The Advantage of Having a Bad Boss | Turn Frustration into Career Growth

bad boss 4147951182_e8d45138a1_mA bad boss is a career opportunity.

No one promised you a great boss as a condition of employment. You get paid whether your boss is good or bad. Your job, then, is to figure out how to deal with your boss’s behavior so that you can do good work anyway.

Your career rides on the way you overcome adversity. Whether you’re aware of it or not, everyone is watching the way you problem solve and overcome obstacles to do what you’re there to do: Get the work done.

Chances are the higher ups are aware, to some degree, of the ineffective behaviors of your boss. And they’re also aware of how the boss’s employees are reacting, including you. So just keep doing your best.

Turn frustration into advantage.

If you really care about your career, you won’t let a bad boss get in your way. Instead you’ll seize the opportunity to develop the skills and abilities you need to deal with her effectively.

So instead of spending your time complaining or wallowing or bemoaning, start observing, planning, and acting to minimize the negative effects of the “bad” behavior your boss exhibits.

Strive to stay focused on what really matters and what doesn’t.

Put into effect an employee development program of your own making.

 We need to be fair. Most bosses are not evil doers; they no more want to be bad in their jobs than we do.

Your “bad” boss may very well be struggling to survive herself, contending with her limitations, trying to untangle mixed signals from above and  needs from her employees.

Many bosses know they aren’t effective, don’t know why, and can’t figure out how to become “good.”  So let’s not be too hard on them. One day you may walk in their shoes.

Zero in.

It’s important to take time to get a sense of what drives your bad boss, so you can find a way to work with him effectively.

Most bad bosses suffer from a predominant supervisory flaw. That’s the one you want to focus on to start.

Pinpoint the specific behaviors and develop actions you need in order to work with, through, or around them.

Here are three types of bad bosses, their typical behaviors, potential underlying reasons for them, and actions you might take to contend with them.

1. The Micromanager

  • Behaviors: Constantly checking on your work, nit picking, inflexibility, second-guessing
  • Potential Reasons: Fear of failure/criticism, low confidence in employees, job insecurity
  • What you can do: Pay full and consistent attention to details, submit work before     deadlines, proactively give progress reports, comply with required processes

3. The Intimidator

  • Behaviors: No or terse communication, distant, difficult to approach, critical
  • Potential Reasons: Sense of superiority, self-absorbed, distrust of other’s ideas, desire for control,
  • What you can do: Initiate opportunities to meet even if it’s unnerving; be uber prepared and clear in your agenda, presentation, or proposal; ask for feedback and a next step meeting/conversation; don’t quail; repeat until the ice is thawed

4. The Wheel Spinner

  • Behaviors: No clearly communicated direction, disorganized, routinely shifts gears and changes assignments midstream
  • Potential Reasons: Lack of confidence/clarity, fear of failure, poor business acumen, lack  of awareness about what it takes to get work done
  • What you can do:  Increase your own organization, engage your boss in conversation about work and suggest ideas, build confidence in your contributions, anticipate needs

Step up.

The workplace is a tangled web. Everyone is caught up in it with your boss at the center. You can choose to become a victim or to figure out how to navigate the strands.

If you want to stand out…to be noticed for the right things…then use your time with that bad boss to strengthen your communication, relationship building, collaborative, and work management skills.

No one’s going to send you to “Dealing with a Bad Boss” training, so it makes sense to develop your skills on your own. Your career will reward you for it. Onward!

Photo by noii’s via Photoree

Supervising Employees Who Hate Their Jobs? Step In or Pay the Price.

hate job 3533132079_708cc8953a_mGrumbling  is one thing; hating quite another. Every job includes things we don’t like but hating is big.

Funny isn’t it, that when we start a new job, we’re so gung-ho. The work, the challenge, and the new relationships feel exciting and so promising.

So how do we go from all that eagerness to job hating?

Decline and fall.

