Almost all of us who have managed others over the years, have had to deal with a boss whose own management style and set of management skills left something to be desired. Managing up — as it is called — is relatively easy when one’s boss has a skill set, style, and personality similar to our own. But how to manage up when our boss has a style, set of habits, or chronic lack of sound management judgment that inhibits and complicates our ability to do our jobs?
In this series of articles under the category “MANAGING POOR MANAGEMENT”, I will share what hard-won experience has taught me about coping with the less than ideal boss with whom we are sometimes required to cope.
But bear in mind, that managing poor management in all of its manifestations is always a challenge, because it means attempting to manage your boss or bosses. Thus, as I have written elsewhere in these articles, it is critical that one asks — and honestly answers — the vital question “does it really matter”? Does this act of bad management seriously affect my ability to do my job, or hinder the performance of the organization for which I am responsible? If it does, then you must act to confront the issue as best you can, knowing you will not always succeed but that you at least went down on the right side of things. If it does not really matter in any significant way, then save your powder for the engagements that really do.
THE INSECURE BOSS
Maturity is an ideal quality in any manager. From a very personal point of view, it is a great quality in our boss. And among the most obvious signs of maturity are: self-confidence; openness to the views of others; willingness to admit their mistakes; and the ability to take as much pleasure in the achievements of those they manage, as they do in their own successes. I have always characterized these managers as “comfortable in their own skin”.
But what if your boss possesses none of the above qualities? What if they do not seem comfortable in their own skin? What if your boss, for whatever reason, seems very sensitive, uncertain, and insecure? What if their insecurity often seems to freeze them in place, unable to decide, to the detriment of your own job requirements? What if you basically always feel you are walking on egg shells when dealing with her of him? The following few suggestions may help you navigate such a relationship, although ultimately only a change of jobs for you or them may prove the true solution.
First, abandon any hope of fixing the boss. Although many of us secretly believe we can fix almost anything — inanimate or human — we can not fix other people. Whatever lies behind someone else’s lack of confidence or insecurity is beyond our full understanding — that is, it’s guess-work — so don’t go there. Better to work on a coping strategy with such a boss.
Second, try your best to avoid behavior likely to foster your boss’s feelings of uncertainty and insecurity: like being overly confrontational; openly challenging him or her in public; bragging to them frequently about your own accomplishments; or being unnecessarily critical of what you believe are their shortcomings. Some honest disagreements with a boss are inevitable and need addressing. The key is to avoid excess.
Third, Look for opportunities to affirm your boss’s accomplishments, sound decisions, good advice, and positive behavior. While I am not encouraging one to become a “sycophant”, positive reinforcement — provided in a timely manner — is a powerful motivator and confidence builder for all of us.
Fourth, look for ideas and initiatives that you and your boss can both share and can pursue as a partnership. Having a sense of shared commitment to something, makes a bright idea seem less threatening to an insecure manager; “yet another thing you think they were not smart enough to think of and everybody knows it”.
Finally — and perhaps most important of all — do not engage in frequent discussions with your colleagues in which you share your negative thoughts, criticisms, assessments, and frustrations concerning your boss. Such negative chatter has a maddeningly predictable tendency to somehow circle back to the last person you would wish to share it with: your boss. Such circled-back comments hardly bolster a boss’s self-confidence or allay his or her insecurity. They are counterproductive to your objective of an effective working relationship and could easily poison permanently your relationship with your boss.