Enlightened State

How to Manage a Bad Boss

CareerMorgan VanekComment

Ask anyone about the worst boss they've ever had, and you'll hear so many workplace horror stories, your hair will start to curl.  Bad bosses are ubiquitous.  The reason for this is that good management is a difficult skill to learn, one that takes years of practice and a good dose of natural talent, as well.  The management positions that need filled far outnumber the people who possess the very particular set of skills required to succeed in these roles (a set of skills that, while different from those of Liam Neeson in the Taken movie franchise, are no less valuable in context).

Chances are, you'll have a bad boss or two over the course of your career.  And if you're dealing with one right now, you know what a frustrating situation it can be. Fortunately, there are things you can do to handle this situation like a pro.  If you play your cards right, you may even get the opportunity to impress your boss's boss, and get out from under the thumb of your superior.  There's nothing like a little career advancement to make you feel better about something like this, am I right? 

But first, you need to figure out what you're dealing with.  Do you actually have a bad boss. or are you simply dealing with a bad fit?  People have all sorts of management styles, and not all of them are going to work for you.  Some managers are very tough, and like to use a "carrot-and-stick" motivational technique.  Others hate micro-managing, and use a very hands-off approach, even though some employees prefer to have more direct instructions from their superiors. 

If you're dealing with a bad fit, you may find improvement by addressing the specific problems with the  supervisor directly, or with your HR department.  They may not realize that what they're doing is making your job harder.  Try to "sandwich" your criticism between a couple of sincere compliments, and have a concrete solution for the problem ready when you bring it up:  "Becky, I really admire the way you trust us to get the job done.  Unfortunately, I'm not always clear about the specifics of the assignments you give us, and whether or not I'm heading in the right direction.  Maybe we could schedule a short one-on-one meeting each week.  That way, we can maintain the independent atmosphere you've created, while still making sure we're on the same page."  This can be a scary conversation to have, but if you can muster up the courage, it's often one that is worth having.  

As we all know, however, the problem isn't always so easy to solve.  Some managers are incompetent, disconnected, lazy, or just plain mean.  In these situations, you may be tempted to simply jump ship, but there are benefits to sticking around.  This is an opportunity to show everyone what an asset you are, to pick up where the boss is slacking off, and develop new skills.  

Make yourself shine by really thinking about what you would do differently if you were in charge.  If it were up to you, how would you solve the problems you're currently experiencing?  Make a list of possible solutions, and then figure out which ones you can implement in your current position.  You may feel like you are overstepping your bounds at first, but taking the initiative and doing things your way will not only provide you with forward progress, it will impress your co-workers and the decision-makers in your company.  Make yourself invaluable by contributing more than your boss does, in a higher-quality format and in a shorter amount of time.  These changes will make your own life easier in the long run, and you'll have something more productive to occupy your time than watching Horrible Bosses for the fifth time in a row and idly wondering whether your supervisor is allergic to peanuts.  

As with most situations, your attitude will likely determine the outcome.  If you spend your time and effort grumbling about how unfair things are, you'll find yourself getting more and more overwhelmed until you eventually quit.  But if you take control of the things you're able to, you will feel empowered and will be more likely to succeed. The truth is that bad bosses usually leave one way or another, but in the meantime, figure out how to manage them for the best results.  Consider it the first step in developing your own set of very particular skills.