In a recent conflict resolution webinar that I was presenting to 1400 project managers, I had several people ask me the same type of question: how do you manage the conflict when your manager’s poor leadership skills are a significant source of the conflict?
One thing is for sure: it’s not fun having a manager with poor leadership skills. I once worked for a director who was a poor leader and it was disheartening, especially when I would speak with other employees of the company and hear how great their director was to work for. My disgruntled feeling working for this director had nothing to do with the company. I actually loved the organization. If my contract had not ended, I don’t think I would have stayed at the company much longer if I had to continue working under that director.
If at the time I had known of the skills listed below for working with poor managers, my time could have been much productive and enjoyable. I was clearly headed down the road to live up to the saying ‘People don’t leave companies, they leave managers.’ But what if you don’t want to or are not in a position to leave the company and your best option is to stick it out with this manager?
If you find yourself dealing with a difficult boss, some of these tips should help you alleviate a part of the conflict and stress that the boss has created. This is often referred to ‘managing up’.
1. Be Sure About the Real Issue
In any conflicting situations, it is essential you look all the factors causing the conflict. Upon closer reflection, you may discover your behavior is the main cause of the conflict and you are difficult to manage, or perhaps it is a lack of resources your boss has access to that he can offer you, or maybe your boss is dealing with marital issues at home and this tension is coming out in his behavior at work. Before approaching a manager about the challenges you face when working for him/her, make sure he/she are the real issue in the conflict.
2. What’s Driving Them?
The better you understand what your boss does, and more importantly, why, the better positioned you are to deliver results and manage expectations. Try and show them some empathy by putting yourself in their shoes. To better understand them, ask yourself:
- How does he measure success and what does he think about failure?
- What does he care about?
- How much importance does he place on impressing others?
- What keeps him up at night?
- What would he love more of and what would he love less of on a daily basis?
- What frightens him?
If you don’t have a clear answer for any of these, you may want to ask him directly at an appropriate time. Your boss’ assistant, right hand man or even spouse is often a great help in answering these questions.
3. Speak Up
If after examining the WHAT and WHY of your boss’ behavior, you have not come up with an explanation for his behavior or how to adapt to it, you need to speak up and let him know how you are feeling. Too often, people tell anyone who will listen how their boss makes them feel without ever telling the boss. Focus your feedback on the future using feedforward techniques listed in this blog post.
4. Document Everything
You need to protect yourself from a delinquent manager. Make sure to document all requests and in appropriate interactions with your boss so you can refer back to them if she ever contradicts herself. Managers often have so much on their plate they forget what they asked you to do. When she asks to give a task priority, let her know your current task will suffer because of the new priority.
You need to create a paper trail of all requests as well as everything you produce, such as numbers, sales leads or other measurable accomplishments. Cover yourself at all times and be prepared to pull out your documented proof if your boss questions your output.
5. Identify Triggers
Really get to know your boss and make note of the behaviors they display that frustrate you. Pay close attention to the timing of these behaviors and how they relate to what is going on in their world. Ask yourself, “What can I do to preemptively stop her from doing the destructive behaviors?
If they tend to criticize people in public for submitting late reports, do all you can in your power to never submit a late report. If she is a micro-manager and needs to know everything that is going on all the time, send them more frequent updates so they don’t even need to ask.
6. Support Their Success
However bad things are, there is nothing to be gained by making him look bad, going to war or facilitating his failure. You may even damage your reputation. Making yourself indispensable and someone your boss can rely on to help him do his job is a valuable asset when you start to look to ‘what’s next?’ By doing what you can to help your boss succeed, you lay a solid foundation for greater success yourself. I give examples on how to make yourself indispensable in this blog post.
[Related – How to Make Yourself Indispensable]
7. Act As a Leader
When dealing with an incompetent boss, sometimes it’s best to make some leadership decisions on your own. If you are confident in your area of expertise and your role in the organization, it could be helpful to go ahead and create and pursue a direction you know will achieve good results for the company. People who do this are naturally followed by their peers as informal leaders. Sometimes, it is best to ask for forgiveness than permission.
If you often run into problems in your role, take on some leadership by not only presenting the problem but offering one or two potential solutions. In acting as a leader, management, although maybe not your direct boss, will notice your initiative.
It’s the last resort but sometimes you just can’t deal with a bad manager. If nothing works and your manager is impossible, it’s time to look for another job. This is not the ideal situation but sometimes the only resort is a drastic one.
These 7 tips will not only help you work with you boss but also will provide invaluable opportunities for developing executive leadership skills and learning ‘what not to do’ when managing people who work for you.
Action: In any conflicting situation, focus on understanding the behaviors and not the personality. Personalities are not going to change overnight but behaviors can.
Until next time… Embrace the Adventure
Shawn Stratton is an international leadership and team building consultant, professional speaker, bestselling author and Ironman competitor.
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