When we describe the proverbial “bad boss,” we think of someone who is a poor communicator, micro-manager, unqualified or just plain absent. The list can go on and on. It’s amazing the impact a poor leader can have on the climate within the workplace, as well as on our health and happiness at home. Studies show that people don’t leave companies, they leave managers/supervisors/bosses (you can circle the one that applies). And for those of us who have had “bad bosses,” we couldn’t agree more.
Behavior aside, another career-killing reason bad bosses are “bad” is because they make easy targets for all the things we don’t like at work – why we’re not productive, why our team is bickering, why we didn’t get promoted – it all gets laid at the boss’ feet. When we have a bad boss, we tend to flip a switch in our heads that turns off our capacity for accepting individual responsibility and turns on our propensity to blame.
I just can’t stand the word blame. If you tear it apart, to blame is to b-lame; which, in the very literal sense, means to “b” impaired or disabled. When faced with a difficult boss we too easily give away our power and become the victim. No matter what kind of work climate we’re in, however, we always have the ability to decide how we’ll respond. And one of the most helpful responses I’ve found when trying to achieve success in the workplace despite a bad boss is this:
“Bad boss” is a category. We can’t work with, talk to or improve relationships with a category. Instead of focusing on having a “bad boss,” we need to clarify what’s problematic and why. For example, changing “my boss is such a jerk” to “when my boss takes credit for my work, it really makes me feel angry” starts to move us toward specific behaviors and feelings that can possibly be addressed. Let’s get even more specific. From “when my boss takes credit for my work, it really makes me feel angry” to “when by boss mentioned my marketing idea in our meeting today without giving me credit, it made me feel invisible.” Now we’re on to something. It may not be that you have a “bad boss,” or even that he “takes credit for your work all the time.” Rather, it may be that he doesn’t acknowledge your work in a way that is meaningful to you, and that you’re shut down during the meeting because of it. Once you know the problem, then you can begin to create a solution for addressing it with your boss who, quite possibly, has no idea he is doing it.
Managers are always given the advice that when they give feedback, they should be specific. The same is true for employees when interacting with their boss. Regardless of title, we’re all people whose communication styles and differing perspectives require us to be willing to work on building relationships, not settle for stereotypes.