We have all had one or two toxic bosses during the course of our careers. If you have not encountered one yet, you are lucky, but chances are you will eventually. So how do you handle the “bad” boss?
Motives – Try to pinpoint your boss’ motivation. Are they looking to move ahead in the organization? Are they insecure in their role? Is this their first management role? Human beings are complex and working for someone who has not had the leadership training to be in the role is a difficult place to find yourself. When you can start to identify their motivation, you can then start to figure out how to manage through their issues and possibly capitalize on being a great partner for your boss.
Understand the Levers – If you have a boss that goes off on emotional tangents, blows things out of proportion, prefers to exhibit tyrant behaviors versus inspiring followership, try to figure out what incites this type of outburst. Many times it is about control or lack thereof – it may be the boss hates a surprise and the thought of not knowing something that can impact the business or a client. Learning to be calm in these situations is paramount and you need to go into listening mode. Lower your voice when responding, do not back down, use your reflective listening skills to ask, “I hear you would like for me to do this…is that correct”? This is not the time to tell them how out of line they are nor to allow yourself to lose control.
Stay Positive – Really think about what are the positives your boss brings to the table. Actually write down those traits that allowed this person to be designated in the role. There has to be something – are they incredibly strategic, intelligent, possess strong business acumen? Are they good with clients? Project management? What are the redeeming qualities that propelled them into the role? You may not personally like your boss, but trying to reframe the situation to highlight what you can respect about your boss helps to create a new lens on the future relationship.
Commit – Set-up weekly meetings with your boss and bring an agenda. The agenda serves multiple purposes. It demonstrates your diligence as a professional, it helps to prioritize your work and your boss’ expectations, it allows for your boss to feel some control over the output of your work and it serves as documentation to show your good faith effort to work collaboratively and effectively with your boss. If your boss does not like in-person weekly meetings, send an email on Monday morning highlighting a status update of projects you are working on and see if you can build a rapport accordingly. The purpose of Monday versus Friday is because if you receive feedback immediately, you want to be in a position to correct your course of action during the week, not over a weekend.
Focus on the Long-run – Your goal is to move ahead, so this is one snapshot in time over your career life span. Do not let having a difficult boss derail your career focus. Think of this as a learning experience, one that will test your resilience and tenacity. Figuring how to manage a difficult situation will help you grow as a professional. Become the shadow leader of the group.
Become Anticipatory – Try to stay a step ahead with your boss. Figure out what needs to be done and how you can help close the gaps. Yes, this is making your boss look good. This also makes you indispensable. If your boss is lazy and you find you are doing his work and your work, approach him with specific timelines and say you are so good with these spreadsheets, if you can work on these, I can finish the rest of the presentation. Try to make it a team effort and focus on the outcome versus the fact you are carrying the load for two.
Communication Style – If your boss is a numbers person and you typically like to talk in generalities and “big picture” thinking, you need to adapt to their preferred method of thinking. So, arm yourself with data when you meet with your boss, and communicate through data. If the opposite is the case, then try to think more from a strategic perspective and figure out if you are always tied to the numbers, does your boss think of you as a the naysayer for his/her ideas. Try to strike a balance.DO NOT:
Gossip about your boss and tell others how horrible your boss is in the workplace. Trust me, it will get back.
Become the difficult employee – becoming the passive aggressive employee is not going to allow you to move ahead or post out for other jobs should you find you have to make a change.
Taunt your boss – be careful on sharing with your boss all the negatives you feel he or she brings to the table.
Lose your composure – no yelling, screaming or hand gestures – you are a professional and have to continue to keep your goals in mind.