Do you feel you have a bad boss? Earlier this week, we talked about how to be a good boss. But what about your own boss? What if he or she is “bad?”
I’m going to be honest, I was accused of being a bad boss once.
Truthfully, I was kind of being a bad boss then. I was newly promoted into being a boss and had just returned from maternity leave with my oldest child. Mrs. Type A was a new manager and a new mom who had missed so much while out and felt in over my head. I was also sleep deprived, pumping half the day, and dealing with an HR issue with another employee, Bobby. Bosses are human too and we struggle sometimes!
One day, one of my employees, Mae, comes into my office and looks angry. A big meeting hadn’t gone well. She went on to explain (or yell, rather) at high decibel:
“You are not helping me enough”
“You never do anything for me. I have to do everything on my own”
“I left another job for this one, and shouldn’t have because I can’t be successful in this job as long as you are my boss”
“No one recognizes me for my experience and contributions”
“You are ruining my career”
Ah, ok. I see we left our Big Girl pants at home today, didn’t we? Let me take a step back and take a look….ah, yes, I see you are wearing “I.AM.A.Victim” brand pants in the “The.World.Owes.Me” pattern from last season.
It’s not a good look for you, my friend.
Did I also sink the Titanic? No? Ok, just checking. Because I seem to be responsible for a lot of things.
Let’s see where we also see this behavior…
Just like last week my youngest child sat at the breakfast table, flailing arms around for reasons I’m not sure. Then, I see a cup of milk spill over. My child’s response? You filled the cup to high. Really, that is why there is milk everywhere? Yes, I may have filled it a bit higher than normal…I am struggling today…Do you not remember climbing into my bed at 2AM and then kicking me in the face every 20 minutes?
Yes, I filled the milk too high; that is a minor contribution to this situation just as my inadequate attention was for Mae. But the arms flailing is on you, my child. And, Miss Mae, do you really want to have your behavior likened to that of a toddler?
At the time, this wasn’t my reaction. I was thinking something like “oh no I’m an awful boss!” But, I have since come to realize that Mae’s approach to me was not the right way to go about it.
How did I learn the right way to handle a bad boss?
I have had a few bad bosses of my own. I actually had one at the time of Mae’s tirade. Well, he wasn’t entirely “bad.” He was erratic, saying one thing one day and then — the next day — asking why I hadn’t done another. He was more frustrating than bad, I guess. We eventually got the relationship into a very productive spot. I was promoted twice working for him and, to this day, he is my favorite manager!
So, this brings me to my key point….
A bad boss may be better for you than a good one.
Let me illustrate this point by explaining what happened with that HR situation with Bobby that I refer to above. After many months of not performing, Bobby was shown the door and I had an open position on my team.
I was walking to the Ladies’ room one day, when an employee stopped me to say that Tina from another department may be interested in the open position created by Bobby’s departure. I knew Tina. She was seemed very competent. I was curious and replied:
“Tell Tina to reach out to my assistant, Shelly, to set up time in the next couple weeks.”
I continue on my way to the Ladies’ room when, a few seconds later, a different employee stops me and says Todd is interested in the open position. Oh, Todd from training? He works for Sally, right? Sally was a little coo-coo. So, I thought, “wow Todd must be really good if he can be successful working under Sally’s direction.” I replied:
“I’ll have Shelly reach out to Todd to set up lunch next week.”
I clearly was more interested in talking to Todd about joining my team vs. Tina. So, what’s my point in sharing these details from the longest-walk-to-the-loo-ever?
My point is: if you can succeed under a bad boss, then it will go noticed.
Oh, you are doing well working for a great boss? You are getting great direction and support. Excellent, congratulations! I’m happy for you. If you weren’t doing well, you should follow Bobby out the door.
Alternatively, if you are succeeding with a bad boss, then others may perceive your skills as actually being better because you are rising above your situation.
How do you overcome a bad boss? How do you rise above?
Let me explain how I approached the situation with Mr. Erratic. Ugh, he was driving me crazy. He had what I called a “raw” communication style; there wasn’t a lot of “baking” of his ideas…he just said what he thought. And, as a result, his perspective would seemingly change. His feedback to me was all over the place and I felt it was starting to impact how others perceived my own performance. I was angry.
Did I wear Mae’s “I.AM.A.Victim” pants? You betcha, I did! I wore them at home, at the gym, at lunch with friends. They were dirty and dingy from over use. My husband was so done listening to me rant and rave.
So how am I different than Mae?
I never wore those pants when talking to my boss (or anyone else from work). I needed to vent. Venting is fine. As long as it is to others instead of your boss. If you want to productively turn the situation around, you cannot rant and rave to your boss…no matter how at fault he or she is.
Once I was done with my venting, I changed into the “I.Am.In.Charge.of.My.Happiness” pants. I realized that — no matter how bad Mr. Erratic is — I still have some power here. So, one day I walked into his office and said something like:
“I’ve taken the liberty to set up a separate weekly meeting with you just focused on Project ABC. I realize that I’ve been asking for your thoughts as part of our standard weekly meeting, and there isn’t usually enough time to go over everything. I’ve noticed you evolve your thinking quite a bit the more we talk about it (insert some example which showed how his direction to me changed). So I felt that more dedicated time would help you get a firmer grasp of all the nuances, and help me remain on a consistent course.”