Our jobs exist in a culture created by the leadership style of our supervisors who operate in a culture created by their managers and the leadership. It’s a chain.

Daily, we do our jobs along side coworkers who also perform within that same supervisor- created culture. So if we hate our jobs, it’s on our supervisor’s watch.

Alert supervisors pick up on the signs that we’re hating our jobs like:

  • lack of enthusiasm and energy
  • inattentiveness, slacking, and disinterest
  • flat performance levels and unwillingness to volunteer
  • whining, complaining, and fault-finding

More than likely, we don’t realize just how our job unhappiness is affecting us, showing on our faces, and becoming a detriment to our careers.

We should remember that our supervisors too may hate their jobs, creating an even more complex set of circumstances for them to handle.

No matter what, the failure of supervisors to intervene when employees are unhappy contributes to the decline and fall of all or part of any organization.

Step up with conviction.

Supervisor intervention around job hating is not about band-aiding: It’s about taking on the big issues that are turning employees off.

After seeing a study by Dale Carnegie Training that confirmed the extent of employee job hating, Ilya Pozin wrote an article for Huffington Post identifying the top ten reasons full-time employees hate their jobs .

Of the ten, these five, in my view, are ripe for immediate supervisor action. Taking them on and resolving them will contribute to healing the hating and bolstering leadership status. Pozin’s reasons are in bold italics below and my comments follow:

Their boss sucks. Supervisors need to lead so employees want to follow. So stop micro-managing, criticizing, keeping employees in the dark, and treating them like they’re either the enemy, game pieces to be pushed around, or stupid. Instead, listen to what they say and mean, ask for clarity, explain what you can and cannot do for them, and give them a chance to be creative.

They’re not being challenged.  Supervisors need to ensure that employees have diverse and interesting work to do, not just mundane, repetitive, and under-the-radar tasks. Give employees a chance to come up with a new approach, solve problems together, or switch off roles by ensuring cross-training.

There’s too much red tape.  Endless rules and hoops to jump through to complete essential work only frustrate employees who see that their ability to get things done is being hampered unnecessarily. Look for opportunities to increase decision-making authority for employees that reinforces your trust in them.

There’s no room for advancement. Feeling like you’re going nowhere in your job is debilitating. If there is no clear career path, there are always opportunities for supervisors to develop the capabilities of employees so they can cover for each other and for the supervisor. When employees feel they are growing and have added to their value, they see their jobs more positively.

Job insecurity. Employees routinely read the tea leaves about what’s going on in the company. It doesn’t take much to make them nervous about their employment. That’s why supervisors need to keep them informed about how the company is performing, address the rumor mill, and be transparent. Credible information goes a long way to liking your job.

 Avoid loss.

Good supervisors watch out for the well-being of their employees. Their ability to create and maintain a positive, high-performing work group is the true measure of a supervisor’s value.

When supervisors fall short, employees often leave or under-perform. Since both are avoidable, there should be a career price to pay by supervisors for letting that happen.

Photo by Adam Foster via Photoree




How Supervising a Small Group Prepares You for the Big Stage | Learning to Lead

Bad supervisors are everywhere. Some know they’re bad and don’t care. Some are clueless. But most desperately want to do better.small group 2528391784_86bfb5b6c9_m

Most of us don’t want to go to work and be known for doing a poor job. Too often, new supervisors were great technical performers inexperienced in how to lead others. Once they’re in the job, they discover that their success is measured by how well others perform under their direction.

That’s when many panic and make a mess of things by:

  • Micromanaging
  • Holing up in their offices
  • Giving orders and shunning feedback
  • Withholding information
  • Clinging to confidants

New supervisors often feel self-conscious, uncertain, and/or afraid because they really don’t know what to do. So they muddle along, maybe even reading a how-to-supervise book or taking a training course. But often, it may be too little too late.

Start small.

The best thing that can happen to a new supervisor is being assigned responsibility for a  small group.

