Most leaders, even great leaders, have had times when they were not so great. I know this won’t be the most popular stance, but I’d like you to cut those in charge just a little bit of slack. Sure, there are some things your boss should never do. But, most times, bad bosses aren’t bad people; they’re only trying to figure it all out — just like the rest of us.
Instead of thinking of ways to deal with a bad boss, let’s consider ways in which you can help your boss get better. Great leaders have absolutely had someone do that for them. Plus, it will knock you out of a blaming mentality and help you consider how you can take control of and improve your situation.
1. Learn Your Boss’s Priorities
Oftentimes employees clash with bosses because their priorities are not clear or are misaligned. Before approaching your boss, take the time to learn where her priorities lie. Remember that this isn’t a guessing game or reading tea leaves, you may learn her priorities through observation or you could also just ask. Once you know her priorities, you can pitch ideas that speak to those priorities. You’ll be surprised how willing your boss is to listen and agree if you are speaking to what matters to her. You don’t have to change your ask, just the way your ask is framed.
2. Understand Communication Preferences
There are some ways bad bosses communicate, but you can change how you communicate with your boss. A way of ensuring your voice is heard is to understand the best times and ways to reach out to your boss. Does your boss prefer email or an in-person meeting? Is she in the best spirits mid-morning or later in the day? Do meetings with her boss stress her out and require a lot of planning? Is she in a bad mood just before a presentation? Are impromptu conversations okay or do you need to send an agenda the day before the two of you meet? Make note of when your interactions have gone well so you can repeat those patterns.
3. Take Initiative
Bosses should be an escalation point. Remember that not everything needs to be escalated, though. Consider how you can come to your boss with solutions instead of problems to be solved. It is usually much easier for someone to react to an idea that is presented rather than coming up with a solution that is brand new. Plus, you’ll get to demonstrate your proactive problem-solving skills and practice tackling challenges. Taking solutions to your boss can also get you exposure if those ideas are implemented or provide a great deal of value to your customers or colleagues.
4. Stay Positive
Offer things you CAN do, rather than focusing on what cannot be done. If you can’t get a project done by the end of the week, share when you can have it done. The message is the same, but one is significantly easier to digest. To say what you can’t do ends up putting the burden back on your boss to figure out how the assignment can be completed.
5. Have Empathy
Practicing empathy can be particularly difficult when you don’t feel like your boss is being supportive — after all, it may not be your boss, it may be your attitude. Take a moment to reflect and imagine what assumptions she may be making or motivations she might have for her behavior. Seeing things from someone else’s perspective can help to improve a relationship.
6. Be Consistent
Consistently showing up, getting things done and being proactive will shape how your boss, and others, see you. Consider how you’d like to be seen. What is the image you’d like others to have of you? Once you decide how you want to be seen, you can tailor your messaging and actions to curate that image.
7. Find Allies
Who are the people that seem to have influence with your boss or have thrived despite a lack of support? They may be able to help you navigate tricky waters with your boss. Learn from their behaviors and ask for their advice and advocacy as you work to improve your relationship with your boss. They will likely have both insights into your boss’s toxic behavior and best practices for how to approach them.
You may be surprised to see how a bad boss can turn into a good boss with a little effort and tweaks to your approach. You have control over how you change your approach and style to fix a less than ideal relationship. You can learn as much from a bad boss as from a good one, so take advantage of the opportunity to bring them to your side and advance your career in the process.
Alyson Garrido is passionate about helping women advance their careers and find jobs they will enjoy. As a career coach, she partners with her clients to identify their strengths and create a path toward a more fulfilling career. Alyson provides support around preparing for interviews, performance reviews, and salary negotiations, ensuring that you present yourself in the best possible light for job search and career advancement. Learn more or book a session with Alyson by visiting www.alysongarrido.com.