In a perfect world, you and the boss are on the same page. She sets clear direction, she supports your work, removes obstacles. She gives you chances, she pushes you to do more and more challenging work. She listens to what you say. She rewards you fairly and she appreciates what you do.
The only thing is this: The world is not perfect. Why should our bosses be perfect? They are human after all and we know humans are far from perfect.
Here are 5 strategies that work when the person you report to is less than the best.
1. Let Go of High Expectations. I mean it. This boss may not be as good as the last one, and if you had the job you might be a whole lot better. But the truth is,the world is not full of great leaders. Companies like Yahoo keep on making mis-steps in choosing Presidents and they spend millions trying to get the right one. Steve Jobs was a genius, but he was difficult to work for. In Japan, the boss is often the oldest, not the best person for the job.
Sometimes the boss gets the job because he excelled as an individual performer. They might be in the job because of connections, age or family reasons. It seems like the wrong place to get OJT, but you can hope he grows in to the job.
I know it sounds like ” settling”. It’s not. You can choose a great lover, husband or wife, a great university. You don’t choose your boss.
You can also excel by yourself.
2. Figure Out How You Are Going to Work With Your Boss. This is something you should do whether the boss is good or bad. How often will you meet, how will information be transmitted, should updates be oral or written, whose name will go on presentations, who will represent the department or company on the outside. All of these things should be discussed up front.
I recently consulted to a human resources manager who was having trouble fulfilling his assignment in Japan. He wondered what his priorities should be. He spoke often with the Regional HR chief whom he had known for 8 years.
He told me the country leader never told him about his expectations. “Sit down and talk with him”, I said. “He’s busy, he told me. I repeated what I had said before. That’s where to start.
3. Get On A Long Leash. I know you are not a dog, but it’s a good idea to give yourself a very wide berth. Let the boss know what you’re working on, give updates, let them know in advance if you’re going to start some new projects and report back on a regular basis.
I’ve had my share of bad bosses. The last one loved to go to coffee with me and complain about the other people in the department. I figured he was complaining about me when he grabbed them to go for coffee. I tried to be out of the office at coffee time. Not always, but most of the time, and when I did have coffee with him, I avoided the gossip.
4. Set Limits. Carefully consider the situation you are in. How bad is it?
You don’t have to accept an abusive situation, a situation where there you’re being harassed or bullied, unreasonable assignments and incessant tight deadlines. Know your own limits and when things get out of hand, talk to someone who can do something about it.
Harassment and abuse merit consultation with someone inside the company. Overwork and unreasonable deadlines require you to speak up directly to your boss.
Speak assertively. Don’t hang your head down and act exhausted and defeated. Explain that there is a limit to what you can do. Do this before you miss the deadlines. Your position is stronger than after a deadline is missed.
Set a time limit to how long you will stay in the situation you are in. If it looks like twenty more years with the same boss,set a limit of how long you’re willing to stay.
5. Don’t Complain or Gossip
“Why did you take on the assignment”, I asked him. He answered: “I like the work”. To me the work would have to be super interesting in order for me to take on a project where I hate the boss.
In fact, my friend lost points in my eyes for taking this job and for complaining.
You don’t like the boss. The boss is a jerk or worse. What can your friends do? Except wonder why you stay there?
Think about your own future after this boss.
Beware of complaining to peers about the boss. One of your friends might be in the position to hire you some day. They’ll remember your complaining and might avoid you. The boss will not be there forever and one of them might be promoted and will remember your complaining. And if you get promoted and supervise your friends, they’ll also remember your complaining and just might follow suit and complain about you.
How about complaining to your partner? Keep it to a minimum, or that relationship too will deteriorate.