I Have to Work for Whom?

I’ve felt fortunate with my past couple of bosses, but I haven’t always been so lucky. In my career I’ve encountered some poor leaders, and I know many people who’ve worked for worse bosses than I have. These could be bosses who always take the credit when things go right and point the finger when it doesn’t. Or how about bosses who decide they just don’t like you on a personal level, so they try to force you out of the company? I’ve encountered passive-aggressive bosses, bosses who demean their employees, and bosses who flat-out lie. At some point in your career you will probably work for a less than ideal boss. What then? 
Changing your boss’ personality isn’t likely. If the job you have or the company you work for is worth enduring the bad boss, then here are some tips to help you manage the time you work with him:

Understand Expectations. When you work for a tough boss, it’s even more critical you understand their expectations. Level-set with them often. Ensure you have a clear picture of what success looks like in their mind and what they view as failure. When you are given new tasks, use clarifying questions and restatement in order to verify you truly understand what is being asked of you.

Build a network.  Get to know people in other parts of the organization. Have a mentor, or even two! Make sure you are getting your name out there and being visible. This helps you protect your reputation. If you have a destructive boss, you want to have as many personal relationships across the company, so if your boss says something negative about you, no one believes it.

Redirect. You may have a boss who belittles people or is a bully. Do your best to redirect your boss when the conversation steers in the wrong direction. Bring the focus back to the issue and not the person (even if that person is you). If your boss is narrowed in on a problem, try to get him talking about the solution instead. Whatever you do, don’t drop to his level. If you start battling on a personal level, the conversation deteriorates. It takes one person consistently rising above to increase the chances a productive outcome will occur.


Share your work.  Try to share your work and accomplishments with others. This allows your work to speak for itself. If other departments can benefit from a process you put in place, share it. If you have a template or document someone else could also implement, share it. This, along with the previously mentioned networking, will get you noticed and perhaps even have other managers fighting to get you on their team.

Kill her with kindness.  Regardless how tough your boss is to work for, you must always deliver quality work and do so with a great attitude. You never know when someone else is watching or taking notice. Always be above reproach. This pays off in the long run.

Document. Document. Document.  A very tough lesson is to always document. If you feel your boss might be out to get you, ensure you are always documenting what expectations your boss set and what you delivered. Document statuses you have. If your boss asks you to improve in an area, document how you are doing so. Finally, document the value you are bringing to the company. The latter allows you to show your boss, your boss’ boss, or perhaps another manager the return on investment you are delivering. It’s tangible. It’s hard to argue when there’s proof. The other documentation allows you to protect yourself from unwarranted corrective action. If human resources approaches you, this will allow you to speak to what has transpired between you and your boss.

It’s inevitable we will all end up working for a tough boss. The key is to do the right things and ride the wave until a new one comes along. Making sure you are always above reproach and delivering quality work is the way to come out ahead. It may not seem like it, but other people are always watching, and you will be noticed, especially if you do the right thing even when it’s difficult.

Jana Axline is president and leadership coach at Axline Solutions and author of Becoming You. Through her leadership musings she inspires audiences to grow as leaders and ultimately achieve who they were created to be. For more information visit Axline Solutions.

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