In my former life, I was an HR director. HR folks can be a cautious, cynical bunch.
Reason #1 - they are the legal front line when things go south with employees. Reason #2 - they've seen a lot of bizarre and bad behavior at work (and they're called in to help deal with it).
I inadvertently had my HR hat on when I read What to Do If Your Boss Is the Problem on the Wall Street Journal online.
It's a good article with some very smart suggestions. A bad boss can ruin your entire experience at a company. Unfortunately, there are a lot of bad bosses. Sometimes your best plan is to get out so you can find a good boss who can help you grow.
However, I'll also offer that if you find yourself working for your third bad boss in a row, it's time for you to take a close look at what you might be contributing to the bad boss problem.
I certainly knew employees while I was in HR who mistakenly believed their boss was the problem and that they themselves were blameless victims. And recently a new client of mine told me about her string of terrible bosses. Did she just have bad luck? Did she work in sweatshops, renowned for their horrendous business practices? No. This client had problems with each of her bosses because she is difficult to get along with.
My client was courageous enough to be open to exploring this angle. Nobody likes discussing their lack of interpersonal skills or dwelling on the fact that some people find them annoying, rude, harsh, aggressive, unfeeling, or any one of a thousand other qualities that rub people the wrong way.
And certainly nobody likes telling people they work with that they're a pain in the butt. (Well, a few people thrive on this kind of confrontation, but that's a subject for another post). Instead, they avoid them, hope they'll go away, engage in passive-aggressive games, talk about them behind their backs, and complain to HR. This doesn't help anyone learn, be more productive, or change.
I applauded my client for being willing to consider how she is perceived and for being willing to explore what if anything she could do to avoid coming across so negatively in the future. Because the people who are hired first and the people who go the furthest in their careers are, by and large, the people that can play well with others.
If you have a history of bad bosses, maybe you're simply unlucky. Maybe you work in a company that does a poor job of hiring and retaining effective managers. But do look beyond those possibilities and consider how you are or are not behaving like the ideal employee. If you're able to identify some areas to strengthen and work on them, you may find that your relationship with your boss markedly improves.