Managing Up: Handling Difficult Bosses

by Mark

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What’s the point of managers? Well, managers are there to help organise a team, help that team succeed, ideally make the team members feel valued and pull everyone together towards a common cause. And there’s no doubt that over the last 10 to 15 years, much more attention has been paid by companies towards getting management right and getting the right managers. But it doesn’t always go to plan and most of us can recall working for someone, at some point, with whom we had issues. So, when faced with this situation, what are the best tactics and tools to get you though?


Today we look at poor management and how to overcome it.



Toxic Managers Raise Employee Turnover


It’s well known that bad management directly increases employee turnover. Just recently, a survey of 2,100 UK employees released by workforce-planning software firm, Visier, found that 43 per cent of workers have left a job at some point in their career because of their manager and, moreover, that 53 per cent of those currently considering leaving their jobs said that they were looking to change roles because of their manager.


“When you become a manager, no one really teaches you” how to do it, says Dr. Rosina Racioppi, CEO and president of mentoring network WOMEN Unlimited Inc., speaking to CNBC.

She continues; “oftentimes managers get confused. They’re focused on the mechanics of the work and they lose sight of the humanics,” i.e. the human relations part of their roles.


“The business cost of bad management is abundantly clear,” says Anthony Painter, policy director at the Chartered Management Institute (CMI). “Yet, too many employers simply do not take this seriously and harm their collective performance and employee wellbeing as a result”.


Painter states that good management is a professional skill that needs both knowledge and practice. Management training and leadership skills coaching are essential training tools that firms should be using when promoting staff members to the management level. But there are still many companies that don’t do this, don’t assess their teams for leadership potential and end up paying the cost through staff turnover.


If we accept that bad management is unavoidable, but also that working through such a situation can be a lot more productive than simply resigning and hoping you get a better boss elsewhere, then what are the ways we can deal with ‘bad bosses’ that can allow us to continue in our careers without quitting?


Here’s our top-8 tips to handling bad bosses:



1. Check it’s your boss, not you, nor them


Before laying the blame on your boss, take a step back and analyse whether it really is them to blame. Could there be valid reasons for their behaviour? It’s worth objectively observing your boss for a few days and taking note of the things they do well, not just poorly. When suspect decisions or actions occur, take a moment to see if it’s really their fault or something out of their control. Also, check it’s not a response to something you yourself have done that could have been better. Self-awareness in these situations is critical. After all, it’s much easier to adapt your own approach than to change someone else. If your boss is fighting an uphill battle against more senior poor management and undue pressure, then it’s time to help them with their plan to overcome this and become an ally. Working with your manager to have a more in-depth understanding of their behaviours and motivations can open up discussions over conflict that would otherwise not happen.



2. Loose lips sink ships


Honesty and openness in the workplace might be essential for a healthy work environment, but it’s always important to remain diplomatic and mindful of how people might react to what you say. Saying the wrong thing at the wrong time or showing disrespect will only make the situation worse – so it’s best to stick to results-focussed conversations and to avoid straying into emotional territory. Focusing on achieving goals will help you through the challenges and might even help to resolve some of the conflict.


Equally, talking with others about your difficult relationship with your manager can be therapeutic. However, it may foster greater negativity in the workplace. Instead, it’s best to talk to a trusted friend or family member whose opinion you respect, but who is not directly connected to your workplace.


3. Anticipate


If you’re being harassed by a micromanager, a great way to mitigate this is to head off your managers’ requests by anticipating them and getting things done before they come to you. Doing this several times will make them realise that you have your responsibilities in hand, and they don’t need to keep such a close eye on your day-to-day activities. You could learn more about your boss's habits, demands and expectations to push this further – thus demonstrating you respect their requests and take your role seriously.



4. Mark out your boundaries


Toxic managers will often try to pull you into their personal dramas and this is to be avoided. Working with someone who has few boundaries means that you must set them so you can put distance between you and their behaviour. Stay a good emotional distance away from your boss in these situations while still being polite, honest and clear with what you say. This will help insulate you from their negative behaviour and therefore still deliver your work.



5. Avoid being targeted


Keeping your head down and staying out of trouble might sound like an attractive option – and some of that is probably a good idea. But it’s important to continue to deliver to a high standard. Again, this may mean working hard to help your boss succeed, which will in turn make you less of a target. It’s likely that others will notice your professionalism despite the poor leadership you are enduring, and you’ll avoid becoming the victim of the situation. Even if your boss steals your success, it may mean they are promoted away from you, resolving the issue.



6. Act as the leader


If you are suddenly faced, as many are, with an incompetent boss, sometimes it's best to make some executive leadership decisions yourself. If you know your area of work well enough, take the initiative and make decisions when possible that you know will lead to positive results for the organisation. Teammates may well be inspired by your initiative and start following your steps to success, turning a negative environment into a positive and proactive one. Of course, don’t do something that undermines the boss - best to keep them in the loop and yourself out of their firing line.



7. Prepare for any eventuality


If you have become the target of inappropriate behaviour, then you’ll need to keep detailed, accurate records of all of this. At some point, you may be asked to corroborate someone else’s complaint, or asked to back up your own if it comes to that. In such circumstances, your ability to make clear, detailed references to your experiences will significantly support your case. But make sure they’re solid –anecdotes and hearsay don’t wash.


8. Make the decision to stay or go


If you’ve tried to overcome the situation and using the steps above and it hasn’t worked, or you’re simply dealing with a truly toxic boss immune to help and dialogue, then you have to make the call to stay or leave. Realistically evaluate how severely the situation is impacting you emotionally and mentally and note that, at least you tried to make it work. On the other hand, if the above approaches and mitigations have had an effect and you feel you can navigate this, the experience is sure to make you stronger and you can continue to work in a business you know and with a team you otherwise get on well with.