Mr. Personality

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How to Get Rid of Your Boss—Without Changing Jobs

What if your worst colleague is your boss?

The most common reason underlying people's decision to change jobs is a problematic boss. Indeed, employee engagement surveys reveal that 70% of employees dislike their bosses and are unhappy with how they are managed -- hence the most likely difficult person you will encounter in any organisation is the person who is charge. But why?

There are at least three big reasons. First, people claim to the top for reasons other than their good management skills. Indeed, most business leaders are rewarded for hitting the right targets or sucking up to their own bosses, but there is rarely any consideration of how they are evaluated by their subordinates or colleagues (before they even have any subordinates). Therefore, leaderships skills are less consequential in determining the career progress of an employee than his or her capacity to please those at the top. Second, organisations tend to have very poor knowledge of what leadership entails; here, they are just like most laypeople, who tend to think of leadership as a combination of traits or attributes, e.g., IQ, charisma, likeability, ambition.

Although these traits do contribute to leadership outcomes, they are rarely assessed properly and even when they are, they tell only half of the story. What matters most when it comes to leadership is the behaviours that are chosen by the leader and how they impact on the group's productivity and morale.

Third, although psychologists and HR practitioners have studied desirable or positive drivers of leadership for ages, they have focused insufficiently on the undesirable or negative ones -- yet we know that any leader is capable of displaying both constructive and destructive behaviours, and these are often totally unrelated. Think of Dominic Strauss-Kahn, Silvio Berlusconi, or Rupert Murdoch: for all their faults (which are quite apparent) it is unquestionable that they had, and probably still have, incredible leadership strengths.

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But what does this all mean in practice? The implications of this are that your worse colleague is likely to be your own boss, and if you want to do something to be part of the minority of 30% of employees who do not dislike their bosses, you have two main options: the first one is to detect those people who are likely to rise to the top and make your life difficult, and if you identify them, be sure that they listen to you and become your friends (before they turn into your nightmare enemies). The second alternative is to rise to the top yourself. And this is slightly controversial because (a) most people have very little desire to be in charge and (b) without strong leadership ambitions, it is very hard to get there anyway.

However, there is little evidence that leaders should all have the same profile, and the cliche phrase that there is a leader inside of everyone is not that inaccurate. In fact, the best way to be a leader of others is to rise to the top by nominations from others; if you are really good at reading and motivating people, then you really deserve to be at the top (much more than those who get to the top because they are pathologically ambitious or good at sucking up to the senior management).

Finally, there is the question of what you should do if you just joined an organisation but find that your boss is your worst colleague. Should you just leave, or is there are way to change things? This is really problematic, and the reason you should probably consider how much people like their boss before you join their organisation. If the best measure of productivity is engagement, and the best measure of engagement is employee's attitudes towards their bosses, companies interested in recruiting talent should make their employee engagement data available to them and show them how popular their managers are. If they are really popular and you dont like them, the problem is likely to be yours. If they are very unpopular, then you can choose not to join, or if you join there may be a space for you at the top.

Are you interested in testing your own leadership potential? Take our new leadership test and get feedback in less than 10-minutes!

Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, Ph.D., is a Professor of Business Psychology at UCL and NYU. He studies online dating, entrepreneurship, and consumer preferences. more...

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