How To Deal With a Difficult Boss

How To Deal With a Difficult Boss

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How to Deal With a Difficult Boss.
By Mark Wager

I run workshops in which people learn what it takes to become an elite leader and at every workshop there is always a moment of great sadness. That moment comes when I ask people to describe the qualities of a great leader and none of the qualities mentioned would be a great surprise to anyone but what is a surprise is when after they have listed all these admirable qualities of a leader, I ask the participants to raise their hands if they have ever worked with someone who possesses these qualities. The lack of raised hands is a source of sadness for me. Too many people work for inefficient bosses, people who are poor Managers lacking leadership skills. Today people want to be led rather than managed and it is equally sad because there is no excuse for being a bad boss when all the skill sets of being a good leader can be learned given time and dedication.

So how do you deal with a horrible boss?

Well the first thing to do is to think about how your horrible boss became a boss. You don’t find people going to work in order to do a bad job, it’s usually their skill set, their awareness and the environment that turns good people into bad bosses. The most common scenario I have encountered is when businesses need a new Manager they approach an internal subject matter expert who has been with an organisation quite a while. They do not consider the people skills required for the role or if they do they assume that this will easily be picked up. They then hire a subject matter expert and provide them with little or no training for the people skills required in their new role. You often hear “They’ve been here a while and they know their stuff” and at the beginning things seem fine but as time goes on, issues occur and cracks in the team start to appear and with no skill set or support to fix those cracks, people leave, either members of the team or the bosses themselves. Someone who was only recently a highly valued subject matter expert has left. The company loses, the team loses and the boss loses.
Imagine you are the horrible boss, you are doing your job just fine and then you are offered a great opportunity to now become the boss, more money more responsibility, who would say no? You then start the job and now people management is involved and now you have skills that are being tested such as conflict management, motivation, communication that weren’t tested to the same degree previously and with little training or support it’s no wonder that you could potentially be setting yourself up to fail. A good person suddenly becomes a bad boss, the person who used to be the go-too for knowledge person now hordes that knowledge and micro-manages in order to retain that level of importance. As a team member how do you deal with this? Here are a few things to remind yourself.

Your company doesn’t want horrible bosses, really they don’t.
One of the main reasons for people leaving an organisation is their relationship with their immediate boss. Its difficult to remain motivated and happy when you have a poor boss and when an opportunity to move presents itself, it's not a surprise that people leave. It can cost a company anything up to 50% of a person’s annual salary, in order to replace an employee especially when you consider all factors such as the recruitment costs, the time it takes to recruit, the lost productivity of the people who are doing the recruiting and the productivity lost during the time that it takes for the new employee to get up to speed. Now think about the staff who don’t leave but are demoralised, just imagine what they could contribute if they were fully engaged with the business, what ideas are just sitting there untapped. Horrible bosses are bad for business.

You are responsible for your happiness, not your boss.
It’s difficult to be positive when you are in a work environment that you are not enjoying but your mood is not your bosses fault, it’s yours. Yes your boss is certainly influencing your mood but you and no one else is deciding how you react to situations. It’s difficult, trust me, I know it’s difficult but only you can control how you feel. In the morning you have a choice to either be positive or negative so ask yourself which emotion is more likely to get you what you want in life, is it being positive or being negative? The answer is simple.

Establish clarity
A clear sign of a horrible boss is that they are not clear. Their communication is muddled and confusing they tell you to do something, you do it only to find that they then criticise you for doing what they told you to do. When you are given a task ensure that you clarify what is required from you “just so I’m clear you want me to do X by Y time” Horrible bosses as a rule lack self-awareness, so they won’t realise they are poor communicators, they will just assume that you didn’t understand instructions and it’s you and not them that’s doing a poor job.

Offer feedback
Some of you reading this will cringe at the thought of giving your boss feedback. If done correctly this can be incredibly beneficial for both parties. The majority of horrible bosses do not consider themselves to be one, they usually consider themselves hardworking but they have a difficult team or difficult members who are part of a competent team. Bosses get less feedback on a daily basis than team members. When a boss does something wrong unless it has a major impact they are unlikely to be aware of their mistake especially if they have poor self-awareness, yet if a staff member does something wrongs there’s usually people queued up to tell them the error of their ways. When offering feedback there’s a few vital things to remember. Firstly offer rather than just provide, the boss needs to want to hear it otherwise they will just view it as whinging. Secondly stick to behaviours rather than judgments of those actions. It’s easy to debate a judgement such as “you’re rude” and judgements generate emotion which is not always helpful yet if you focus on a specific action such as “you called me …” and then you can link it to how that made you feel “that made me feel…”. The other thing to remember is to give people the benefit of the doubt. The vast majority of HR issues that I’ve had to dealt with during years as a Manager have been down to miscommunication. Even if you have one of those rare circumstances that the behaviour is intentional, then by giving them a way out by saying “I’m sure this wasn’t your intention but when you …. I feel ….” You are likely to get the result you want which is for the behaviour not to be repeated.

Suggest a team building workshop/event.
When I facilitate a team building workshop the Manager takes away as much as the team members do, their awareness is tested and they get to reflect in a way that is difficult to do at work. For the team members it also allows them to see their boss in a different light and realise that deep down that a horrible boss is just someone who’s trying to do the right thing but is failing. I get many calls from bosses who are struggling and from team members who are on the brink of quitting and honestly and thankfully I can say that so far I’ve managed to help everyone who’s contacted me. If people really want to be successful, regardless of where they currently stand on the ladder of success, they can always be helped to the next step on their journey to becoming an elite leader.

About the Author:
Mark Wager is the leader that others leaders got to for advice. Mark is available for Team Building and Leadership Mentoring. Contact Mark via the enquiry form below.

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Posted: Monday 23 March 2015

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