How to Survive (And Tame) a Dominant Boss

At a time when U.S. unemployment and underemployment sit at nearly 30%, many workers feel stuck in their jobs and apprehensive to look for new opportunities. Some of these trapped employees are bored, uninspired, or disengaged about their work, while others may be experiencing an entirely different emotion: the fear of being ambushed by their dominant boss.

That may be a little extreme, but anyone who’s ever had to work for a dominant boss understands the anxiety that goes along with being part of this particular type of employer-employee relationship. These managers tend to treat employees like adversaries, or even worse, like prey.  In the circle of office life, the manager is the alpha lion and the employee is the fodder.In this hostile situation, lying low and getting through work one day at a time may seem like the right thing to do, but in reality, this approach will only make things worse. Remember the old proverb: The lion’s power lies in your fear of him.

There is hope: For employees who decide that a job is worth it and want to give their best shot at gaining respect from their dominant boss, here are four steps to tame the best of ‘em:

Recognize if your Boss is a Lion- Before you can tame your boss, you must be sure you are dealing with a lion.  Is your boss assertive, goal oriented, and competitive? Does everyone in the office know it? Is your boss vocal right away if he or she has a problem? If the answer is yes, you are most likely dealing with a dominant “lion-like” personality.

Other signs include your boss commanding employees and stalking about the office like the king or queen of the workplace jungle. A lion-like boss won’t lose sleep if he or she is not the most popular person in the office. Conversely, rest won’t come easy if control of the office starts to slip.

Adapt to the Work Environment: Dominant bosses always seems to be busily running around and completing tasks in a frenzied manner. In case you were wondering, you are expected to act like that too.

Lions communicate by example. Therefore, in order to fit in there’s a few things you must do. First, avoid making small talk with your boss. Second, make sure, at the very least, you stay busy; nothing irritates these personality types more than people who show a lack of urgency. Third:  learn and follow company policy. Dominant bosses typically prefer formal work environments and the more you can respect this fact, the less likely you are to get pounced on.

Communicate Results and Achievements: Your boss’s biggest need is achievement. As a territorial, task-oriented leader of the pack, he or she sets goals and achieves them. Leisure time and weekends are used to set goals and achieve them. Even on vacation, setting goals and achieving them is the most important thing--it’s how your boss relaxes!

When communicating with your boss be completely straight forward and make decisions quickly. If you are an analytical person and need to internally think things through before speaking this can be challenging. If possible, try to anticipate questions from your boss so that when they arise you already know the solution.

Understand your Manager’s Weakness: Impatience is your boss’s biggest weakness. By having such a high sense of urgency, listening to what others have to say becomes difficult. Systematic thinkers who need time to formulate a response are seen as the weak link of the pride, yet many times this is exactly the type of person your boss needs. Ironically, being action oriented is your boss’s greatest strength and critical weakness.

By coming from a position of understanding, it’s much easier to deal with impatience rather than take it personally. Instead of saying to yourself, “I can’t believe that anybody actually acts like this,” you can say, “Even though we are completely different, I understand why this person is this way.”

Building Respect with People who are Different

Taming a dominant boss doesn’t mean that an employee has to be good buddies with the employer. It simply means that through understanding of a particular personality type, minor adjustments can be made to better communicate with the manager and gain respect. It’s also important to remember, that there are some bosses that are beyond tamable. If the employer-employee relationship is in any way verbally or physically abusive, the job is beyond salvageable. The employee needs to get out of the situation immediately.

For employees and managers who want a greater understanding of the people they work with, studying personality profiling can help. Two of the more popular assessments are DiSC and Myers Briggs. Information is available online on these topics and it can be life changing to learn how to communicate with others who are dominant… or maybe just different.

On a final note, please remember this article is a survival guide, not a miracle cure. While following these tips will not turn the office jungle to a petting zoo, at the very least it will help level the food chain.

Keith E. Ayers is President of Integro Leadership Institute, a global business, management, and leadership consultancy firm with offices in Australia and associates located around the world. He is the author of Engagement is Not Enough (Elevate 2008) which show leaders how to create an organization of passionate workers in pursuit of a common purpose. For more information visit