mentioned and he’d say: ‘No way, she’d suck even more’. I realised then, that after 17 years, I would just have to satisfy myself with being the least worst option for him. She laughed as she realised she’d value just being the one who ‘sucked the least’.’  

As we talked further, she remembered a bit of feedback she often forgot in her down moments – her boss actually wanted her for the role. 

As I tell my audiences, often of people working in male-dominated fields, resilient people aren’t born, they’re made by the difficult people around them.

Hope this makes sense if you too are stuck with a boss who rarely gives praise.

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