Career coach Liz Bentley weighs in on career-related questions.
Dear Liz: I hate my boss. Everything else about my job is great – I love my colleagues and the work I’m doing – but I dread having to interact with my boss (he’s a poor manager and not very talented, IMHO). Is there anything I can do? – JW, 29
Dear JW: Yes, there is something you can do: Suck it up! Bad bosses exist everywhere. Why do you hate him? Is it because he’s demanding, holding you accountable, frustrated with work that’s done poorly, not communicating his message clearly, or is he not interactive enough? If he’s abusive and potentially breaking a law (sexual harassment, etc), then you should report him to HR – but if he’s just the average ‘bad boss’, then welcome to the business world.
Here’s How to Adjust Your Mind-set
Bosses are under a lot of pressure to succeed and produce good teams, with bosses of their own scrutinising their work and giving them feedback. Cut him a break and follow this model for finding ways to work productively with him:
1. Acknowledge that no matter how much you complain, he’s probably not going to change. The first step is to shift your mind-set to recognise that you can only change yourself, not your boss. Often, our instinct in life is to complain about others, thinking that they should change. But, in truth, we can only make change in ourselves. Once you commit to that mind-set, you’re one step closer to success.
2. Try to empathise instead of judging. Step into your boss’s shoes for one minute. No-one comes to work and thinks, ‘Today, I’m going to be a terrible boss that no-one likes.’ For the most part, we all try to do our best every day. So try giving him the benefit of the doubt that he’s doing his best.
3. Anticipate what he needs to alleviate some pressure: Listen to your boss with a new perspective so that you can really hear what he wants. If it’s not clear, ask questions and drill down. This way, you can anticipate what he needs and deliver before he even asks for it. Every boss in the world loves an employee who can answer the question before it’s asked and deliver on the goals – so not only are you reducing the friction between you, but you’re engendering appreciation on his part.
4. Strategically manage up: Try out different responses to your boss until you find the one that works. The goal is not only to make him happy but to drive productivity and do a good job. You are not being paid to get along with your team; you are being paid to drive results. And if you have career ambitions, then you likely want to get promoted, which means you need your boss to think you’re good.
But a Bad Boss Can Be a Gift
Throughout a lifetime career, you will come across difficult people to work with on all levels: bosses, peers, subordinates and clients. In truth, a bad boss, coach or teacher can often be your best learning experience. Those tough leaders often push us out of our comfort zone by mercilessly pointing out our flaws and making us work harder than we want too. In the end, they also teach you what behaviours to avoid when you yourself become the boss.
Life isn’t fair. It’s not supposed to be. And no boss wants a team that hates him/her. Your job is to learn to succeed, no matter the circumstances. So suck it up and be your boss’s best team-player so that that bad boss promotes you. And then when you are the boss, hope that your subordinates read this column.
Liz Bentley is the founder of Liz Bentley Associates, a consulting firm specialising in leadership development programmes for individuals and companies. Drawing upon her background in psychology, previous experience in sales and management, and a lifetime of experience in competitive sports, Liz has a unique appreciation of mind-set and the power it has to change patterns of behaviour. Liz received her BA in Psychology from the University of Virginia and her coaching certification from New York University.