We’ve all been there, often at the beginning of our career: you dread going to work, you avoid bumping into him* at all costs, you cringe as his name appears in your inbox and you drag your feet as you walk to your weekly meeting with him… Your boss is a dickhead and he makes you regret the day you took this job.
On the other hand, you like the job itself and the rest of your team, you aspire to a successful career, and you hope your efforts will one day be rewarded. As a physical confrontation is frowned upon even in the corporate world, you’ll need to find an alternative way to address the situation. These are our proposed solutions to 8 common “bad boss” scenarios…
1. There is just ‘something’ about him that makes your skin crawl
Find something this person does that you admire or respect, ANYTHING, either at work or in his free time. Does he do charity work, is he a good parent, is he training for an Iron Man…? Identify that one thing and keep it in mind as you interact with him. Start your conversations by asking for updates on that topic. Your aim here is both to lower the natural repulsion you feel towards him and find an area where you can connect with him.
2. You think he’s stupid and wonder how on earth he landed the job
You’ll probably never know how he did get the job, but it happened. And you know what? Although some reasons might remain obscure to you and the rest of the corporate world for all eternity, some reasons will be visible even to you. Perhaps he’s a good speaker? A skilled networker? A strategic thinker? There’s always something that you can learn from even a really bad boss. Be open about the fact that you want to learn, ask for coaching, and you’ll find that even this boss will contribute to making you a better leader.
3. Your boss thinks that you’re the one who’s stupid and “micro-manages” you
Here you’ll need to have an open conversation with your boss. Explain to him how you feel, that he doesn’t seem confident in your ability to deliver on your projects. Tell him that you’d like to change that, and therefore would like to proactively review your projects: the objectives, how you plan to progress and by when, at which points he’d like you to involve him. Your candidness and your bringing the conversation to an objective area should buy you a break from the micro-management and reassure him that you can do the job.
4. You just don’t get what he wants, and leave your conversations more confused than before
For this one, you’ll have to dig deep inside you and find a lot of humility. Take it as a challenge, a code you need to decipher to get you ahead in your job. When you’re talking with your boss, ask open-ended questions with the aim of seeking to understand. Could you tell me more? What is the objective? What does success look like here? What’s the bottom line here? Try to get him to simplify his message and convey the big picture of what he’s really asking for.
5. He humiliates you in front of your colleagues
There are very, VERY few people in the corporate world who get their kicks from intentionally hurting others. However, there are many people who speak before they think, or who think in very straightforward and objective terms and don’t expect people to take things personally. Your boss may also be acting out of frustration with your behaviour. Two pieces of advice here: first, recognise that this is work, it’s never personal; and second, talk to your boss (in private, of course), express how you felt in the meeting and ask if there is something you can do differently. Here again, a candid approach can work wonders.
6. Your boss takes credit for your work
This happens at times and frankly it stinks. Usually it’s driven by the fact that your boss feels insecure about his position or image in the eyes of his own management. Turn things around: be proactive about celebrating your achievements publicly and in doing so be sure to mention your boss when you talk about how you got to those results. Your project was successful because you worked closely with the team, and this was possible thanks to your boss supporting you in making the time for the project or providing the necessary resources. Take credit for your own work where it is due, but make your boss look good while doing so – this should appease him while also improving your image as a mature leader in the eyes of management.
7. He changes his mind more often than he changes his underwear
He said there was no budget to hire somebody but the following week you’re introduced to the new hire; or he said “over my dead body!” and two days later the project is happening and he’s claiming it as his own idea. You can assume he’s schizophrenic or, a more likely explanation, he may be reacting to news that you’re not aware of. Seek to understand the reasons behind the change and let your boss bring you up to speed. It may also help to document decisions and action steps in writing, for example by sending him an email summarising the outcome following your meeting, in order to keep track of what has been agreed.
8. Your boss makes you do soul-destroying work that doesn’t add value
You find yourself submerged under mountains of work from your boss and you feel that only a small part of this is really adding value to the business or the organisation. Try to understand the objectives of the requests as it may be that you’re missing the bigger purpose and, if the expected ROI (return on investment) of the work seems low, discuss other more effective ways of getting to that objective. In parallel, take a step back from your day-to-day tasks and think of ways to simplify your daily work. You’ll be much more productive if you can reduce the time you spend on the less value-added work so that you can spend more quality time on the game-changing projects.
*We’re assuming for the purposes of this article that your boss is a “he”. It could just as well be a “she”, of course, but the “he/she” can get pretty annoying, don’t you think?
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Stop trying to figure it out by yourself and take the easier road instead, by learning from people who have been in your place and discovered what it takes to build a successful career.
Get instant access to these 5 essential rules that will accelerate your career.
No BS, guaranteed.