Good Ways to Deal with Bad Bosses
Bad management can make a good job intolerable.
Posted Oct 02, 2017
A bad boss can make a good job unbearable, and a good boss can make a bad job...well, at least more tolerable.
But it's bad bosses I'm concerned with today. In my role as one who writes and consults on management issues, people talk to me about problematic bosses all the time. It's (understandably) a big topic. Bad bosses come in many shapes and sizes, but rather than offering a laundry list of dysfunctional management behavior, what I'll focus on here is what you can do to improve your career situation.
Accordingly: five constructive ways to deal with bad bosses.
Make yourself indispensable. As the old saying goes, nothing succeeds like success. If you can, despite the frustrations you're feeling, master all aspects of your job and then some, and become a key employee, it can lead to several positive outcomes. It may change your boss's behavior in a more agreeable direction; it may get you promoted and out of your boss's orbit; it definitely will give you the satisfaction of knowing you did your absolute best in tough circumstances.
Try to see things through his or her eyes. I'm always a big believer in trying to put yourself in the place of others. This means understanding, as best you can, what pressures, what motivators, what hopes and fears drive their behavior. Management comes with it a multitude of pressures from many sources: boards, senior managers, employees, customers, investors and sales reps to name just a few. The more you understand the pressures your (difficult) boss is under, the better equipped you'll be to cope. No guarantee this will change your own experience, but empathy is a powerful emotion.
Don't complain to your boss's boss. It's never my preference to "pitch from the negative," but in this case avoiding a destructive move can in fact be constructive. Going over your boss's head and complaining to his boss may be tempting, but the truth is it rarely works. First of all, you likely have no clear idea how your boss's boss perceives him; she may well be totally supportive and hold your boss in high regard. Second, it's guaranteed to aggravate your own boss — no manager likes employees going "over their head" — so the move often makes a bad relationship worse. It's a high-risk maneuver. Unless you've personally observed felonious acts, say, and want to be a whistle-blower, it's best avoided.
Stay true to yourself and your values. Don't let anger or feelings of powerlessness turn you into someone you don't want to be. The best example I can offer here is a story from my own career. Early in my management days, I found myself in a stressful predicament. My boss demanded I give a far lower performance evaluation to an employee than I felt he deserved. The reason was not that she (my boss) had anything against this employee, but that she believed her own boss (the SVP who headed human resources) strongly disliked this employee so she wanted to please him and not have her organization be perceived as "soft." I agonized over the situation, as I believed the employee in question really had given a solid performance. Finally, fearing my decision would damage my career, I did what I felt was right: I told my boss I was going to ignore her request and instead give the evaluation I felt was deserved. And I did. To my (pleasant) surprise, I never heard another word about it. Maybe my boss gave me credit for having a backbone. More likely she realized she'd made an inappropriate demand and it was best just forgotten about.
Don't be a victim—vote with your feet. Last but definitely not least, there's no percentage in being a victim. If you've made numerous good faith efforts to improve things—to no avail—it may just be time to go. Leaving an intolerable situation is usually liberating.
Gaining control of your own career can take many forms. Managing your own management is an important one of them.
This article first appeared at Forbes.com.