It can be as small as one (although smart companies stay away from one-on-one or even two-on-one reporting). Three employees, in my view, would be the perfect start.

Why is that? Because it requires the new supervisor to deal with a triangle. (No love triangles, please.) Three employees promise enough work style, personality, and performance challenges to deal with like:

  • Balancing work load
  • Dealing with attitude differences
  • Engaging them as a team
  • Communicating clearly and effectively
  • Implementing policies and procedures fairly
  • Addressing unwanted behaviors
  • Setting boundaries
  • Evaluating and rewarding performance

In a small work group, the margin for supervisory error is small. That means if you botch a decision or an action, it quickly reverberates among all employees who will react in ways that you will have to contend with in order to restore the balance.

Lead like it’s big.

Small work groups can make a big difference no matter the size of the company.

That means you need to supervise three as though they were thirty. This isn’t a club you’re in charge of; it’s a business unit representing a significant investment in salary and benefits. The group is expected to contribute output that directly or indirectly impacts profitability.

So take charge of the expectations management has of your group. Approach your three professionally, so they see themselves as significant and you as their means to success.

Effective small group supervisors do exactly what successful corporate executives do. They lead.

As soon as you become the supervisor, assemble your group and communicate:

  • What the group is there to do (what business you are all in together)
  • Your style of supervision (meeting frequency, information needs, hot buttons)
  • Direction for the next year plus perspectives about the future
  • SMART performance goals for the group (Then set up meetings to establish their individual performance goals for the year.)
  • The kind of operating culture you desire (teamwork, cross-training, informal and formal communication, integrity, general conduct)

Your small work group is your training ground. If you aren’t comfortable taking this approach with three people, imagine how overwhelming it would be with three times as many or more.

(By the way, you can also get supervisor-like experience by being a team leader too.)

Positioning yourself for more

Great supervisors get great results. When your small group produces more and better work with you at the helm, you will be noticed and so will your employees.

Great supervisors are a rarity. Employees who have them sing their praises. They want you to succeed because when you do, they do too.

Employees know that the buck stops with you and you’ll need to make decisions along the way that they won’t like. They’ll respect you for that even though they might gripe.

By learning to lead in a small group situation, you position yourself for roles with broader scope, more employees, and a position on the organizational pyramid that will make you and your early employee team very proud.

Photo from whidbychick via Flickr

When You’ve Had Enough, How Far Should You Go? | Managing Emotions

No one likes criticism or unfair treatment. Most of us just suck it up until one day we’ve had enough. Then watch out!

Think twice

Knee-jerk reactions never pay. When we’re fed up, we need to keep our wits about us. Most of the time, we’re reacting to situations that have been brewing.

I’m a big proponent of not becoming a doormat for anyone at anytime. We’re entitled to respect and fair treatment, both of which we need to stand up for in the right way at the right time.

I’m also a big proponent of understanding the consequences of the actions we want to take. Too often, however, people let their emotions get the best of them, shooting themselves in both feet.

If you choose to act on a workplace issue, you may be, at the very least:

  • Implicating your boss who is responsible for the work environment
  • Subjecting your performance history to review in light of the issue
  • Challenging the company’s practices and their overseers like HR
  • Setting up your motives and credibility for dissection

These daunting considerations are intended to sober your emotions not negate the legitimacy of your issue.

I’m a passionate believer in doing what’s right and fair. But we shouldn’t  be stupid about it.

A clear head, an understanding of workplace realities, and a good plan set you up to do what needs to be done. A little internal leverage with influential people doesn’t hurt either.

Know what you want

Just getting your issue noticed isn’t enough. If you’re going to stir the pot be specific about the remedy you want.

Here are two interesting cases:

My client, Annette, from a Fortune 100 company was promoted to lead a work group in another state while she maintained a home office. The prior manager had built a culture of favorites; that manager was now Annette’s new boss. The perceived loss of “favorite” status by one employee resulted in a public outburst during a workshop that included insults aimed at Annette. She turned the matter over to HR: Disciplinary action followed.

