Time to “Reconfigure” a Bad Boss?

Time to “Reconfigure” a Bad Boss?

Posted Apr 27, 2010

There are whispers of an improving economy and employment rate. That may enable you to focus on the job at hand, or on how to make your next job better - at least more so than in recent months.

But how do you cope with a difficult, childlike boss in the meantime? Sometimes they have meltdowns, require ongoing maintenance; deny you access; overwhelm you with information; and have memory lapses - all when you're under immense pressure.

Sound more like computer malfunctions than supervisors? Well unfortunately, "error" signs from bad bosses who lapse into childish mode (like most mortal workers) can be much more frustrating than a computer glitch. And you can't just turn bad bosses in for upgrades.

But with some deft skills and even some time honored parenting techniques, you can learn to better manage the relationship. First you have to figure out what type of Terrible Office Tyrant — TOT for short — you’re dealing with. Then you can “rewire” your relationship for your mutual benefit. With your newfound empowering tools, preventive maintenance and a lot of diplomacy, you can tame your TOT (and co-workers for that matter) and thrive in your career.

Why look to parenting techniques for the answers in the office? Because whether we're two or 52, we all have the same core instincts, fears and desires.

The Top Five Bad Boss Traits
Although there are 20 toxic boss traits I've identified, there are some core culprits: tantrum-throwing, demanding, needy, stubborn and distracted behavior. And sometimes you can find multiple traits such as these in one person (yes, in any worker) in just one conversation.

Your day may be going along nicely when, "boom", your boss suddenly has a meltdown and throws a tantrum. "Yikes!" You could quickly hide under your desk in hopes that he'll just as quickly recover, but that doesn't solve the problem. And having a meaningful and constructive dialogue about the problem isn't going to happen. These bosses aren't skilled at handling difficult situations when they're powerless, especially if your work led to the problem, or if you're in his line of fire.

Preventive Measures
• Determine the best time of day and day of the week to approach your over-the-top TOT: not right before lunch; Monday mornings; stock collapses or other setbacks.
• When you sense a tantrum coming on, don't hang around for the fireworks. If you're dragged in, let your boss vent at first; never fight a tantrum with a tantrum.
• Consider the acronym C.A.L.M.: Communicate, Anticipate, Laugh and Manage. Keep the lines of communication open; anticipate problems and solutions; use humor (it's the great diffuser of tension); and manage up by being a positive, proactive problem solver.

Your high-maintenance boss marks everything urgent and follows up often. The need for control, perfection, or concern about deadline pressures from above can spur your over-demanding boss to constantly watch your every move.

Preventive Measures
• Set expectations through regular meetings. When your boss gives you a new assignment, give her an estimate of how long it will take.
• Let your manager know when you are feeling overwhelmed and help her to organize a priority task list.
• Upon successful completion of a project, tell your boss how mutual, realistic goals helped you to accomplish it, to reinforce the positive outcome.

Your boss just finished a successful presentation and now he's telling you everything that was said word-by-word, then asks, "What do you think?" You assure him that his presentation was great and the clients were impressed, yet he talks on and on while you keep checking your watch and looking at the pile of work that still needs to be done. Needy bosses require a lot of attention and reassurance, but some can also micromanage you.

Preventive Measures
• Encourage your TOT's independence and reinforce his own competence.
• Put a plan together to help your boss strategize about how to cover excessive workloads.
• Help your boss learn that other people - and not just you - can serve him as well.

Your team agrees on a solution to a pesky problem. You present it to the boss and she says, "No! That can't be done." Your ideas are shot down and the door is figuratively slammed in your face. Access denied. No compromise. For many stubborn office tyrants, compromise takes them out of their comfort zone. In other cases, they feel it diminishes their stature.

Preventive Measures
• Use positive language to relax your boss when she's stuck in a stubborn rut.
• Know that it's easier for TOTs to be more flexible if there's something in it for them.
• Offer choices and compromises that empower your TOT.

Your boss was supposed to give you some key facts for VIP clients two days ago. When you remind her, she says, "Oh, of course. I forgot! I'll send them right over." Six hours later nothing has arrived in your inbox. You find out she's gone to take her dog to the poodle parlor. Bosses like this suffer from B.A.D.D. - Boss Attention Deficit Disorder. They're only interested in what seems important at any given moment in time and have trouble paying attention to you.

Preventive Measures
• Make communications compelling. Present your thoughts in a powerful, interactive way to prevent detours.
• Add a pinch of excitement. Use props, visual aids, and humor to keep your manager engaged and on target.
• Manage interruptions. Schedule formal meetings (outside your TOT's office if possible), so that your boss will be better prepared- and less likely to lose focus.

There's a good chance you've encountered more than one bad boss or worker, a.k.a., TOT, in you career. Who knows, maybe you've even slipped into TOTdom on occasion. Just remember, unlike your computer, your boss is human (okay, sometimes a childlike human when under stress). But nevertheless, he or she should be treated as someone with intelligence and feelings.

Everyone can play a role in humanizing the workplace with greater sensitivity to what's really behind that boss facade.