When you’ve had as many jobs as I’ve had (16 so far), you inevitably get a bad boss or two. No boss thinks he’s bad, no boss is purposely lame and even bad bosses can teach you something. They just don’t realize they’re teaching you how to work for bad bosses. They force you to learn how to adapt, adjust and advocate. Here are five examples of bad bosses and what I've learned from each.
1. The Critic
Managerial feedback is necessary to correctly complete projects, but this guy thought it was his job to find something wrong with my work and he did it like, well, a boss. The bigger my mistake was, the louder his voice got.
What I learned: Clarification.
When given an assignment, I repeated his instructions back to him. When I messed up, I waited until he cooled down and said: “I don’t want to repeat my mistake. What would you like me to do differently next time?”
2. The Bully
This narcissist was concerned about impressing her boss and suspicious of why I wanted more responsibility. Her catch-phrase was: “I’ll let you know when I don’t like something. Until then, assume you’re doing okay.”
What I learned: Making the boss’s life easier is an unwritten item in all job descriptions.
I asked: “How will I know if there’s something more I can do to make your life easier unless you tell me how well I’m doing my job?” She got promoted.
3. The Invisible Man
He was out of the office more than in it. There was no coaching, no support and my team had to lead ourselves. Often, he didn’t tell us what the deliverable should look like, then got frustrated when he didn’t get the results he expected. We had plenty of fire drills.
What I learned: How to nag gracefully.
I would constantly ask, “would you please explain to us what outcome you expect and when?” If he did not respond to an email in 24 hours, I left a note on his chair. When we met with clients outside the office, I asked him to drive. I brought my questions and took notes on the way.
4. The Micromanager
She was a control freak. She wanted to know what I was doing and why I was doing it that way. She wanted to see emails to my customers before I sent them, and approve every expense before the purchase, no matter how small.
What I learned: Over-communication.
I deluged her with updates via daily emails, weekly one-on-ones and monthly reports. I wrote down everything I did so I could account for my activities at a moment’s notice. I spent more time documenting the job than actually doing it.
5. The Flirt
He noticed what clothes I wore and commented on their material. He wanted to meet about my projects alone and often. This was about power; not attraction. He emphasized his authority by making me feel vulnerable.
What I learned: Set boundaries immediately and document every uncomfortable interaction in case I need to involve HR.
The first time he stood too close, I took a half step back and said, “My personal space boundary is right about…here.” When he did it again, I did not step back and said, “Whoops, I have a personal space boundary, remember?” After the third time, he got the message.
The common denominator for surviving all five was communication. Listening, relieving their pain points and establishing boundaries was the key to working with these bad, bad bosses.