Author, John Rindy, MPH
I recently published an article on LinkedIn entitled The Worst Leader I’ve Ever Known. It was an abridged re-write of an article I did a while back here on CareersOnAssignment. One of my readers of the LinkedIn article raised the point that some mentors, schools and confidants will advise a person in a tenuous situation, with a bad boss, to stick it out and adapt to the environment. So, I thought that I would respond to that point here on the blog.
First, I will point out that I wrote an article some time ago about personal career inventories. That is probably where I would advise a person to start when they find that they love the company but the boss is completely unbearable. A personal career inventory is basically the name that I have given to author Richard Bolles’ Flower Diagram; an artifact of his time-honored tome, What Color is your Parachute? So, yes, I suppose my first thought it that it might be time to leave, and not stick it out. But never:
- Leave without another job (unless the boss abusing you, being intentionally dishonest, and it could impact your career or doing something illegal)
- Leave without inventorying yourself and your network
- Leave without notice and without going through the exit interview, with transparency and honesty (again, unless you are being abused – in which case you ought to have an employment attorney – I know, I had to get one once in my career)
Folks, eight to twelve hours a day, at least five days a week is a heck of a long time to be miserable, and for what? Because you might get a promotion? Really? With an oppressive supervisor, how likely is it? When you feel exhausted simply from dealing with a poor leader each day (and I did), when you are seeing your medical professional or taking anti-anxiety medication just to be able to go to work (and I was just about at that point), when you find that all you can do is come home and tell your significant other how awful the boss was today, it has gotten ridiculous. There are millions of other companies and organizations out there and if you have maintained your Emergency 10 (see my article), then there is no reason for you to be carrying on like this. That’s what I did. . .when a former supervisor turned knuckle head, I pulled out my Emergency 10 list. Within 3 months, I had 4 interviews and accepted a job that changed my life for the better, in many ways. I was one of the first to leave and within a very short time, well over 100, probably 1/3 of the workforce, had followed suit.
But let’s suppose you are going to stay. Maybe you see hidden opportunity beyond the oppressive boss and you also have a mentor at an even higher level or elsewhere in the company who has given you assurance that he or she will help you move forward in your career, and that dealing with your present supervisor is just a matter of “putting in your time”. Well, then, I suppose it is best to play into the very worst characteristics that we see in these leaders. I have listed a few, below, along with some ideas that might make your time under their unreasonable and oppressive rule, more fruitful for your career:
So, your boss is top-down – Well, unless you have friends in higher places, or someone who will help you move to another division or department, you are going to have to respect the top-down ways of your present supervisor. Carry out their orders, and then compliment them on their wonderful choice of direction. Really, there are few other ways of dealing with someone who always thinks they are right and that their answer is the best answer.
So, your boss is a bully – This is an interesting one because some bosses are bullies because they actually like when people stand up to them. That was the issue with one of the worst leaders that I had ever known. He loved when people would stand up to him. He thought it was a sign of a tough employee. What a ding dong! Anyway, it is hard to know if this describes your boss, unless you have examples of those who stood up to them in the past. So what do most bullies like? To get their way and to make you scared. You can use non-verbal body language around these bullies to demonstrate deference. Keep your arms in, keep your chin and eyes down, make yourself small around them and never interrupt them when they are speaking. If they are the type that do not want you to stand up to them, they will pick up on your body language and even feed off of it.
So, your boss is ambiguous – A bully who is ambiguous is a tough one. If they are unclear in their orders, asking questions might be construed as insulting their leadership. “What do you MEAN I wasn’t clear!” Ask any questions with deference. For example, if they gave you an order that left you unclear which of two directions to take, reiterate that you want to do things exactly as they’d like and while both options see viable, you’d like to clarify which option they (emphasis on “they”) would like you to follow.
So, your boss is narcissistic – If you are going to stay and put up with it, you need to get used to the fact that it is all about them. They raised the money, they made the good decisions and you just did not carry out the decisions properly. Their family is the best and you should want to know all about their conquests. I once had a boss who referred to his wife as his “trophy wife” and to his son as “The Stud”. Good God, what Neanderthal. Recognize that everything that is good, came from your bosses’ office and anytime you can compliment good work, it will play to their narcissism. Are you getting sick to your stomach yet? Well, I will go on. . .
So, your boss is condescending – A top-down leader is always right. As I mentioned above, if something does not go right, the reason is simple; you did not carry out the work properly. Your bosses’ degree and college is better than yours, their house and family is better than yours and their choice of career path was also better than yours, and you should also sit and listen to and like stories about all of the above. Someone who is condescending lacks humbleness and so they love when people will sit and listen to them talk. So that is likely going to be part of your daily assignments if you are going to stick it out with a poor leader.
I think the message is clear. You studied you learned, and you want to advance in position and salary. This fool of a boss stands between you and those opportunities. If you buck his/her trends, then chances are, you are going nowhere unless it makes him/her look good and feel victorious. So the big question is, “Do you have others in the organization, at the same or higher level who have the power to help you.?” Heaven forbid, never, ever let your boss know that you have had these conversations with other leaders. The rest of your short time at the company will be a living hell. After all, why would you want to turn to anyone else beside them for mentorship?
Unless you are in such a niche industry that yours is the only firm you could be working for, it seems to me that the best option is to polish the resume, pull out the Emergency 10 list and start your search. But before you do, perform a personal career inventory If you made the mistake of adding your boss on Facebook or LinkedIn, that is really going to cut down on the things you can do with social media and that is one of your best tools for networking, today. Turn to trusted friends and colleagues in professional organizations to discreetly help you begin your search.
No one should be forced to adapt to a horrible situation, especially they possess a wide array of transferable skills that would be valued each day, rather than suppressed. Also, anyone who lives in country, like the U.S., that is rife with opportunity, the idea that you have to stay with the same company, or even in the same industry is passe. Today, seven out of every 10 professionals who have had a bachelors degree for at least 10 years are no longer working in their undergraduate area of expertise. Seven out of 10!!That means that you do not even have to stay in your industry. Your transferable skills will be valued in many circles. You just need to work with a career expert or a knowledge professional who can help you see the possibilities.
Forty, to sixty hours a week is a long, long time to be miserable. And I would recommend “adapting to poor leadership” if you have no other options. But more than 95% of the people I have worked with in career counseling do have other options. But the uncertainty of the job market frightens them, but at some point one has to put that uncertainty on one side of the scale, and the angst of dealing with horrible leadership on the other and see which one weighs more on their heart, their head and their career.
It’s your future (not theirs). Take charge.