Many managers and supervisors tell me that having a bad boss is one their biggest problems at work. I don’t disagree that a poor boss makes it harder to do your job. Bad bosses can suck up your time and attention. But before you give up, there may be some things you can do to improve the situation.
The same boss that threw a folder at my head provided me with a stretch assignment that solidified my role across the organization and its subsidiaries.
The same boss who stood by and did nothing in the face of ongoing and overt sexism and harassment taught me how to design and develop programs for any audience.
I learned that the events that got the most attention sucked up most of my energy in a negative way but they were not the whole picture – they were only part of the picture. So I thought I’d share a few strategies that can help provide a healthier and less stressful perspective:
- Why are they like this? It helps to understand how your boss sees the world and the world of work. What do they care about? What are they worried about? What are they scared about? Knowing what drives your boss can help you plug into their concerns, goals, and priorities.
- Cheer success. There is no point in making your boss look bad or taking them on in a war – the employee always loses. Know what your boss is not good at and figure out if there is a way to work around it.
- Know their style. Are they fast paced, thoughtful, eager to talk, or hate in-person chats? The more you can match your style to theirs, the smoother things will go. This is also a key leadership skill: the more flexible you are in dealing with different types of people, the better.
- Don’t kick the dog. Take the high road and don’t use a boss’s bad behavior to excuse your own. Stay focused on doing the best job you can. Complain to your friends all your want outside of work, but when you are at work, stay engaged and upbeat. People are watching and you never know what the future might hold. Poor behavior says more about you than your boss.
- Say something. The time to tell someone the truth is not when it’s too late to do anything about it. It does take courage to speak up and it takes choosing the right time, the right tone, and the right words to express your truth well and so that someone else can truly hear it. When I talked with my boss about the amount of overt sexism that was allowed to pass for ‘joking’ within his earshot and how I felt about him saying nothing, his awareness shot up 100%. He never let an inappropriate comment go without saying something again in my presence.
- Don’t allow yourself to be bullied. It’s hard to stand tall in the face of someone who yells, is snarky, or criticizes your best efforts. Rather than explain or get defensive, ask questions and try to figure out what they want.
- Stop wishing for magic. It’s hard when you have a great boos who was a mentor and a sponsor, to settle for a bad boss. But you can learn something from every boss – even if you are learning what NOT to do.
You can use a bad boss as an excuse for your poor performance. Or you can figure out how to use them as a springboard for something better. Be open to the definite possibility that things can improve. And if you have employees who report to you – think about how they might describe THEIR boss. They care that you are not being managed well – but only as it relates to how they are being managed.