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Michelle Ray is a Vancouver-based leadership expert. (Peter Power/The Globe and Mail)
Michelle Ray is a Vancouver-based leadership expert. (Peter Power/The Globe and Mail)

LEADERSHIP LAB

Four ways to deal with a bad boss Add to ...

A recent Gallup survey reported that 25 per cent of people would like to fire their boss, if they had the power. Interestingly, the majority of those 25 per cent were reported as the “highly disengaged” cohort.

On the other hand, those who enjoyed a healthy relationship with their managers were reported as “highly engaged” in their work and consequently had no desire to oust the boss.

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The reasons for disengagement, however, aren’t necessarily a one-way street. Poor leadership plays a significant role in the engagement equation and it is a fact that managers and employees alike become disenchanted and disconnected due to the negative impact of mediocre leadership at the highest level.

Recently, I spoke to three senior managers who shared their deep-seated resentment regarding the top echelons of their leadership. The managers opened up a Pandora’s box, describing their C-suite as an inept, self-serving group who, for the most part, were buying time until retirement. The managers felt trapped, fearful that if they addressed their leaders directly, they would risk losing their jobs. The office politics and dysfunction was rampant, yet no one was prepared to take action.

As the discussion progressed, it became clear to me that high levels of distrust and disrespect were the core issues at every level of their organization. How does one take action to ameliorate management concerns and improve workplace relationships when the fingers are consistently being pointed upward? What does one do when “head honchos” have no plans to vacate their position; oblivious to the tension and frustration felt by many below their ranks?

If this describes your current situation, you may take some comfort in knowing that you are not alone. The unfortunate reality is that we cannot make bad leaders disappear. We can, however, make choices in order to advance our own careers and shift our perspective regarding the relationships we have with such leaders. The decision is ultimately ours to exercise one of the following four courses of action:

1. Accept it.

Acceptance has different interpretations. For some, it may mean “endure,” or “tolerate.” In effect, “put up and shut up.” Adopting a posture of acquiescence is not helpful. Instead, consciously choose to detach and recognize the impact of resentment and frustration on your well-being. If bad leaders have already retired on the job, you don’t have to follow suit. If they are uncaring, uncompromising, unrelenting, or unjust, it does not mean that you should respond in kind. They are who they are, through whatever lens you choose to see them.

2. Leave it.

You may have reached a point were staying in your current job has become impossible and it is time to move on. To the degree where you are compromising your own sanity, being obsessed with the injustice of it all isn’t healthy. Numerous individuals have taken this step, recognizing that the situation is not going to change. Taking the high road may be your best option. Realize, however, that you may once again find yourself in an imperfect workplace, with ineffectual leadership, at some level of an organization. Learning what is acceptable or unacceptable in terms of your employers or managers is a good thing in the grand scheme of your career.

3. Change it.

The adage “nothing changes if nothing changes” definitely applies when it comes to your relationship with your leader. Taking this step requires adopting a proactive mindset. As unfair as it seems, the onus is on you to create change. For example, while venting with your colleagues about your bad boss may provide temporary relief, the real concerns remain unaddressed by choosing not to confront the person directly. Unless you are prepared to change your approach, overcome your fears and communicate your concerns, the situation will remain the same, or more likely, will get worse.

4. Own it.

Overcoming your mental roadblocks is the first step in having a conversation with your leader. Establishing a meaningful dialogue requires planning on your part. Improvising won’t work if you are serious about delivering your message with impact. It also requires skill and conviction. When it comes to the crunch, these two areas present the greatest challenge for most people who are unhappy with their leaders. Invest in honing these attributes and you will change the result for yourself. Do you wish to give your leader a piece of your mind, or is your objective to positively express your concerns? Consider the intent behind your words and actions. There are consequences for staying silent or speaking up. If you choose the former, you may have to pay a high emotional price. However, if you engage your leader in a constructive discussion, you may be pleasantly surprised.

The time will come for you to decide what the best course of action will be. Will you:

a. Accept the status quo?

b. Leave your job?

c. Change your perspective?

d. Approach your boss?

You need to resolve to do things differently in order to achieve a different outcome. Being proactive is the only way to affect a positive change. Ultimately, you will be better served by focusing on what is within your control, rather than what is not.

Michelle Ray (@michelleraycsp) is a Vancouver-based business keynote speaker, leadership expert, author and founder of the Lead Yourself First Institute.

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