Executive coach, workshop facilitator and author of seven leadership books
A survey by Monster, the job connector site, found “more than three-quarters of respondents have so little faith in their managers that they would vote them out of their job if they had the chance.”
Does your boss take credit for your work? Make you feel that admitting a mistake is like cutting yourself in front of Dracula? Never tell you what’s going on? Doesn’t trust your judgement and “snoopervises” your every move? Allows conflicts to fester? Doesn’t provide clear directions or expectations? Treats you like an object – an asset with skin? Sends flaming e-mails? Bullies and intimidates you?
You’re not alone. A google search of “bad boss” brings up half-a-billion hits. Bad feelings about bad bosses abound.
If you’ve lost the boss lottery and find yourself saddled with an ineffective manager, here are five ways to respond:
Strengthen your credibility and relationship
Deliver on your commitments. Managers value employees who follow through. Take initiative to recognize potential problems and look for solutions. Do you know what keeps your boss up at night? What are his or her goals and aspirations? How can you help him or her?
Instead of being frustrated by your boss’s shortcomings (be careful about badmouthing him or her to others), look for ways to leverage your manager’s strengths. Build coalitions and networks with key people who can help you and your boss. Agree on the level of detail or updates your boss needs to feel confident you’re on top of things.
Check your timing and approach
Catch the waves of restructuring, new problems and opportunities, or shifting priorities. Can you help your boss capitalize on, or mitigate, any of these? When you have a major change or improvement idea needing your boss’s support, pay attention to when is the best time of day, a group meeting or one-on-one, or informal versus formal proposal/presentation to make your pitch. Tailor your approach to whether your boss is most influenced by facts and data or relationships and feelings.
Be the adult if your boss is prone to toddler tantrums or should be wearing a vocal surge protector. You might want to wait to respond until emotions have calmed down.
Don’t wait, initiate
Yes, bosses should be addressing issues and providing clear direction and priorities. But most don’t. Squirrels and shiny objects distract them. Set up regular meetings with your boss to discuss priorities, expectations and results. Frame these discussions within your organization’s key strategies such as customer service or innovation.
Don’t be known as Negative Nick or Whiny Wendy by constantly pointing out what’s wrong. Suggest solutions or a process for analyzing and finding answers to problems.
Often your boss is not aware of their behavior and its impact on others. You can help him or her by providing regular feedback. Positive or reinforcing feedback is key to strengthening your relationship and leveraging their strengths. This can help your boss be more receptive to feedback on how his or her behavior negatively affects you or others. Focus on the issue or behavior with observations and data. Never assume intent, add meaning or draw conclusions.
Fire a bully boss
Many bosses are good people doing a bad job. They’re often poorly trained or a product of an ineffective organizational culture. But if you have a bully boss and the above approaches haven’t worked, don’t be a victim. No job is worth it. You need to take stronger action.
You might start with talking to HR for advice or to report toxic behavior. If you want to stay in the organization and feel your bully boss is an anomaly, you might go over his or her head to more senior management. This will depend on the relationship and credibility you have with that senior manager.
Don’t disempower yourself by believing you can’t influence change. Boss management has been critical for many leaders in developing their careers.
But if you have a horribly bad or bully boss who’s highly unlikely to change their stripes, it’s time to save your sanity. As W.C. Fields said, “If at first you don't succeed, try again. Then quit. No use being a damn fool about it.”
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