His response: “thank you.”
That was it. I turned around and went on with my day. No drama.
So, how is this different than Mae’s approach to me?
I was solutions-oriented.
But, Mrs. Type A, shouldn’t Mr. Erratic be the one to offer solutions? Isn’t he’s the boss?
Well, yes, he probably should have. But I didn’t want this to go on and on. It was impacting me deeply. I wanted it resolved. I’m Type A, after all!
So, how do you move from wearing “I.Am.A.Victim” pants to being solutions-oriented?
Mrs. Type A’s suggestions for dealing with a bad boss by being solutions-oriented:
1. Ask yourself what your role is in the situation. How have you contributed to the sub-par situation?
WTF, Mrs. Type A? Are you serious?! It is HIS fault, why am I going to point any finger at myself??
Stop being a victim! You’re a paid professional. Act like it, and solve the problem, and forget about who “should.”
In the situation with Mr. Erratic, I realized I DID have a role in it. I was not giving him enough time to fully comprehend all of the nuances. I knew it was more complicated that he knew it was because I had more information than he did. So, as a result, his guidance kept changing.
But, shouldn’t he recognize that and have asked you for more time? Stop it! Stop it, stop it, stop it! Do you want to be right, or do you want this resolved? It takes two to tango and, if there is some aspect of dysfunction in the relationship with your boss, I guarantee you that you have some (albeit likely minor) role in it. Identify it, own it, and…
2. Determine what you need to change, and ask for it
I realize that I needed Mr. Erratic to more fully understand my work real-time. How could I do this? What if I set up a separate meeting every week where I could go into more detail? Yes, that will help a lot.
You may also consider presenting options. I could have said, “Mr. Erratic, I could schedule a separate weekly meeting for us on this topic, or you could attend my weekly status meeting so you can get more information. Which would you prefer, Mr. Erratic?”
Either way. I don’t think one approach here is better than the other.
A common issue readers may have is a boss who micro-manages. If your boss is a micro-manager, perhaps you could propose sending him or her a status report once a week highlighting key achievements and areas of concern.
3. Be empathic to your boss
OK, now this is over the top, Mrs. Type A. I’m supposed to be empathetic to the person who is making my life miserable?
Bosses are people too. They have good days and bad days. They may be tired from waking up all night with a teething baby. Or worried about their milk supply. Or a spouse with a health issue. And, most relevant, they even have their own bosses and other employees who may be creating drama (like Bobby!).
My point is: you have no idea what is going on for them personally and professionally. If you were them, how would you like to be treated?
Oh, with compassion? Ok, then let’s just choose to treat them that way then.
When I chose this mindset, I actually realized Mr. Erratic had a lot of the same challenges day-to-day that I had. He had a new baby at home. He had aging parents that he was worried about. The relationship with his own boss was, well, famously dysfunctional. And, some of my peers were real pills and I could only imagine what those conversations were about.
With this newfound empathy, I realized I could help him out a little more. I offered to take on some additional responsibilities so he didn’t have be as stretched. Anyway, over time, Mr. Erratic has become my favorite boss.
I also learned at a later time, that the company was planning a major restructuring and Mr. Erratic was very involved. He couldn’t say anything about it, but it was taking a lot of his time and energy. I bring this up to show that you never really know what you don’t know that may contribute to the situation. Give bosses the benefit of the doubt.
4. Celebrate that you are a solutions-oriented leader
Seriously, be proud! Taking the steps above is not easy. You want your pain and plight of a bad boss to be known! And if you turn it around, no one will ever know!
Yes, they will. Just like I knew with Todd who worked for Sally in training. I knew Sally, and I imagined it would be hard to have her as a boss. So, I knew Todd must be the real deal if he did well. And he was!
Back to that day when Mae stormed in my office. While I wasn’t the best boss to her, she had a choice. She chose victim. And her career has suffered immensely from that mindset. If she had chosen to be solutions-oriented, I imagine she would have risen above my incompetence at the time and flourished.
Think about who a company wants to promote. Say a competitor ate your lunch last quarter because a distributor had an outage due to a storm. Some people choose to spend time looking at who chose that distributor and how in the world they thought that was a good idea to switch to them. Other people get on a plane and fly out to the distributor to resolve the issue, and then come back and implement a project to validate contingency plans for all distributors.
Who do you think gets promoted? Mr. Lets-Find-Someone-to-Blame? Or Mr. I-solved-it-and-it-will-never-happen-again?
So, this makes my point, a bad boss may be better than a good one. It’s an opportunity to demonstrate leadership that you may otherwise not have had the chance to. If nothing else, it’s great fodder for a blog!
I do want to say that not every boss situation can and should be saved. Sometimes bosses are breaking company policy or even the law. Demanding, annoying and ineffective aren’t great qualities, but I could work with them (just like I did with Mr. Erratic). But some bosses can be abusive and even a bully. If you’re not sure, I suggest you reach out to HR or a trusted colleague to discuss.
And, if none of this works then, well, become the boss yourself! If you’re preparing to interview for a management positions, check out Mrs. Type A’s FREE Interview Prep Guide:
That’s all I have for now, Friends! Let me know what you think by leaving comments below or emailing me!