Impacts: Annette’s new boss felt the sting and so did the punished employee. Other employees assessed the situation through their respective lenses. HR validated Annette’s action, noting, however, that this was a severe step considering how new Annette was to the position. Will there be subsequent fallout? Time will tell. In this case, Annette had everything documented and took swift action. She was willing to risk backlash because setting a standard of professional conduct mattered to her. What would you have done?

Next there’s Victor who was receiving poor performance reviews from a boss who didn’t like his approach to handling complex technical projects. Victor saw his boss as uncommunicative, a poor leader, and politically motivated. Victor’s reviews got progressively worse; he was put on notice to improve or else. He wanted to defend himself by reporting his boss to HR or anyone who would listen. He considered suing. Ultimately, Victor was terminated..

Impacts: Taking on the boss would mean proving that each aspect of Victor’s negative evaluation was wrong and making a case that the boss had something against him. If Victor successfully makes the “bad boss” case to the company, chances are no other manager there would want Victor. If he could manage to negate the performance criticisms, he would likely end up pointing an accusing finger at some coworkers, creating bad blood. To sue the company would leave a permanent mark on Victor that could be an obstacle for future jobs. Victor chose to move on. What would you have done?

Remember, it’s business.

Our emotions can cause us to do reckless things. When it comes to our jobs, caution makes more sense. It may feel great for the moment to tell the boss to “take this job and..,” but that only gives the control back to him or her.

We need to know how to size up each situation, identify our options, and chose the one that’s going to help us get what we want or cut our losses. Please, keep it together, okay?

Photo from Roberto Kaplan Designs via Flickr


Think You Know How to Manage Right? Check in with David C. Baker

Several weeks ago, David C. Baker, accomplished management consultant, speaker, and author, asked if I would consider reading and commenting on his already successful book, Managing Right for the First Time. I didn’t know David but his title intrigued me, so I eagerly said “yes.” The book arrived in the mail and I was hooked. 

Manager—It’s a title with a certain lure, an aura of importance, a marker that we’ve “gotten somewhere.” Careers often feel more solid when we’ve become manager of something. 

Then we look around at the managers in our world and say, “Is that the role I really want? Would I operate like that? Is that what I think the job should be?” 

What’s the deal? 

Every job is a business deal with your employer. That means you need to understand what’s expected from a title like manager before you commit. 

Unfortunately, managers who get off on the wrong foot from the get-go will likely compound their missteps throughout their managerial careers, until they come to an end. 

David C. Baker in his book, Managing Right for the First Time, does something wonderful: He exposes the realities about how the manager role is played out in business settings. He answers my favorite question: “What’s really going on here?” 

During his career Baker worked closely with over 600 companies and interviewed more than 10,000 employees to identify the core principles and behaviors that contribute to managing right from the start. 

He starts with a clean definition: Being a manager means “…taking responsibility for the performance and output of another employee in a business setting.” 

Sounds simple enough until you face his next insight: 

…management is not natural, and there are no “natural born” managers. Good management comes primarily from who you are as a person….  

Looking within is a serious first step. For some reason, you want to think that you’ll be ready for the job when it comes your way. Baker points out that you’ll likely be a good manager “if you’ve made the right choices as you’ve responded to the circumstances you’ve encountered…” throughout your life. 

There’s an echo here of a theme I’ve written on before: Your life is your business. There’s truth in the notion that the more good life and career choices we make, the better prepared we’ll be to manage situations that affect others. 

So, you’ve got the job! 

Baker gives fascinating insights into what your selection as a manager can mean. 

His first scenario is this: “…if you’ve been selected for management by a good manager, you can take solace in the fact that he or she sees something in you that you may not even see in yourself.” 

The bad news scenarios are these: a.) you’re promoted because there was no one else or b.) a bad manager selected you. Both of these start you off on shaky ground. It doesn’t mean you won’t succeed, but it does mean that you have to prove that you were the best choice. You’ll need to keep your political wits about you. 

