Managing Upward: Dealing With Difficult Bosses

Almost everyone has one and at times they can be a royal pain!  Bosses!  How do you deal with a boss that has a completely different mindset and personality than yourself?  I have had several real winners in my career ranging from the immature-and-explosive, to the better-than-thou, to the raving psychopath, to the drunk pill-popper, to the always-has inappropriate-relationship-rumors-flying-around-him, to the he’s-so-incompetent-how’d-he-ever-get-his-job, and finally the smile-to-your-face-while-they’re-sticking-a-knife-in-your-back boss.  A common denominator that most of the former bosses had was that they make quick decisions, usually bad ones, had a 1-track, tunnel-vision way of doing things, and managed their employees with fear and intimidation like a fierce emperor that everyone was afraid of.  They did not care about their employees and their only goal was to make themselves look good.

So, how do you deal with these people.  Well, there are usually several options that you have to tackle this problem:

  1. Quit – Find a new job that doesn’t require you to deal with this type of person.
  2. Put up with it and just be happy you have a job – Not one I’m really fond of but many people take this option because finding a new job is a scary endeavor for them.
  3. Confront your boss directly – Usually goes badly because these types of bosses don’t take criticism well and it puts you on their short-list of employees that they need to get rid of.
  4. Go over their head – Telling your boss’s boss or the HR department may be beneficial and actually prompt them to fix the problem…..unless they don’t do anything about it except tell your boss you’re lodging complaints against him.  This one can backfire on you and you end up on that list again.  Tread carefully here.
  5. Manage upward.

What’s managing upward?  Well, it’s kind of like creating a script for your boss to follow.  Your actions can define the actions your boss will take.  This will keep you off their radar and allow someone else to deal with their bad behavior.  You stay in good graces while your boss continues their own self-sabotage elsewhere.  It takes time but can be accomplished successfully.

Some points to remember when managing upward:

  • Don’t outdo your boss.  If there is something that your boss has hand their hands on, don’t make it your own.  Do your best and, if you are very successful with it, share that credit with your boss.  Make them a partner.
  • Give positive reinforcement.  This is not just for subordinates.  It works on bosses, too.  I’m not saying become a yes-man or yes-woman or a behind-kisser, I’m saying find something positive that you can acknowledge that your boss did well.
  • Keep calm even when under fire.  You must practice emotional maturity even when being inundated with someone else’s out-of-control behavior.  Keep a strong, positive, and calm tone of voice and don’t let them “get your goat.”
  • Exceed their expectations.  It sure is easier for them to ride you when you’re not producing results.  And it sure is easier for them to ride someone else when you’re producing results that make them look good.
  • Be a problem-solver.  No boss wants more problems.  So, when you have a problem, brainstorm a couple of possible solutions so you don’t become just the Problem Guy.  At least you’ve made the effort to find the answer.
  • As hard as this may be to do, protect your boss’s back.  Make sure that you remain ethical and don’t throw your boss under the bus to the other employees or his coworkers.  If there is something that develops and he needs to know, tell him.  When he finally moves on or is let go, you can have a clean conscience.
  • When attempting to get permission to do something, think of the potential barriers that your boss may throw in your way and have a response ready.  Offer it in a non-threatening way.  Be knowledgeable, back your position up with facts and regulations.

Hope this helps!

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