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How To Handle A Bad Boss

Posted: January 5, 2011

Among the common problems at work is how to handle a bad boss who cares nothing for your career.

By Jaya Narayan

Ram’s (name changed) present boss avoids dealing with the challenges facing his team. He never misses an opportunity to pull him up for failures. He has no good word for Ram. Surprisingly these aspects don’t bother Ram as much as his apathy and disinterest in his career. And the situation will persist, since one cannot just substitute a better manager for a poor one!

Do Ram’s problems at work mirror yours? Here are some practical tips to manage your career when your manager is playing a dysfunctional role but you are not ready to quit the organization.

Manage your own performance

Nisha Mishra* who currently teaches in a management institute shares her story. “I was working in a FMCG company as the area sales manager and my boss was the regional sales manager. I looked up to her and wanted to learn from her since she was very experienced. This dream shattered very quickly. She showed no interest in me and my career. In fact she went out of her way to make life very difficult for me. She never helped me to meet my sales targets. Despite the severe constraints imposed by her, I worked ground up and over exceeded targets in 3 consecutive quarters. However the promotion and salary hike was offered to someone else in the team. It was absolutely disheartening and heartbreaking.”

If you don’t want to repeat Nisha’s story, take charge of your own performance. You can start by setting tangible SMART (Specific, Measurable, Aligned, Realistic, Timebound) objectives. Make your objectives easy to review, track and measureable by you and others. Make sure your objectives directly or indirectly address the needs of an internal or external customer. Creating a buy in will ensure that your role remains important even when there are organizational changes that could impact you.

Periodically sharing your performance metrics to stakeholders (including your manager) will help to show case your work and competencies. It will also protect you in case your manager plays the negative perception game. Demonstrate your commitment by periodically scheduling one on one time for receiving feedback and ideas for performance improvement from your manager, even if it is not reciprocated.

Handle a bad boss by using a network

Manoj Kumar* who works with an IT company says, “I asked a senior colleague (who was a peer to my boss) to informally be my ‘mentor’. He groomed me for my present job and helped me to create a development plan aligned to my career aspiration in the organization…Since he had access to the top leaders in the organization, he communicated my skill set, experiences and interest when strategic projects came by which helped me gain direct access with key people in the organization.”

In the absence of a legitimate support system, invest in creating an informal network that will give you visibility beyond your own role. You can leverage the social network within and outside the organization to subtly market yourself. However, it can be a tricky job making sure that your boss is not threatened by your actions. Keeping your boss in the loop by talking about your mentors at work and the initiatives you are taking to gain specific skills will make him/her feel part of the process and reassured.

You can leverage the social network within and outside the organization to subtly market yourself.

Keep up the learning quotient

It’s normal to feel disheartened when your manager constantly blocks learning opportunities. “My manager ignored my requests to apply for coaching certifications and other areas on which I wanted to gain skills. I found a workaround. I used to submit articles to magazines and in return, get free invites to attend these very conferences. Then my manager had no reason to refuse my participation,” shares Christy D’souza* who is a Global Project Manager. We are in fortunate times when technology is an enabler of learning. E-learning, peer learning, online learning forums, internal training could be cost effective ways to learn and up skill yourself.

Even a bad boss wants to succeed!

“When your manager is not helping you to become successful it won’t hurt if you align your work areas to his/her performance goals. If you can make him / her succeed in the organization you cannot be undervalued,” suggests Christy. Even when you constantly receive the “stay away from me” signal, don’t give up. Explore ways to keep the conversation going and building the relationship. Dialogue on similarities, gauge what drives your manager, focus on what matters most to him/her. Working on these aspects in terms of work deliverables or your style of engagement will help create more positive perception in the long-term. Your win-win, collaborative mind set cannot be ignored for long.

Even though the famous quote “people don’t leave their jobs, they leave their managers” still applies, there are circumstances in which one is not ready to quit. Remaining self directed and exhibiting a focused attitude are sure shot ways to secure challenging work assignments, exciting career options and accolades despite an unsupportive boss.

*Names changed on request

Jaya Narayan is a alumnus of TISS, Mumbai and has over 15 years of experience

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