Beware of bait and switch 

Baker makes a strong point that: “There’s no official management without power.” 

Oftentimes we’ll see managers in name only—all title but no authority. 

Baker writes: 

The essence of management certainly isn’t about…wielded power. It’s more about influence, which in itself is power, but it’s more the ability to instill in people a legitimate desire to follow your leadership.

 That said, he adds that you really aren’t a manager in the truest sense of the word unless: 

  • You’re hiring the people you manage
  • Making decisions about their compensation
  • Giving their performance reviews
  • Have the authority to dismiss someone—even if you have to get another’s approval 

He makes it plain: “If these things aren’t true of your new role, you ain’t managing, baby.” 

Dig in 

“Managing right” means taking on the full scope of the manager’s role. In his book, Baker covers it all from managing your boss to orienting employees (some really good ideas there); from creating a positive culture to work/life balance.

He wrote his book as a field guide and it’s all that and more. Nothing beats a book of straight-talk, that puts managing in plain terms. This one’s a winner.

Who’s Controlling Your Career? | The Downside of Kissing Up

Your best answer is, “I am.” Unfortunately, the common answer is often, “I’m not really sure.” 

That’s because we often don’t know how career growth happens. We’re told that the silver bullets are: 

  • Doing a great job with high performance appraisal ratings that validate it
  • Attending training and/or taking outside courses
  • Serving on teams and working on special projects 

Then, after we do all this stuff, someone in the next cubicle gets the promotion we wanted without doing much of anything. The boss just liked them. 

Kissing up can get you down. 

I’ve seen plenty of it, like employees slurping over the boss’s policy decisions, the good ones and the lame ones. 

I’ve seen the attention seekers who volunteer for any assignment, whether they have the chops or not. 

I’ve seen the flirts and buddy boys who flatter the boss or team up after work on the links or at local events. 

I’ve also seen how these moves help some take a career step forward, but I’ve mostly seen it backfire. 

Bosses can tell when we’re engaging them for our career purposes. Some bosses love being the center of our attention. It makes them feel important and powerful. Others are turned off.

Beware: When we shift our focus from making a difference through our work to polishing the boss’s apple, we set ourselves up for disappointment. 

Stay in control. 

When we’re hired, we’re given accountability for our work. We control what we achieve by delivering results according to standards. The boss controls whether or not we advance. 

This is the sticking point: We expect the boss to recognize our value and reward it with a next move we think we deserve. 

Once the boss knows what we want, s/he now has leverage. S/he can decide to give us what we want, deny it, or delay it.

Of course, not every boss is going to use knowledge of your career desires to manipulate you. But some will, either consciously or unconsciously.

 As an HR manager, I was aware of four high potential managers considered future executives. Two of them made plain to executive leadership that they were ready to become VPs. 

As opportunities opened up, the vocal two were made to wait for whatever reason. One had to wait several years, much to his public frustration. Interestingly, he ultimately became the company CEO.  The path is always someone else’s call.

Take the high road. 

Actually, when asked, we’re supposed to tell our bosses about our career aspirations. In healthy work situations, that knowledge helps good bosses work with us to manage our expectations, put together development plans, and position our next moves. 

The problem is that too many employees have their eyes on job titles rather than making a difference, growing their capabilities, building a portfolio of experiences, or innovating. 

It’s easier for a boss to block your next career move than it is to obstruct your impact. Your brand, your value, and your status are a function of what you get done. 

As one of a handful of women managers, I was often asked by executive management what my career goals were. They expected me to say I aspired to become a VP because there was a contingent who wanted me in that role. 

I told them, instead, that what I wanted was to be where I could influence executive decision-making. I didn’t care what my title was. I just wanted to be at the table where significant issues were being discussed so I could add my perspective. 

