“People join companies but leave managers” is a famous saying — and with good reason. A huge body of research suggests that the single biggest reason people leave jobs is because they have a bad boss. Even so, there are many kinds of bad bosses — and one of the worst is a boss you don’t respect. So, how do you work for such a boss?
1. Take a step a back and examine the relationship. Analyse your feelings about your boss. The first question to ask yourself is, why don’t you respect them? It could be a matter of management style. Perhaps you naturally admire the kind of out-front, top-down, firm leadership associated with the armed forces, but your boss works by building consensus. This does not make someone a bad boss. Rather, here, the onus is on you to consider your own biases and recognise that, although their methods are not your methods, they get the job done.
2. Determine whether you don’t like your boss or you don’t respect your boss. We are not going to be best friends with everyone. If you can see past your personal dislike, you might be able to say to yourself, “Jenny and I are never going to hang out together. But she’s an effective and fair manager. This is something I can build a good working relationship on.”
3. Seek advice from a colleague. If you’re still struggling, dig deeper, perhaps by talking to a co-worker who has a good relationship with your manager. Ask what their secret is. You may just be pushing all the wrong buttons. Similarly, your boss may have good reasons for acting the way they do. Perhaps the person your boss reports to is absolutely awful, and your boss actually is shielding you from the worst. Or something may be going on in your boss’s personal life that affects their work.
4. Talk to your boss. You do not want to say, “You’re a terrible boss.” Rather, you should explain that you want to have good working relationship with them. Ask them what they want from you and tell them what you need from them. When people aren’t doing what we want, we often take it personally and make it about them mistreating us. This is because we’re at the centre of our own universes. Your boss may have no idea that they’re causing you distress. They may be surprised — even embarrassed — to discover that you are unhappy, and they may be willing to change.
5. Remind yourself of the positives. Tell yourself that the relationship with your boss is only part of your job. You like your job because your company has a great culture, or offers flexible scheduling and interesting work, or because it’s a role that will bring opportunities your way.
6. Ask for a mentor or coach. Find other people in the hierarchy who allow you to spend less time around your boss. If you report to other senior staff members or have dotted-line reporting responsibilities, you might focus on these as much as possible. If it helps, you can view your not-worthy-of-respect boss as incentive to network and make new contacts. Do this well and one of the other contacts may ride to the rescue with the offer of a new position.
7. Develop coping strategies. You can gain satisfaction in discovering what strategies work with your boss. You might think to yourself: “My boss is a picky jerk, but he’s also easily impressed by superficial things. I’ve noticed that whenever I put a quote from Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg at the start of a presentation, he loves it. OK, so that’s ridiculous, but it’s kind of funny and makes my life easier, so that’s what I’ll do.”
If those tactics don’t work, you may have to consider one of two last resorts:
8. Complain to human resources or to your boss’s boss. It’s risky in that you have no idea how it will pan out — though a conversation with HR should be confidential. But leaks can occur, the company may not see things the way you do, and, if your boss finds out, this could be regarded as total betrayal. If you can get an entire team to complain together, it helps.
9. Find a new job. This may seem like a nuclear option. But if you’ve been in your position three years or longer, you might be thinking of looking for another job anyway. In this case, just think of your boss as the person who gave you the extra nudge you needed.
Rhymer Rigby is an FM magazine contributor and author of The Careerist: Over 100 Ways to Get Ahead at Work. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Neil Amato, an FM magazine senior editor, at Neil.Amato@aicpa-cima.com.