Karen Darrin

If you have a bad boss right now, my condolences. We have all had them and chances are you’ve had more bad bosses than bosses you could respect and model. It can be tricky to manage up when your direct manager is below average, but it is possible.  Here are a few suggestions to consider:

Get to know them

Observe your boss’s behavioral style, preferences and pet peeves.  Is she fast-paced and quick to make decisions? Is she slow to think about things, needing time to process information?  How does she like to communicate? The more you can match your style to your boss’s style when communicating, the more she will really hear what you’re saying. Try to put yourself in her shoes and see the world, and your workplace, as she might. Seek to understand.

Support their success

It may sound counterintuitive to support a bad boss in becoming more successful, but there is nothing to be gained by making him look bad or facilitating his 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.

Workaround their weaknesses

Proactively work around his weaknesses. For example, if your boss is 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 he tends to change his mind frequently or is outright forgetful, be sure to document interactions so you can refer back to them if he ever contradicts himself. Making yourself  indispensable and someone your boss can rely on is a valuable asset especially when you start to look to ‘what’s next?’

Stand tall

People who bully get their power from those who respond by showing fear. If your boss is a yeller, a criticizer, or a judge – stand firm. If you’re doing the best job you can do, keep your head held high and don’t give him the satisfaction of pushing you about.  Rather ask questions, seek to understand, and work to defuse a difficult situation instead of cowering or responding in anger. It takes practice, but over time you will get better at it.

If you feel you’ve run out of options for dealing with him reasonably, then follow proper procedures for registering complaints with Human Resources or with higher-level leaders, documenting each step of the way.

Take the high road

Never let your boss’s bad behavior be an excuse for your own. It’s all too easy to start feeling entitled to slack off, take longer and longer lunches, lose interest or stop performing well because of your bad boss. Don’t do it. Keep your mind focused on top performance. When in the office or workplace, stay upbeat and engaged.

Actually handling a difficult boss well can set you apart. You never know who is watching or listening. While it may be easy to mentally check out of your job, doing so erodes your integrity. Maintain a calm and professional demeanor in dealing with any difficult situation. It’s a career skill you need to succeed. Toxic bosses (and environments) will cross your path from time to time. Learn how to maintain your dignity and self-respect no matter what comes your way.


CALL TO ACTION:  Are you unhappy with your job situation? Let’s brainstorm strategies to excite you about your career again. Slot a complimentary 30-min consult here:  Schedule Free Consult.

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