This article contains advice for bosses too.
This kind of scenario is, generally speaking, a lot harder to contend with than difficult coworkers (click here), since the boss outranks you (and coworkers usually don’t).
Not all bosses will make your life uncomfortable; good bosses do exist! (More on this at the end of the article. Now you have something good to look forward to!)
But now for the bad news… bad bosses are out there. Lots of them!
How to deal with a hard boss depends on what kind of personality you are facing. Here are a few common scenarios…
Micromanagers seem more numerous in this era of stressed out people, internet-information overload, and lack of perceived security generally. A micromanager is a control freak (and will deny it) who wants to know where all “his” ants are at every moment. So try to appear on-side, and anticipate his need for information and control. Never withhold information from him… but rather give him data, plans, and ideas beforehand, and at least appear to be his lieutenant.
The loud and/or abusive boss used to be more common in certain cultural groups, but now seems to have become a feature of all societies, a result of our over-revved world. If a loud boss is simply excitable, and yells a lot, but then calms down, then it’s just the way she communicates (often without thinking first). That’s the easiest one to deal with; just stay calm and wait her out, if possible. But if a boss is truly abusive… then you have no good long-term options. Document her transgressions (in case you have to report her)… and prepare to find a new job elsewhere. Your safety is paramount, as has been discussed in a previous article (click here).
Procrastinators are less challenging bosses to deal with, as long as you don’t get blamed for their delays. They tend to avoid making any meaningful decisions, and are usually scared of mistakes. Best case scenario: your procrastinator boss is disorganised and recognises her shortcoming; this kind is often open to suggestions. Get her approval for small decisions, one at a time, and don’t push her for major decisions without a LOT of preparation and data to present to her. Factor in as much time as possible for projects to get done. Even miniscule tasks! These people always take the path of least resistance.
The clueless boss is simply incompetent, not malicious; he may have been promoted through nepotism, so the first step is to accept that life is not fair (click here to review). Best case scenario: just be patient and if possible, make decisions around this person. If necessary, share some or most credit for good decisions and outcomes. If he makes hasty, uninformed decisions, then offer options in a non-judgmental way, no matter how silly his ideas may be. Never appear too smart in front of this person; it may prove to be a fire hazard (i.e. he becomes envious, and you get fired!).
A dictator may be reasonable or unreasonable. If she is reasonable, simply defer to her authority and never start sentences with contradictory openers like “but” or “no”. These people crave approval for everything, so it helps to restate their ideas in your own words… without sacrificing your own dignity. A reasonable dictator may actually be open to hearing your ideas, and begin to trust you (and then leave you alone). Worst case scenario: your boss is an unreasonable dictator. Learn to deflect his aggression, as he is sensitive to (true or false) perceived challenges to his authority; phrase suggestions as questions to him, implying respect for his need to dispense approval.
In all scenarios, stay calm and never take the boss in a one-on-one fight (you WILL lose… guaranteed!). Angry people often start to feel silly when they’re the only one in the room freaking out. You may have to go to your boss’s boss.
A good boss is patient and calm, and gives everyone at least one fair chance. (If you think you’re entitled to unlimited chances, then the problem is not the boss… it’s YOU!)
Additionally, a good boss is consistent (that does not necessarily mean they give you everything you want, so get that idea far from your mind). It does mean that they don’t keep changing their mind, and that they do make rules clear, so that everyone knows where they stand.
And she treats her workers equally, without favourites! She does what she says she will do. In other words, she keeps her word! Most importantly, a good boss is honest, leads from the front, and never gives orders she wouldn’t follow herself.
In the end, these characters traits describe something other than a good boss. Guess what? It’s also the basic description of a GOOD EMPLOYEE!
So we arrive (again!) at a basic truth that was elaborated some 2,000 years ago, and has been known (and sometimes forgotten) ever since: do unto others… you know the rest.
Prof Ling 🙂