Beyond the good, the bad and the ugly are the toxic.

Bosses, that is.

Since most of us are going to be in the workplace from age 23 to 65, we're guaranteed to run into one. Or two. In some industries, you might bounce from a bad boss to a worse one and back again.

You need deft armor and an exit strategy to protect yourself. Now.

You also need some boss-dar so you can distinguish between the merely lame (taking you to lunch - at Wendy's) from the distracted (no annual review for years); or the thoughtless (forgetting to give you credit) from the malicious (claiming your best idea was his or her own).

Yep, that last one is a Franken-boss.

How bad is bad?

A recent survey by Florida State University researchers reported that two out of five bosses don't keep their word, according to their employees, and 37 percent don't give workers the credit they feel they are due. And these are ordinary bosses.

Toxic ones now have to sink to Atlantic trench depths to really stand out. Fact is, all bosses are annoying in their own way. This is not about them.

This is about people who have made a religion of vindictiveness, rule like feudal lords and spend more time on office politics than company goals.

Forks in the road: Whatcha gonna do?

In essence, there are two main strategies: ditch the boss or help him or her get promoted away from you. (Becoming a whistle-blower on a felon-to-be is a topic for another day.)

A third possibility - learning to get along with the aforementioned psychopath - is a mirage in the long term. Sure, you can do it temporarily, but the sheer stress of it will warp your personality and give you migraines.

For those who doubt me, just check out . People sending messages to this site are already pre-postal, vandalizing their bosses' cars and plotting elaborate revenge scenarios. Don't let this happen to you.

However, some workers do choose the accommodation option, thinking if they become a special pet they can reap all the benefits. And they might for a while. But then their soul becomes corrupted, they link themselves to a mercurial, heartless dictator and they are shocked - shocked ! - when they are tossed aside on a whim.

Doubters, go see "The Devil Wears Prada" and take notes.

The Darwinian question: To stand and fight or flee?

The main question to ask: Who can leave easier, you or your boss?

This means analyzing who has the mortgage, the kids in high school, the 20 years with the company that makes someone reluctant to change. It also means taking a critical look at your professional skills.

How well-respected are you in your company or industry? How portable are your talents? How flexible are you about some big changes?

If you view your job as a steppingstone, it might be wisest to try to get along with the boss until you can depart. This does not mean chummy. This means acquiring some of the credentials you need to get out. Research different departments or employers, establish new contacts.

If you are settled comfortably and don't want to leave, maybe your Franken-boss has wider ambitions that you could further. Working to get him or her promoted (hopefully far, far away) could unite the two of you in a successful arranged marriage.

You could also create your own job-insurance plan by raising your profile at work. Volunteer to work on cross-department projects or mentoring programs, help organize the charity outing or run the softball team. If other people in the company think well of you, it could blunt a nasty evaluation or give you places to which you can safely flee.

Sob stories: Bad bosses I have known

In more than 20 years of work, I have had two toxic bosses. One fired me to spite his superiors and a second refused to give me my wedding day off.

When I was a temporary worker in Denver, a former boss thought I was a spy sent in from New York headquarters. I replied as only a 27-year-old could.

"You don't have to send a spy," I said. "All you have to do is look in the computer to see how bad this bureau is."

The man was going to fire me regardless; it felt good to blurt out the truth. But his vindictiveness still cost me plenty - I had to move across the country and spend at least three years erasing his negative evaluation.

My next boss-from-hell had a myopic devotion to company rules. He gave the groom and seven wedding guests the day off because they had seniority. But the bride? No can do.

In the end, a co-worker switched schedules with me. I worked eight straight days on the overnight and emerged bleary-eyed Thursday morning. But I had Friday, Saturday and the next week off.

I can't remember much about the wedding, but I heard it was a blast.


Take the toxic boss quiz

How toxic is the megalomaniac you work for? Take the quiz - you might discover that your boss is merely lame.

1. It's your first day at work. Your boss ...

a. takes you out to a two-hour lunch and gives you a raise

b. introduces you around the department and solves all your HR issues

c. forgets you were coming, dumps you off on a surly subordinate

d. announces your duties include cleaning up after the office dog

2. You are heading to the airport to fly out on your honeymoon. Your boss ...

a. was in your wedding party and gives you extra time off for the trip

b. gave you a card, a cake and a warm send-off before the wedding

c. takes away your office and moves you next to the freight elevator

d. dumps 13 depositions into your BlackBerry, says the trial starts in six days

3. You land a key client for your company. Your boss ...

a. buys you a new company BMW, sends you to Paris for a long weekend

b. holds an office party to brag to higher-ups about your accomplishments

c. makes him/herself the main contact to the prized client

d. banks the entire bonus the sale generates, buys a chalet in Aspen

4. You announce that you are pregnant. Your boss ...

a. brings in lovely old baby clothes and insists you nap at work every day

b. carefully reviews company policies with you so you know what to expect

c. starts entertaining the office with fat jokes

d. begins monthly negative reviews so he can fire you the day you get back

5. You move to another department in the same firm. Your boss ...

a. talks up your skills so much you get a substantial raise

b. offers congrats despite the negative effect on his or her operation

c. starts bad-mouthing your new department to anyone who will listen

d. Declares civil war, dedicates all efforts to getting you fired


A = 20 points

B = 15 points

C = 10 points

D = 0 points

90 and over: What are you thinking? This person does not exist in real life.

75-89: You have a darn good boss and should appreciate him or her more.

60-74: Your boss is generally OK but has some regrettable lapses in judgment.

45-59: Your boss is a jerk who needs serious retraining; you need to move.

44 and under: You have a certifiable Frankenboss.

For suggestions on handling your employer's specific character flaws, check out .