3 ways to manage up when you have a bad boss

One of the tests of being a leader is knowing how to navigate a boss who doesn’t score highly as a leader him/herself.

Photo: Northridge Alumni Bear Faculty via Flickr

One of the tests of being a leader is knowing how to navigate a boss who doesn’t score highly as a leader him/herself.

1. Manage yYourself

Start from the perspective that the disconnect might be a miscommunication. “I want to make sure I understand what you need from me.” Then clarify.

If you internalize a bad boss’s anger, insecurity or lack of skill you could allow your weaknesses to show instead of your strengths to shine. Their lack of confidence, disorganization or lack of inclusiveness is about them. Not you. Don’t mirror their insecurity. Be self-aware. Who are you when under fire? How do you demonstrate grace and grit – executive presence? If your work life were a movie who would play you and what would he/she do in your situation?

Be a mindful third-party observer of your own thoughts and feelings. Ask yourself what is really going on with you? What are you afraid of? That you won’t get recognition for your work? Is recognition the only qualifier of good work? What strength can you draw on that never lets you down?

Before you act pause and take a deep breath. The sacred pause allows you to squeeze in between the moment you feel an emotion (frustration, anger, overwhelmed) and react to it (say something you’ll regret, get emotional, withdraw and doubt yourself.)

2. What’s the driver?

What is behind your leader’s conduct? All bad behavior is the result of an intrinsic motivator. If you were to strip away the outside façades of bullying, apathy, criticalness, sweety nice, indecision, micromanaging, etc. what is left? Put yourself in her shoes?

What is he afraid of?

What keeps her up at night?

What does he not understand that you can help clarify?

What does he really care about?

What would she like more of? Less of?

How does he measure success?

Deep listen for cues that demonstrate what he doesn’t want. How do you position your work and interactions to accommodate her thoughts and feelings?

3. Have Their Back

This is the number one law of power. Have your boss’s back. Trust is crucial – especially for an insecure leader. If your boss is doing something unethical then you should look for another position because your values will be in constant misalignment with him/her, leading to stress and unhappiness. Otherwise, except that the situation is difficult and that you are self-aware enough to address it with a fresh perspective. Focus on having your boss trust you. Once he knows your top motive is to help position his success, he will expect only good things from you and stop leading from a fear perspective.

Preface strained interactions with genuine statements that underscore that she can rely on you. “Because I know that we want the team to______” or “I know that this is a priority so ___” or “I want you to be positioned well on this _____.” Be straightforward. “I have your back.”

If after executing these strategies nothing changes seek informal mentors within the organization from whom you can learn. Have lunch with them once a month. Once they see your abilities and desire to grow they will become allies that can help position you for advancement to another role.

Mary Lee Gannon, ACC, CAE is an executive coach and corporate CEO who helps busy leaders get off the treadmill to nowhere to be more effective, earn more, be more calm and enjoy connected relationships with the people who matter while it still matters. Watch her FREE Master Class training on Three Things to Transform Your Life and Career Right Now at www.MaryLeeGannon.com