They gave me many of those opportunities because of my skills and knowledge. I was still asked about my interest in an executive post, but I declined. I knew that I had more impact as a thought-leader and saw that a VP title had serious limitations. 

Kissing up as the low road 

Your current job is one piece of your career. You own and control both to a large extent by the choices you make. Kissing up doesn’t help your career; consistently high quality performance does. That’s yours to control. 

Photo from Elaine Ross Baylon | Photography via Flickr



How Bosses Undermine Themselves | Playing Hashtag With Jimmy Fallon

The game changes when we become the boss. Whether we know it or not, our employees are always watching and judging. Too often we’re unaware of how we come across to them and how they brand us. 

Bosses create the culture of the workplace. Their behavior influences the behavior of others positively or negatively. 

It’s human nature for employees to draw conclusions about who they think their bosses really are by assessing their quirks, idiosyncrasies, and behavior patterns— the windows into the person behind the title.  

The hashtag game 

Comedian Jimmy Fallon, former Saturday Night Live writer and performer, is the host of the talk show, Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. Each week he invites his viewers to play the hashtag game. This week he announced it on his show and then tweeted: 

@jimmyfallon Let’s play the hashtag game! Tweet out something weird about your current or former boss & tag with #mybossisweird. Could be on our show! 

Not every boss is weird but each of them (us) is likely to have behaviors that might annoy, shock, or disturb employees. Prevailing peculiarities start to become part of our brands until they become perceptions we can’t shake. When that happens, our career trajectory can be affected. 

Here are a few of the #mybossisweird tweets from Jimmy Fallon’s game. Each reveals deeper career implications, as I see them.  Please add yours.  

@potatobi #mybossisweird my boss has no idea what twitter is but he found out his competitors had it so I had to make a fake account and follow them 

This boss looks to be out-of-touch, disinterested in new technology, prone to shortcuts, and more interested in appearance than substance. If this is his/her approach to every new innovation in the marketplace, s/he’s in trouble. 

@loolyloo77 #mybossisweird calling me on my annual leave because she wants some info for the urgent report she forgot to submit weeks ago!

@JessicaJourney A former boss once sought me out in the restroom to ask me about progress on a work project. #mybossisweird 

Both of these bosses seem to suffer from panic, that feeling that s/he has to have access to information immediately, a sign of poor planning or no backup when employees are unavailable. Worse though is the lack of regard for each employee’s personal and private time. These are “the world revolves around me and my needs” bosses. In short order that gets old, employees get the word out, and in time the boss’s effectiveness erodes. 

 @MeetingBoy: #mybossisweird When he gets nervous, he insists on DAILY STATUS MEETINGS, then complains: not much gets done between meetings 

Over-controlling, unable to delegate, micro-managing, and ineffective describe this boss. S/he is likely insecure as a boss and the employees know it. That will get around along with the indicators of stalled productivity. 

@NicLuna  When my boss is asked a question he stays quiet and stares at the person blankly until they repeat the question #mybossisweird 

This boss comes across as playing some kind of “gotcha” game that will ultimately alienate employees and seriously limit two-way communication with him/her. Eventually, this “tick” will become fuel for the “comics” in the company who will imbed it into the boss’s brand.   

@TheREALMsWright #mybossisweird b/c when people approach her desk, she says: “What’s the deal?” instead of “How can I help you?” It’s a professional office. 

Professional behavior by the boss is important to employees. It verifies company standards and contributes to a sense of pride in their work. When the boss uses language that is incorrect, inappropriate, or inconsistent with expectations, it reflects on the boss’s values and attitudes. 


One person’s weird is another’s unprofessional. The challenge to every boss is to understand how their behavior comes across to employees. 

Our job is to create a positive climate that enables each employee to perform his/her work with minimal distraction and maximum confidence.

What our employees think and say about us have a powerful cumulative effect on our careers and our brands. Although it probably won’t be funny, we should try to stand out  in a  #mybossiswonderful hashtag game.   

Photo from The_WB via Flickr