Michelle Gibbings - Chief of Staff Magazine: Four ways to deal with a horrible boss

In this article for Chief of Staff magazine, Michelle provides four ways of dealing with a horrible boss.

Not everyone is lucky enough to work with a superstar CEO. When your boss is being difficult, there are a number of strategies you can employ, says Michelle Gibbings.

From Gordon Gecko in Wall Street to Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada, a bad boss story makes for a good movie. However, when you are working for one it’s not so much fun. A bad boss can make your working day feel like hell. At some stage in your career you will encounter someone who is less than ideal to work for.

Dealing with a bad boss is not about getting even, but getting savvy about how you manage it. Here’s four critical tips.

1 Understand what’s driving their behaviour. Seek to understand what’s driving their behaviour, and whether this behaviour is consistent or out of character. There’s a difference between a boss who is a good person, but in a stressful situation and not coping very well, and a boss who thrives on power, is a narcissist or a bully. Once you understand what’s driving the behaviour you can then work out the best approach to take.

For example, if they are stressed due to work pressures then find out if there are ways you can help them with their workload. This is a great opportunity to build a good relationship with your boss as they will see you as a person who helps them in times of need. It can also help to talk to them about the impact their behaviour is having on you. This is a conversation that needs to be managed thoughtfully. Be prepared for it and pick the best time to have the conversation. If they are a narcissist, then it’s important to think long term.

2 Think long-term benefits. If the person constantly displays poor leadership behaviour, unfortunately you are not likely to change them. In this situation, think about the benefits you are gaining from the job (in terms of experience) and determine if it is worth sticking it out for a bit longer. Reflecting on my career, there are times when I worked for people who were hard to work for, but the experience and benefits gained in the role made it worthwhile. That said, you need to set a timeframe in which to move on, as prolonged time in an unhealthy working environment isn’t good for your confidence and wellbeing.

3 Build your support crew. You want to have people around—both inside and outside the organisation—who will support and advocate for you. This will help set you up for your next job (which may be inside or outside the organisation), and help ensure you maintain a strong and healthy sense of self. Also, a strong internal support network can help to counter-balance the challenges of working for someone who is difficult.

4 Look after yourself first. Your health and well-being always need to come first. This means you need to:

  • Know your rights: if their behaviour is illegal (bullying or harassment) then seek advice on your next steps and counsel from people you trust to determine the best course of action
  • Know when to exit: if their behaviour is impacting your health and well-being then build your exit strategy
  • Manage the impact: put in place daily practices, such as exercise, meditation and reflection to manage your well-being

Dealing with a difficult boss isn’t something anyone looks forward to, but unfortunately at times it is an inevitable part of the working world. Stay true to who you are. Back yourself. Always take the higher ground. And remember, corporate karma often wins in the end.

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