Surviving Your Boss: We All Have to Report to Someone

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You may not believe it, but you can learn as much from a bad boss as good one – sometimes even more.

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I'm not talking about someone who is abusive, which is inexcusable. I'm talking about a manager with a style you might not appreciate at first. When managers are more junior and in the process of developing their own skills, they don't always make the best bosses.

Most people who have been in business a long time will have suboptimal managers at some point. This isn't always the worst thing. When you experience different approaches, you begin building your own view of how you want to manage. Then, if you become a supervisor yourself, you can select the aspects of previous managers that best gel with your own style. You choose those you want to emulate versus those you want to avoid. The more varied management experiences you have, the more you can empathize with your own direct reports and develop into a well-rounded leader.

But I'm Working for the Devil!

But what if your manager is really bad?

First, make sure it isn't you. I once heard a comment that if you think all your roommates are jerks, then maybe you're the jerk. If you think all your managers are bad, take a careful look in the mirror and make sure you aren't the one with the problem.

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For example, if every supervisor you have had micromanages you, then perhaps you aren't demonstrating you are on top of things. Or, if you feel none of your managers give you enough feedback, maybe you are coming across as defensive.

If you are sure the issue is with your manager, the first step is to talk with them directly. Do not do this when you are angry or upset. Instead, make a list of everything that bothers you about your boss. When you step back and review the list, you may realize that some complaints are petty and that you'll have a better outcome if you focus on the one or two most important issues. Write down your talking points and practice them, then ask for a private meeting to voice your concerns. Be careful not to make the conversation about the things your boss is doing wrong. People are more willing to listen to what you have to say when it doesn't come across as an attack on them.

You are also more likely to make progress if you are specific about what you would like to see happen. For example:

"Robert, I know sometimes my work needs improvement, and I'm eager for your feedback, but when you criticize me in front of my peers, I'm very embarrassed. I'd appreciate if we could schedule one-on-one time instead so that I could fully focus on what you are suggesting. Would that be okay with you?"

"Marla, as you and I have talked about, one of my goals is to be more assertive in meetings. I am working on this. However, in two recent meetings, I felt that I didn't get an opportunity because most of the questions were directed toward you. Since this is an objective of mine, can we work to find a specific part for me in our next group meeting?"

It's Not Looking Good ...

If you have tried to talk with your manager directly about the issues at hand but things are still not improving, what do you do?

Sometimes, it just requires patience. I was once moved into a lateral position as a stepping stone to a much bigger job. I reported to Mark, who was not a very good manager. He ran a big group, and I was asked to work for him so I could learn that business. It was a bit hard on my ego, but I was pretty sure it was temporary and basically had to suck it up. I wasn't negative, and I didn't speak badly of Mark to my peers. I did whatever I could to demonstrate my own leadership skills by taking on special assignments and projects while connecting with other company leaders. In the not-too-distant future, I was able to move on.

If you have a bad boss, don't let your discouragement affect your work. Especially if you like the company, you want to shine so there is no question you are an employee worth retaining. Don't sabotage your success by slacking off. Instead, understand what your goals are and keep a record of how you're progressing relative to these goals. This will give you a platform to showcase your achievements in discussions with the HR department and other senior people in your company.

Adapted with permission of the publisher, Motivational Press, Inc., from MOM.B.A.: Essential Business Advice From One Generation to the Next by Karyn Schoenbart with Alexandra Levit. Copyright (c) 2017 by Karyn Schoenbart. All rights reserved.

Karyn Schoenbart, author of MOM.B.A., is CEO of The NPD Group, a global provider of information and advisory services to many of the world's leading brands.