To all the Big Cheese out there…
1. Act like the leader you wish they were
If you’ve got a bad boss, people around you will know it. They’ll also be watching how you handle the pressure, challenges and frustrations. So having a lousy boss can be a great opportunity to show what you’re made of and set yourself apart. Make the most of it by acting with the professionalism they appear to lack. Just never let your boss’s poor behavior be an excuse for your own. You never know who is watching or listening but be assured, people who can open or close future opportunities for you are doing just that!
However fixed in their ways your boss may be, your goals is to learn how to “manage up” without them ever realizing you are doing it. So rather than think of your boss as your boss, think of them as a difficult client – one you have to figure out how to work with if you want to get ahead, even if you’d rather not.
2. Know their drivers
When you know what drives your boss (even if your boss may not be fully conscious of it), you can speak to “his listening,” frame your opinions and use language in ways that line up with his core values, concerns and priorities. Try to put yourself in their shoes and see things as they do.
- What does he care about?
- What keeps her up at night?
- What would he love more of and what would he love less of on a daily basis?
- What frightens her?
- How much importance does he place on impressing others?
- How does she measure success?
- What does he think about failure?
3. Work around their weaknesses
While it may sound counter intuitive to support a bad boss in becoming more successful, there is absolutely nothing to be gained by making him look bad, going to war or facilitating his (or her) failure. If he is as bad as you think, he will likely do a pretty good job of that all by himself. Exposing his incompetence will only compound your own misery and may even damage your reputation. By doing what you can to help your boss succeed, you lay a solid foundation for greater success yourself. It may not be an immediate reward, but in the long run, you can never lose by helping others do better than they otherwise would.
One way is to help your boss focus on his natural strengths. Another is to proactively work around his weaknesses. If you know you have a boss who’s disorganized, then help him to be on top of things rather than whining about his lack of organizational skills. If you know your boss is often late to meetings, offer to kick off the next meeting for him. If you know your boss is slow to respond, continue to work on a project while you wait to hear back from him. Making yourself indispensable and someone your boss can rely on to help him do his job is a valuable asset when you start to look to ‘what’s next?’
4. Adapt to their preferences
Working with his or her preferences is an obvious way of managing your boss without his ever knowing it, and it’s a key leadership skill to develop regardless of the kind of boss you are working for. So observe your boss’s behavioral style, preferences and pet peeves. Is he fast-paced and quick to make decisions? Is she slow to think about things, needing time to process information? How does he like to communicate – via e-mail, in person drop-ins, or lengthy memos? The more you can match your style to your boss’s style when communicating, the more he will really hear what you’re saying.
5. Voice your concerns
Early in my career, I left a good job with a leading global organisation because I had a lousy boss. Upon leaving, I did an exit interview with the HR lead who wanted to know why I was going. Figuring I had nothing to lose, I decided to be candid in sharing how undervalued I had felt, how the promises made to me upon employment had not been met and how little accountability there was for my colleagues. He was surprised and disturbed and asked if there was anything he could do to make me change my mind. Apparently I’d been ear-marked a hi-po (which would have been nice to have known before then!), but by this point it was too late. I’d already made other plans, hoping for a better work environment, and a better boss.
Looking back I can see that I’d been too afraid to be forthright. But the lesson is that we owe it to ourselves to share what we’re struggling with (in a respectful way) and give our boss the chance to respond. In my case, it may not have changed a thing, but at least I could have known that I had given her a chance.
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