We all have bad bosses at some point in our career. For many of us, it may be for as much as 50% or more of our working lives. Successful people find ways to deal with, learn from, and become friends their supervisors, even the bad ones. What can you do to be happy and successful even if you have a bad boss?
1. Recognize they are human. Believe it or not, they were not put on this earth just to make our lives miserable. Bosses are people and they have faults just like we do. They also have fears and insecurities, as well as hopes and dreams. What are they scared of or worried about that is driving their behaviors? Are they worried you are not going to get the job done, that you won’t do it right or that you will make them look bad? How can you allay some of those fears? How can you provide them with the confidence that you will deliver and you will help them look good for their boss? How can you be more understanding and helpful with their challenges?
2. Get to know them as a person, not just a boss. Go to lunch or schedule time on your calendars to get to know each other; ask about their families, careers, hobbies, and lives in general. What is important to them? What do you have in common? The more ways you can connect, the better you will understand them and the easier it will become to work with them.
3. Eliminate Expectations. One common challenge with supervisor/employee relationships is that we expect our bosses to do or be certain things. For example we expect them to be leaders, make good decisions, recognize us for our efforts, explain how they want things done, and to clearly communicate their expectations. Unfortunately our bosses are similar to us and have not been trained or prepared to meet these expectations. Most supervisors are promoted because they are good at their job rather than because they would make good bosses. So they don’t understand our expectations or know how to deliver on them.
Activity: Managing Our Expectations of Our Bosses
1) Write at the top of blank sheet of paper, “I expect my boss to: “
2) Then make a list of your expectations.
3) Put a star next to the most important expectations.
4) Now cross out “I expect my boss to: “ and write in “I would be grateful if my boss were to:” Now you have a list of what you will appreciate if it happens rather than what you will be angry about when it doesn’t happen.
5) For the expectations you starred, sit down and talk to your boss. Courteously ask them if they can help in those areas. Be ready to discuss how they can help.
You can spend your time appreciating the good things that your boss does or being angry about unmet expectations. The first is productive and helpful; the second is a waste of your time and energy.
4. Don’t be the victim. Don’t let one person, even if they are your supervisor, ruin your day. No matter what they do, you get to choose how you react to them. You can’t control your supervisor. People are going to act the way they act. You can be annoyed, angry, and rebellious, or you can get your work done and move on to things that make you happy. You can even show empathy and respect. If your supervisor gets angry, that is something you can’t control. It is his or her failure, not yours. Find the truth behind the anger; there is always something to learn there. But don’t absorb the anger as your fault, or even something you are going to try to control or avoid. Let it be your supervisor’s problem, which it is. Do the best you can to control what you can control, and let go of the things you can’t control.
5. Put yourself in their shoes. Why are they asking you to do certain things? What types of stresses and challenges are they under? What kind of pressure are they getting from their boss? What would you expect from your position if you were the boss? Deliver for them at the same level you would expect an employee to deliver for you.
6. You can’t change them. Being actively subversive so they will learn a lesson or hoping their boss or a training class will cause them to change and act differently is futile and will only lead to more frustration and disappointment on your part. Accept them for who they are, with all their flaws and challenges. Focus on appreciating what is good about them rather than trying to change what you judge as bad.
7. Recognize your autonomy. You can always quit your job or find some other role within the company. In most situations, you are better off learning how to adapt to a bad boss rather than running away from the situation. At the very least you can learn how you would do things differently. If you are choosing to stay, then make the best of it.
How we choose to relate to our bosses can have a significant impact on our happiness and success. We can spend our time ruminating about our “bad boss” and letting them wreak havoc on our emotions, or we can choose to be happy and successful no matter what the situation. Take control of your life. Find ways to have a positive relationship with your supervisor, no matter what kind of boss they are.