How to deal with a demanding boss

Do you have a demanding boss? A boss who asks you to meet unrealistic or even impossible to reach goals?
How can you deal with this as a manager yourself being in the sandwich position?

During my time in middle management, I had some tough negotiations about goals with my bosses. Often I didn’t know how to react to these demanding bosses. But over time I learned how to deal with these situations and how to handle unrealistic goals.

How to set goals

Before we talk about these demanding bosses and how to deal with them, let’s have a look on how to agree on goals in general. There is a big difference between setting goals or agreeing on goals. Unfortunately, some managers don’t seem to be very clear about this:

“Come on, John! We´ve talked enough. This is your goal: You have to accept it!”

Uh no. This is not an agreement! That is just setting a goal.

But you should agree on goals rather than set them. Because, you need committed employees who want and are capable to achieve these goals. You´ll gain nothing from just setting a goal and your employees are not committed.

If, you want to have people in your team who think actively and who don’t come to you with problems but with solutions, you have to agree on goals.

You have to ask, you have to discuss and you have to convince your employees about goals. You need to negotiate about the goals with your employees not just set them.

A goal that your employee has set himself or herself, that has a much stronger meaning for him or her.

For the bosses: Listen Carefully

By the way: Listen carefully to the ideas your employees have.

You will probably be amazed at the high goals that motivated employees set themselves. That was often the case when I proceeded that way.

But my own boss is very demanding…

How to deal with a demanding boss

But my boss doesn’t agree on goals. He sets goals and sometimes these goals are very demanding. And now, I have to convince my team to agree on them. How can I do this?

Not an easy situation. If you are convinced that you and your team can reach the goal, then it is important to win over your employees.

If  you are not convinced of the goal your boss set, then you´ll have to tell your boss directly.

Try to speak to him and understand why the goal is so important to him. What is really behind it? If you know this, then you can make a counter-proposal. In this way you have a much better chance to change the goal.

How to deal with unrealistic goals

Sometimes bosses set unrealistic goals  – not out of madness, but because they assess the situation and the resources differently:

“Well,  John: The goal for you and your team is to introduce the new ERP system within the next 6 months. It will be tough, but I’m convinced you can do it. ”

You may reply:

“Sorry boss, but 6 months? That won´t work!”

But that´s not how you should respond. Simply blocking, does not help.

The counter proposal

Instead, make a counter-proposal, for example:

“I understand that we have to introduce the new ERP system as quickly as possible. I also promise you that we will work on it with full commitment. But we can’t do it in 6 months. At least not with the current team. If we can temporarily get 2 external consultants, I think we will make it. But if we don’t get any additional resources, then it will definitely take us at least 10 months. ”

Now your boss can decide whether 10 months are ok or if he changes the budget and adds two external consultants for the project.


How to deal with impossible to achieve goals

What can you do if your boss demands impossible things and won´t change his mind about it?

“Come on, John. You and your team have developed this great gas engine with 97% efficiency. It surely will be possible to increase the efficiency a bit.

Take our sales team for instance. They increased sales by 30% last year. It´s not too much to ask if I want 4% more efficiency. 4% come on: 101% efficiency is not a big deal. Just ask the sales department how they do the 30%. – Anyway, the goal is set. Increase by 4%! Go for the 101 % efficiency”

If your boss has unrealistic demands, you can’t just accept them.

You have to act immediately and you have to tell your boss in a friendly but persistent manner that this goal is impossible to achieve. In this example, the goal even contradicts physical laws.

When you cannot accept a goal of a demanding boss…

You can’t just accept impossible goals and pass them on to your team. That will not do it. If you did, your team would no longer accept you.

And your boss will later blame you if you failed to achieve the impossible goal. – And 101% efficiency: this will keep you on your toes, believe me!

“Well, John didn´t really disagree with hs goal. Of course, I assumed that the 4% goal could be achieved. I’m not a technical guy! He is the expert. And now we are in a mess. It is end of the year and we did not reach our goal. That will have  consequences for John!”

So what can you do if your boss has unrealistic demands?

Here are my 3 tips:

1. Clarity

Say it kindly, but immediately, in a straightforward way and without beating around the bush: This task is not feasible. It cannot be achieved.

2. Counter-proposal

Make a counter-suggestion of what a realistic solution could look like and how a realistic goal could be set.


If you have said


to an impossible goal from your point of view, you must remain resolute and consistent.

You can be persuaded to accept a challenging goal, e.g. 30% more sales or something like that. But an impossible goal to achieve, a goal that you have identified and named as such in front of your boss, you can´t reject at first and then at some point later still accept it.

You have to stay consistent and say “No”, even at the risk that your boss will not like it. Yes that might have negative consequences for you, but if you don’t reach the goal, the consequences are worse by far.

Sorry! There is no other way!