Managing Up: How to Overcome a Bad Boss
We’ve all had a bad boss at some point in our lives – here’s how you can deal with them.
There's nothing more demotivating than working with a bad boss. We've all had one at some point in our life. Either they just don't get you, their personality is incredibly abrasive, or they have no clue what they're doing. People don't leave jobs. They leave managers. Most people will put up with poor working conditions, overworking, and even being stiffed on payment if they have a good manager.
Whatever breed of bad boss you've had the unfortunate luck to end up working for, it doesn’t mean it's the end of happiness in the workplace. Management goes both ways, and sometimes you'll find yourself managing your boss more than they manage you.
In order to keep your sanity (and your job), here are a few tips on working with a bad boss.
Understand their Motivations
You need to know your boss's "why". Why do they do what they do, and why do they act in that manner? By understanding your boss's motivations for their actions, you can better position yourself to respond appropriately.
It helps to show empathy in just about any aspect of life – however it's doubly important in situations of conflict. Rather than pushing back against your boss, or passively choosing to do a substandard job, try and understand what's causing their actions.
Once you know what motivates your boss, what concerns them, and what they like to hear, you can frame all of your interactions with them to avoid any issues. Using language that speaks to your boss's point of view is a quick and easy way to get them onside.
Work with their Weaknesses
Everyone has a weakness. There is no such thing as a perfect boss. There never has been, and there never will be. If your boss is genuinely awful, they won't need your help to prove it – just let them dig their own grave.
However, if the job just needs to get done, you may have to work around your boss's weaknesses. First, you need to take an objective, critical analysis to your boss's performance and determine their failings.
Once you've got an idea of their issues, you can address them in your own way. Is your boss unorganised? Deliver your own work plans and schedules. Are they forgetful? Send regular reminders and keep your own notes. Do they regularly change their mind? Prepare for that contingency and establish a paper trail showing what they've asked you to do.
Take the High Road
It is very, very easy to push back on a bad boss in a passive manner. Performing substandard work, failing to complete tasks on time and just generally sabotaging the company are the most common ways of employees dealing with a bad boss.
However, none of this makes you look good. You must never let your boss's poor performance or behaviour affect your own worth ethic. Your personal brand is at stake, and by producing substandard work as a protest against a bad boss, the only thing you're achieving is proving that you aren't a good employee.
When you go to work, be a professional. Do your job, and do it well. Stand on your own two feet. When your boss's shortcomings inevitably come to light, your ability to continue to produce outstanding work will be even more obvious and will likely attract praise.
It doesn’t matter who notices – it could be your boss's manager or someone who leaves the company to set up their own business or work in HR elsewhere – all that matters is that you do your job well despite environmental pressures.
Sometimes, you just have to speak up. It is genuinely astounding how much can be managed by simply sitting your boss down and airing your grievances. Take the time to chat them – even if it's a one-off half an hour session.
Most boss's have some level of motivation – whether it's producing to a particular KPI level, or doing as little as possible. Whatever it is, work out how you and your boss can work together to achieve what needs to be done.
If you can't speak to your boss, go to their manager or HR, or in small teams, possibly a close team member who is in a position to alleviate the difficulties. Have the courage to speak up, don't just meekly accept the disappointment of working in a dysfunctional workplace.
Adapt to their Preferences
Every boss behaves in their own particular way and has their own preferences about the behaviour of others and the environment they like to work in. Some bosses like to make snap decisions. Others think things over for weeks and won't make a decision without a series of meetings analysing every possible outcome. Some boss's like to come to your desk to speak, others will never leave the office and communicate via email.
Whatever your boss's preferences, you must adapt to them. This is a basic life skill that will take you a long way. Get a good idea of how they like to work and structure your interactions with them around that.
Take a look at some personality assessments such as the Myers-Briggs system. Try and pinpoint where your boss falls, and you'll have a clear idea of their preferred methods of operating.
Don’t be Intimidated
Most importantly of all, don't ever be intimidated. This isn't feudal Europe. You won't be drawn and quartered for airing your grievances or standing up for yourself. Throughout life you're going to encounter challenges that can be incredibly difficult to deal with. However, by standing up for yourself and defending your own rights, you can go a long way towards achieving awesome levels of self-confidence.
Working with a bad boss can be a nightmare, but it doesn't have to be. Work around them where possible, learn the art of managing up, and you'll have a far easier time at work.