“People leave managers, not companies.” “The talented employee may join a company because of its charismatic leaders, its generous benefits, and its world-class training programs, but how long that employee stays and how productive he is while he is there is determined by his relationship with his immediate supervisor.” ― Marcus Buckingham, First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently
Now if only all bosses read and internalized these principles, we’d all be better for it. Unfortunately, we’ve all worked for bosses we wish ill of. You know, those bosses from hell who come in all shapes and sizes. More often than not, they get the better of us.
A bad boss is more than just a problem to complain about. They hold a certain amount of power over us—they can hurt our career by failing to provide us with the necessary feedback and support we need to do a good job or by giving us an unwarranted negative performance appraisal.
While some of us have the option to leave and move on, not all of us may be as
fortunate. Allow me to share with you some tips on managing difficult bosses, lessons I’ve learned the hard way.
First, it’s really important to choose how you will respond to the situation you are facing. Never let someone else’s awful, unprofessional behavior push you into behaving the same way. Don’t feel entitled to behave badly just because you have an awful boss. It is likely to backfire on you and aggravate the situation. Don’t be passive aggressive either, it just creates friction and develops a wellspring of negativity between the two of you.
Second, identify your boss’ motivation. The more you understand why he does what he does, the better you will be in delivering what he wants the way he wants it.
It’s important to see things from their vantage point—what drives him, what does he care about? What worries him and stresses him? How does he measure success and failure?
Identify his triggers and go with the grain. He might be anally punctual so be prepared to be in the office ahead of him.
It’s important to speak his language—to frame what you have to say in a way he will hear and understand. Listen to how he says things, the terms he usually employs and the context in which he uses them.
Third, enable your boss to succeed. If he is incompetent, doing your job well will not completely mask his incompetence, it will only put you in his good graces and help build your reputation. For example, if your boss does not manage time during meetings well, do time checks to bring his awareness to it.
Fourth, document everything whether they be directions or criticisms. Get things in writing and create a paper trail of everything he asks and the results that you deliver. If he gives verbal instructions, follow through with an email to check if you got everything and don’t forget to send an accomplishment report with a read receipt as further proof that he got your email.
Fifth, pave the way for an open discussion of the situation. Be careful though because this is something that can backfire on you if you have a mean, vengeful boss. When you do decide it is in your best interests to do so, use “I-statements that are devoid of negative emotional content ‘I need your feedback about the project I’m handling and I need your support specifically with additional manpower.”
Lastly, keep your options open. When work is keeping you up all night and stressing you out immeasurably, it’s time to seek better options elsewhere. Don’t get caught flat on your back without a safety net. Be prepared—your boss might not just be making your life miserable, he might be finding ways to fire you. Since the power dynamic is skewed positively in their direction, it’s important to cover all our bases and have an escape plan.
I’ve worked with different types of difficult bosses—inept bosses, angry, mean ones, micromanagers, you name it. While I may not have walked away completely unscathed, they’ve taught me a lot about professionalism, the drive to deliver results no matter what and most importantly, how NOT to be as a boss and as a leader. So cheer up, there are still lessons you can pick up! There’s really no reason to spit on his coffee!