Is Your Boss A Challenge? How To Manage Up

Working for a troublesome boss can be nothing short of miserable. A less-than-competent manager can depress your morale, deflate your productivity, and flatten your motivation.

But you don’t have to feel helpless. And looking for another job doesn’t have to be your go-to option.

You can improve your situation by working better with the boss you already have.

That’s the advice you’ll get in MANAGING UP: How to Move Up, Win at Work, and Succeed with Any Type of Boss. Written by leadership coach Mary Abbajay, the book offers advice on dealing with a wide range of bad boss behavior.

In Part 1 of this interview, Abbajay talked about why the skill of managing up is so important in today’s workplace and outlined some proven strategies for doing it. In this second part she offers advice on dealing with micromanagers and how to operate in the #MeToo era.

Rodger Dean Duncan: You’ve identified ten types of difficult bosses—ranging from the Energizer (lots of enthusiasm but weak follow through) and the Evaluator (driven to producing high-quality work but painfully slow and methodical) to the Narcissist (superficially charming but self-absorbed, power-hungry, and attention-grabbing) and the Impulsive (a whirlwind of ideas but unable to stick to a plan). Yet you say the Micromanager is the most common problem boss. Why is that, and what are some good strategies for dealing with a Micromanager?

Mary Abbajay: Micromanaging is a common dilemma because it pits two basic human neuropsychological needs against each other: autonomy and control. When our need for autonomy clashes with our manager’s need for control we bristle and label it as micromanaging. Navigating this tension is about building trust. In order to gain trust from a micromanager, we have to provide them with what they crave: information, inclusion, and control. Strategies to consider:

Anticipate their needs: The more you can learn about and anticipate your boss’s wants, needs, and expectations and proactively address them, the sooner you can remove the need for them to micromanage.

Keep them (overly) informed: Provide regular updates, and status and progress reports before your boss asks for them. This could look like a daily email that lists all your projects and their status, or regularly cc-ing them on emails. Keep them in the loop.

Adopt their standards: Micromanagers often want things done a certain way. If this is the case, then align your work to their preferences. Learn what markers of quality your boss wants/needs and deliver on them. Find out what “right the first time” actually means. If your boss hates the oxford comma, then for goodness sake, drop the oxford comma. Building trust with them means to instill a sense of confidence that you can and will deliver high quality products–aligned with their standards–each and every time.

Assess yourself: If you are the only person being micromanaged, then take a good hard, honest look at your performance. What are you doing or not doing that is preventing your boss (not any boss–this particular boss) from trusting you?

Duncan: In this #MeToo era, what’s your counsel for women trying to “manage up” a male boss?

Abbajay: Assuming that your male boss isn’t sexually inappropriate or predatory, then his gender or “maleness” just becomes another piece of his personality puzzle. Don’t make gender an issue if it isn’t. Keep your interactions professional. Ensure your boundaries are clear. Be sure you don’t inadvertently wade into the grey areas, yourself. This can be a confusing time for male bosses who are trying to do the right thing. So if you have a good relationship with your male boss, this can be an opportunity to initiate an open and candid dialogue about the #metoo movement, its implications for working relationships and teamwork at your organization.

Duncan: You suggest that most people can learn to work well with the boss they have. But what are the signs that it’s simply time to move on?

Abbajay: Nobody should ever work for a boss that is abusive, tyrannical, unethical, or cruel. Nor should you continue to work for someone who doesn’t value you or stay in a situation that compromises your health or career. I’m a big fan of knowing when it’s time to “grit” or quit. Signs that it’s time to move on include:

  • You wake up miserable every day and dread going to work.
  • Your physical and emotional well-being are being damaged.
  • You feel unsafe (physically or emotionally) at work.
  • Your stress level is permeating your entire life.
  • You spend more time and energy thinking about office politics or strategizing to survive your boss than you do on your work.
  • Your self-esteem and self-confidence have plummeted.
  • You’ve tried to make it work, and nothing makes it work.

Remember, when faced with a difficult situation, we have three choices: 1) change it; 2) accept it; or 3) leave it. Sometimes leaving is really the best option!

It’s your career, you have the responsibility to make the choice that’s best for you.

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Rodger Dean Duncan

Rodger Dean Duncan is bestselling author of CHANGE-friendly LEADERSHIP and a regular contributor to Forbes and Fast Company magazines. He is widely known for his expertise in the strategic management of change, for organizations and for individuals. In 1972 he founded Duncan Worldwide to train and develop leaders. His clients have included some of the top companies in the world, as well as cabinet officers in two White House administrations.

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