I get asked this question a lot, “how do you work with a bad boss?” I’ve had this happen in the past, and it is a particularly challenging situation. I loved the company I was working at, but I could not stand the person I was working for. I didn’t want to leave the company, but I was tired of being treated poorly. Have you ever had this happen? Is it happening to you now? Here is my suggestion on how to handle managing up to a less than stellar boss.

This framework incrementally increases from very friendly and passive attempts to change your boss’s behavior to the most assertive way to confront the situation.

 

  • If you’ve got a great relationship with your boss, talk to them. I use the idea of “state versus trait.” Is this just a state that they are going through? Is it just that they’re having a tough day, week, or month? Or is this the behavior they exhibit all the time? If it’s just something temporary, let them know that you are concerned, and it seems that they might be off their game. If this is how they act all the time, you need to escalate the situation.

 

  • Go to one of their peers and share your concerns and see if they will intervene. This is a somewhat political move, but if you have a solid relationship with this person, they will be discreet and let their peer know that their management style does not appear to be working very well.

 

  • If other people around you feel the same way you do, go as a group to talk to your boss. It is important that your boss does not feel like they are being ganged up on. Handle the situation respectfully and let the boss know you support them, but you would like them to change their behavior.

 

  • This is one I use a lot. Start sending articles or YouTube videos to your boss on topics you know they are interested in. Find interesting information on industry updates, leadership, sales, whatever they seem to focus on. Then, after you have sent several ones that you know they will like, send one that hits on the topic of concern around their behavior. In this way, you are using a credible outside source to suggest behavioral changes. Also, it allows you and your boss to focus on the outside source of information rather than challenging each other directly.

 

  • If you are in a large enough company, go to your HR department to explain your conundrum and ask for their help.

 

  • Go directly to your boss, share your concerns, and discuss how you can both change your behaviors to work together better.

 

  • Go to your boss’s boss, explain the situation, and ask for their help. Of course, this is a highly aggressive gambit and will likely destroy your relationship with your boss.

 

  • If nothing else up to this point works, resign and get a new job. However, be completely honest in the exit interview so that no one else must go through what you have gone through.

 

Early in my career, I found myself in a situation with a terrible boss. I went through all these steps until I eventually went to the organization’s board of directors and told them about the situation. They sent my boss to anger management counseling and leadership training, but he could not turn things around. They ended up firing him and giving me his job.

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