In an ideal world, your superiors are well-intended and competent. But in the real world, plenty are not. So if you’ve drawn the short straw, what do you do? The first step is to identify what type of manager you have and watch out for the following types:
The disguised procrastinator
This manager is hard-working and excessively busy. The only problem is that he’s busy doing too many of the wrong things. He doesn’t understand that the role of a leader is to identify key value-adding tasks and ‘must-win’ battles.
The disguised procrastinator makes no such distinction. If it’s urgent, they do it. If it’s something they should be delegating, they do it. Even if it’s something that doesn’t really need to be done, hey, they do it.
How you deal with them:
- Don’t just accept the tasks they hand over to you. Ask “why is this important?” They may not be asking this question, but you
- Be willing to say ‘no’ to certain requests. Find ways to do this in ways that don’t hamper your career. And if you need help, get some coaching.
This boss is proud of his work capacity. He likes to be first in and last out of the office. He’s probably not aware that he’s role-modelling imbalance. It’s an approach that can work short-term, but long-term leads to burnout – and he’s going to take others down with him.
How to deal with the workaholic:
- Don’t be tempted to play their game by working as hard – or harder. If you do, you both lose.
- Get a life! Have fun, ride a bike, spend time with the kids – and close down your computer. You’ll feel better, you’ll be a more positive presence and who knows; your boss might even see YOU as a role model!
Freud spoke of the ‘will to power’. It’s a basic human need. Unfortunately some people are obsessed with climbing up the corporate ladder, and are quite happy to step over a few bodies on the way up.
Psychologists assert that abuse of power is a compensation for inner insecurities. In other words “I feel small inside” so “I’ll make myself bigger by belittling you.”
How to deal with the bully:
What’s interesting is that it takes two to play the bully/victim game. The big bully can make you feel small. And if they are against you, you will tend to react against them. But it doesn’t have to be this way.
- If they attack you rather see that as their flaw. Don’t take it personally.
- If they are aggressive you don’t have to go passive, rather match their level of assertion. Make them realise that you too are a force to be reckoned with.
A high-potential middle manager for a multinational, Rachel, has a boss, Beverly, who finds fault with everything Rachel does – and, worse still, accuses Rachel of incompetence in emails that she copies to the rest of the senior
Rachel’s response has been to bravely and authentically confront her manager. But despite several meetings, Rachel’s attempts to stand up for herself have proved futile. The conflict is so extreme and visible that work colleagues often comment… to Rachel’s chagrin.
Eventually, Rachel asked her business coach how she could construct a case against her boss for bullying and harassment. Her coach warned that a long and messy legal process would probably result, and much bad feeling would flow. All this would probably reflect poorly on Rachel – and no-one would win.
Understanding the insecurities that make a bully tick
Instead Rachel and her coach explored the dynamic of the exchanges. What might be beneath Beverly’s need to bully and harangue Rachel? Could it be jealousy – Rachel was younger and more attractive than Beverly, for example?
Or could it be Beverly’s desire to gain the CEO’s attention at Rachel’s expense? Or perhaps Beverly pulled rank because, at some level, she felt inadequate or powerless?
Together Rachel and her coach explored options to break the deadlock. Then, after sessions of problem-solving, visualisations and creative thinking, Rachel had a sudden epiphany: “She’s got it in for me and nothing’s going to change that. I’m just going to have to resign myself to simply hating her.”
The coach suggested instead that Rachel focus on her boss’s insecurities – and show her boss compassion. So what pro-active plan could she come up with given how she was now seeing the situation? How could she deal with her boss ‘as she was’ rather than as she would like her to be?
Rachel spent the rest of her coaching sessions working out she could work with her boss – and maintain her dignity – and in the process she made a vital inner shift.
She realised that she did not have to react to Beverly’s bullying. The next few weeks followed, and while Rachel re-framed her thinking at a profound level, her behaviour did not change dramatically.
But, little by little, the dynamic with Beverly changed because Rachel stopped taking offence and no longer confronted Beverly. The less Rachel reacted, the more the wind was taken from Beverly’s sails.
And, over the course of three months,
the bullying abated dramatically. When Rachel and her coach met six months
later, they agreed that the bully/victim cycle has been broken. Today Rachel admits she has grown visibly through the experience, having experienced – viscerally – the difference between what she can – and cannot – change.
The paradox, both coach and coachee agreed, is that sometimes ‘giving up’ is the key to moving forward
 Names have been changed to preserve the privacy of coaching delegates