In the ideal world, every manager would be a coach – who is trained in leadership skills and would help you leverage your strengths to overcome your weaknesses. But reality is far from it. The very fact that our office teams are a subset of society means that it comprises all kinds of personalities. Add to that the general lack of empathy and people management training, and we have an unsavoury scenario where the manager-subordinate relationship is more strained than rewarding.
We have all been (or will be) in this situation at least once in our careers – where a boss who lets his or her incompetence or biases come in the way of his team’s success. In short, we have all had bad bosses. But I believe that what you take away from this relationship depends on you too. Take charge of your own career advancement. Here’s how.
Be the best at your job
Before you jump to the conclusion that your relationship with your manager is strained because of his flaws, make sure you cover your part of the deal. While everyone needs to take their top game to work, those with strained relationships with their managers have much more incentive to do it. Take a hard look at your own performance; ask for inputs from peers and work on areas of improvement. Keep your clients pleased, bring in new business and miss no deadlines. In summary, don’t give your manager reasons to justify his dislike for you or not give you the returns you deserve.
Stay objective at all times
It is easy to feel attacked if your manager has a history of being unreasonable with you. All I can say is “don’t”. Don’t bring up the strained nature of the relationship during an argument. Disagree productively. Don’t give in to the temptation of responding to nasty emails with nastiness. Pick up the phone or talk face-to-face with them. No matter how tricky the situation gets, stick to facts relating to work and deliverables. Ideally, the rest shouldn’t matter.
Whether it be a big project or a new internal initiative, take charge and be an asset. Your boss does not have to like you, all he really needs is to respect the way you handle your business and team and how proactive you are. Even if he chooses not to respect your capabilities, never give him reasons to make his dislike or bias seem reasonable.
No matter what your equation with your boss is, managing up is crucial. Even if your boss has serious shortcomings and you can’t see eye to eye on several issues, making the relationship work is your responsibility too. You have more to gain or lose from it, after all.
According to HBR’s series on managing up, “No matter what type of manager you have, there are some skills that are universally important. For example, you need to know how to anticipate your boss’ needs — a lesson we can all learn from the best executive assistants. You need to understand what makes your boss tick (and what ticks them off) if you want to get a buy-in for your ideas. Problems are inevitable, but knowing the right way to present it to your boss can help you navigate through sticky situations.”
Document your achievements
You have been productive and you’ve got the results. Don’t let your manager think you’re unaware of it. Of course, blowing your own trumpet can further alienate an insecure boss, but know your strengths and when the time comes to talk, performance appraisals for instance, do it objectively but unabashedly. Don’t oversell yourself. But don’t make the mistake of underselling yourself either.
Know when to move on
Let’s be honest: we are part of an incredible talent-first economy. While the country’s employment rates may not be in top shape, jobs are far from unavailable for skilled, talented, intelligent individuals. Remember, there is always a way out of working under a bad boss. Keep that resume updated and that LinkedIn profile on point. When you see or hear of a relevant opportunity, chase it.
In all fairness, even with a good boss, you will need to be good at your job, communicate objectively, stay engaged, be aware of your value and achievements, and manage up. Also, there is no such thing as the ideal job. There are good days and bad days everywhere. But at least you will get to do it all without having to watch over your shoulder. So, till you get there, do your bit to make a strained relationship work. It can either bring the relationship to a space where your boss and you can peacefully coexist. Or at worst, you will learn how to manage tricky situations and people, and understand the kind of manager you never want to be. I’d call it a win-win.