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Is Your Bad Boss Trainable?

You can thrive by managing up.

When under stress or frustrated, most bosses aren't on their best behavior. Nor are most mortal beings. Your boss may morph from a virtual charmer in the morning to a raging bull in the afternoon. They can lose sight of their goals in the midst of emotional turmoil - sometimes resembling unruly children. But you can create a win-win by managing up.

Children need guidance to outgrow such traits as neediness, fickleness, and forgetfulness, while overcoming fears of the unknown. Your boss may need a similar type of support for both of you to succeed in the workplace. And as good parents know, setting limits to negative behavior is equally important, as long as you use diplomacy and tact.

Although your boss’s peers should fill that void, it doesn’t happen as much as it should. It really is lonely at the top – because bosses can’t always be buddies with their management peers. Since you may be dealing with a demanding, stubborn, or fickle boss, you have much to gain if you can step in and “manage up.” With some practice and patience, you'll see a difference. You may even leave some meetings feeling like a miracle just occurred or that you rose to Superhero status. But of course, this is a constant work in progress.

Martyr or Starter

When bosses act like Terrible Office Tyrants (TOTs) you can:

• Become a martyr — Spend the day moping because your project was slammed or vetoed as “non motivational.” Or, put your darkest sunglasses on, carry a Kleenex and tell everyone you’re “in mourning” for your project.

• Do nothing productive — Practice yoga in your cubicle for hours, making sure you do the “downward dog” pose when the boss walks by. Fantasize about which of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes you are and ask your coworkers to call you Thor (Iron Man, Black Widow, etc.) for the rest of the week.


• Take action — See if your manager has the potential to be reformed. Taking action doesn’t mean taking your boss to reform school in handcuffs. It does mean following some tried and true steps that use your leverage as a trained employee.

Be proactive by subtly reminding your boss that the company has put time and money into training you and that you’re efficient at your job. Point out that you’re the most qualified at helping him complete his or her project in the least amount of time. Show him how you can help divine his work into doable tasks and thereby help conquer his fears.

Here are some training Do’s and Don’ts:

A. DON’T DO THIS . . . Buy a Gavel. When your TOT summons you to her office for a new project, treat it like a court case. Every time she issues an order, leap up and yell, “Objection!”

Do This ... Be a Beacon of Reason. When you’ve successfully completed a project that your TOT foisted on you, tell him how you made it happen. Leverage your success to deliver a non-threatening message of how your boss can achieve greater results on future projects.

B. DON’T DO THIS . . . Make Ultimatums Often. When your boss insists that you attend a meeting despite your e-mail documenting your need to be elsewhere, draw a line in the sand. Tell her, “Boss, either you let me skip the meeting or I’ll just have to quit and become an Australian bounty hunter.”

Do This ... Offer Choices. Instead of posing your request as a Yes or No question, offer your TOT choices. In other words, don’t ask, “Can we end the meeting early today?” Rather, ask, “Should we end the meeting at 4:00 PM, or at 4:30 PM?”

C. DON’T DO THIS . . . Ignore, Ignore, Ignore. Completely dismiss your taunting TOT. Go to the nearest construction site, borrow a hard hat, and use a jackhammer while a worker is on lunch break. Go back to work, and let your boss rail away while you remain unaffected because of the ringing in your ears.

Do This ... Intervene Early. Pay close attention to early warning signs that your usually mild-mannered boss is about to turn into a bully or throw a tantrum. Try to minimize stress factors. Postpone unnecessary meetings until the coast is clear. When in doubt, if you notice a warning sign, get out of the way. Just as you shouldn’t stick your face near the snout of a snarling dog, (or near the fist of a green Hulk) you should remove yourself from the path of a growling TOT until things cool off.

By supporting your manager’s efforts to overcome these bad boss traits, you’re making your work life less stressful, while positioning yourself for advancement. Although some of his traits will try your patience, your TOT-taming techniques will work wonders and may make your fellow superheroes green with envy.

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