How to survive your monster boss!

Updated: Sep 26, 2019

Or... 3 things I want you to know that may help you to better understand your boss.

In so many of my coaching sessions recently, a common theme has been about how employees are suffering under the reigns of less than ideal bosses. Given half a chance we have all complained about our managers and appointed leaders at some point or another, and in some cases, almost on a daily basis. Let's face it, most of us have had a boss who talks more than he listens, whose body language says "I have no interest in you", whose words say "you aren't worth my time", whose actions say "I am in power so you will do what I say". Some of us have been that boss somewhere along the lines (*head hangs in shame*)!

When I talk to some of my coachees, there is a recurring theme around what the ideal boss should be doing, how he should always make time to listen to his staff, how she should be developing her staff better, how they should be transferring skills, sharing more information, engaging their team's ideas, inspiring their staff, having their back. And there is no doubt in my mind that YES, bosses should be doing all of these things, and that in an ideal world they probably would do these things all the time.

But we don't live in an ideal world and sometimes our bosses are not perfect. I feel I can say this because I have had moments of being "that boss", and at a few points in my career have also had to survive "that boss".

So these are the things I want you to know which I hope will help you to firstly survive and be more resilient to your boss' imperfections, and secondly give you some insights into the reality of being the person in charge.

1. Bosses are humans too

From personal experience and observation, managers tend to be promoted into those positions because, amongst other things, they exhibit technical competence, they deliver the goods, they have drive and determination, and they show initiative. But most often these technical skills and personal attributes are of no use when it comes to managing people. That doesn't mean that technically competent and driven people should not be promoted, but rather that they should be supported to move into the role with coaching and mentoring and often some training on the complexities of managing people.

Even the managers that have good intuition around management and leadership are often just doing the best they know how and winging it when it comes to management of people. And when the "best you know how" is modelled on the "best someone else knew how", often we just repeat the same old mistakes.Very rarely in my observation are managers being intentionally damaging and often most don't realize the damage they can do by a careless word or action.

The point is that most managers are struggling with the requirement to juggle their own work, manage other people's work, ensure everyone has work to do in the first place, ensure that payments are coming in, that clients are happy, that all thirty people in the team have the resources they need, that their own boss is satisfied, and definitely hundreds of other things in the mix too. Most bosses try to protect their teams from seeing just how much they are juggling and work hard to buffer them from their stress and vulnerabilities.

So when you next look at your boss and think she is a monster, there may be value in putting yourself in her shoes to see the world from her perspective. That perspective may give you a sense of what she is going through and that she is fallible, vulnerable and human. When we seek to see the humanity in each other, so much of the ugly stuff gets wiped away.

2. Manage upwards

Your boss is invariably managing more people than just you - which means that she is having to deal with more than one communication preference, thinking preference, personality type - she may need to be a chameleon if she wants to get it right all the time! You on the other hand probably only have to understand your boss' communication preference in order to have a greater chance of success at communicating effectively with her.

So my advice here is if you are not sure, ask your boss how she prefers to be communicated with and then manage upwards. What do I mean by this? Well a while ago when I was managing a team of around 30 people, I often joked about needing to have a ticketing system so that everyone could get a number at the door to my office and I would call them in when their number came up. The reason for this was that my office was a bit like a train station with people coming in and out all day, leaving me little time to get my own work done other than after working hours when everyone had left! I am not proud to admit that at one stage I took to just not looking up from my computer in the hope that the person of the moment would read my body language and go away. Invariably they didn't, and at the peak of my time as the "monster boss" most got a very abrupt response from me. As I say, I am not proud!

At some point I realised that I need to ask my team to schedule time with me in my Outlook Calendar and preferably send me an email outlining what they needed so that I could prepare for our discussion. Those that scheduled time with me got a much better interaction with me than those that didn't.

Equally, I had a boss who had an average of 950 unread emails in his Inbox - I knew that emailing him was pointless. So if I need to get anything from him I would pop into his office for a quick chat. If I had stuck to my communication preference we would have got nowhere.

3. Manage yourself

Irrespective of whether your boss manages you well or not, you need to work with your boss! So unless you are planning to resign as a result of your boss, you could consider managing yourself. I hear so many employees say that their boss hasn't told them where they are going in the company - and I always ask how clear the employee has been in articulating where they want to go!. If you are not managing yourself and being clear on your goals and aspirations, it's not entirely your boss' fault that he has no obvious career plan for you (and I question whether he should have a plan for you if you don't have your own).

When I was a boss, the people I put the most time and effort into were those that came to me with clear goals and had thought through how they wanted to get there. All they wanted from me was the support and backing to get where they wanted to go - and they had that full support because it was clear they had invested their own time and energy in themselves and their career. Anyone who ever asked for a meeting with me but hadn't put any thought into possible solutions for themselves didn't generally get very far with me.

So the next time you want something, go to your boss with your thoughts on what you want, how you plan to get it and what specific support you need from them. The easier you make it for your boss to help you, the more likely it is that you will get the support you need.

So what does it all mean...

  • Try to have some empathy for your boss - she is human and fallible and probably under a lot of pressure.

  • Do what you can to make it easier for your boss - if she isn't managing you, then try managing her by acting on her communication and thinking preferences.

  • Take responsibility for yourself and your career path - the more you invest in yourself, the more likely your boss is to take an interest in you.

This blog is in no way intended to absolve bosses from their responsibilities as leaders and managers - not at all! And unfortunately, sometimes there are bosses who should not be given the responsibility of managing people at all.

My advice is, give the above strategies a try, but if none of them makes a difference, then be clear with yourself on knowing when it is time to move on!

I love conversations and would love to engage with you on your career and how you are managing yourself and your career like a business.

I believe "managing your career like a business" means having insight on where you want to go in your career, the agility and resilience to change track when necessary, competence to navigate transition points, and self-awareness to manage yourself.

I help you do that through one-on-one coaching, CV and LinkedIn profile writing, topic-specific workshops and a suite of blogs and other materials available on my website. Want more information? Drop me a message and I will get back to you asap.

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