Managing your manager: How to deal with a bad boss

Monday, March 21, 2016 - 16:44

Bad bosses are something of a cultural icon, and that's even before we start to think about TV shows like The Office. However, the reason these cringe-worthy shows strike a chord with many of us is because we have seen first-hand what a bad boss looks like. We may even be working under one at this very moment.

For an organisation, the implications can be huge. There's an incredibly strong link between good managers and engaged employees. More importantly, a bad manager can easily wreck a team's morale. In fact, Gallup has found that 70 per cent of the variation between teams can be explained by how competent the manager is.

There's no such thing as the ultimate bad boss.

If your boss falls into that 'bad manager' category then don't despair. There are things that can be done to remedy this relationship so that it doesn't begin to damage your productivity or the morale of your team mates. Here are three of the steps that can be involved in managing a bad boss:

1) Diagnose the problem

There's no such thing as the ultimate bad boss. Often, a poor relationship with a manager will come down to a very few fundamental disagreements, along with a range of personal attitudes that cloud this disagreement.

This was cited by research from Georgetown University's McDonough School of Business, which found that incivility is a major cause of disagreements between workers, and can lead to tension between managers and their direct reports. The researchers also pointed to workload as a significant cause of the stress that leads to incivility and poor working relationships between managers and employees.

At the same time, 'bad' managers can cover a spectrum of different behaviours. A micromanager, for example, presents a completely different issue to a manager who is hands-off to the point where they don't provide support or guidance. Again, this is why it's so important to diagnose what makes your boss 'bad'.

2) Focus on your communication skills

It sounds simple right? How often have you heard that something as simple as better communication can offset the potentially damaging effects of a poor manager.

Only 58 per cent of respondents felt they have the ability to remain positive in the face of adversity.

In fact the R U OK? Australian Workplace Relationships Survey revealed that communication and other soft skills are among the most fundamental to healthy workplace relationships, but also the most lacking. This is despite 84 per cent stating that communication and the ability to build positive relationships was important for their success in the workplace.

The research also pointed to the closely related factor of personal resilience. According to the authors, only 58 per cent of respondents felt they have the ability to take control of the situation and remain positive in the face of adversity.

According to the researchers, developing these qualities requires managers to invest in their own skill set, through short courses and professional training that will help them build their own skill sets.

3) Model the behaviour you want to see from a manager

The last step is perhaps the hardest when you are trying to deal with a bad manager - build a culture around you which discourages the negative behaviour you are seeing from your manager. After all, bad bosses don't occur in isolation, and their behaviour will already be shaping the company as a whole.

The research from Georgetown University found the main reason for middle managers to behave in an uncivil way is because they have experienced the same behaviour from their superiors. In this way, a bad boss quickly sets the tone for the organisation as a whole and shapes the entire business.

Addressing this cultural aspect requires taking the opposite approach, and actively modelling the behaviour that you want to see from your boss.  After all, company culture is a two-way street that shapes the behaviour of everyone in the business, including those in management roles.

These three steps will just be the start of your challenge to overcome a bad boss. The good news is that, when done well, it won't be long before your office starts to feel a little less like The Office.