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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work Relationships

Bad Manager? 3 Ways to Take Control

If you’re feeling unhappy in your 9-to-5, you’re not alone. According to the latest Gallup poll, only three in 10 employees are fully engaged at work. And it’s not because of long hours, dull assignments, or a lack of team culture. The biggest culprit? Terrible managers.

A whopping 75% of employees say their manager is their biggest source of stress at work, and 65% of employees would rather have a new manager than a raise.

Sound shocking? Not when you look at it from the other side—turns out, managers are also struggling. Only one in 10 leaders is actually groomed for the job—but then again, half took the role solely to snag a raise; only 23% actually wanted to lead a team.


So, if you’re stuck with a less-than-ideal boss, what can you do? Well, you can either let this manager mayhem make your life a miserable daymare (like a nightmare, only with sunshine), or you can accept that the game has changed and adjust your action plan accordingly. I would strongly suggest the latter—so here are three ways to start.

1. Change Your Mindset

From this data, it’s easy to see that the manager-employee relationship often leaves much to be desired. The recent recession has forced many organizations to slash training and talent development budgets, and as a result, bosses aren’t always being set up to be great leaders. And so, they may not have the communication, oversight, performance management, or talent development skills you’d expect them to.

The point is, your manager may not be the guiding light in the storm you expected in your career—so stop waiting for that to happen. Instead, reframe your perception of your boss. He or she is likely growing and learning, just as you are. Once you realize that, you can change your expectations.

For instance, instead of waiting for your boss to outline your job objectives, become an expert at setting and tracking your own goals. As you work toward them, don’t expect your manager to remember everything you do; keep a detailed record of your accomplishments and results to share with him or her when review time rolls around.

And when you identify something that could make your job easier—like additional training or a specialized computer program—ask for it. Because if you’re expecting your manager to ask you what you need, you might be waiting a long time.

2. Make Your Manager a Raging Success

“Whenever you are confronted with an opponent. Conquer him with love.”

Mahatma Gandhi

OK—so your boss (hopefully) isn’t your enemy. But, when you’re struggling with his or her leadership, it might seem that way. And in that mindset, you may be tempted to keep your distance and just stay focused on your own priorities. But it’s actually a better strategy to show your boss that you’re on the same team.

First, find out how your boss defines success—including what his or her goals, desired outcomes, and key deliverables are. Is he or she expected to increase the department’s revenues? Gain new clients? Reduce expenses? Increase customer satisfaction? How do you and other employees fit into that picture? To figure this out, just ask! Your willingness to become familiar with—and eventually, tackle—these goals will go a long way.

Then, let your boss know that you totally get it—that you know your job is to make him or her a success. Ask what you can do to make him or her more successful this week, this quarter, or this year. Then, do it.

As a manager, I constantly had my hands full leading my team. But when my employees would ask what they could do to help achieve my goals, I felt supported by my team and a lot more confident in my role. From my first-hand experience, I can guarantee that when you make sure your manager knows that you’re on the same team, you’ll help him or her become a better leader.

3. Become a Feedback Savant

When a manager doesn’t have extensive formal training, he or she may lack some people management skills that are necessary for the job. And that means you’re less likely to get the training, coaching, and mentoring you might have hoped for. Instead, you’ll have to specifically request it.

Here’s a good way to get started: After you finish a project or presentation, take the lead and ask for your boss’s thoughts. Keep in mind, good feedback is specific, timely, and actionable—so if you get a vague response (“You did a good job”), you’ll need to keep drilling down your questions to get better information (“What did I do particularly well? What are three specific ways I can improve next time?”).

On the flipside, you should also give feedback to your manager. Yes, it sounds scary, but it’s a skill you must develop! Compliment him or her when things go well, and share constructive criticism when they don’t. As long as you’re respectful and professional, it’s usually received well.

Quality feedback will help both you and your manager improve: You’ll get the mentoring you need, your boss will learn how to provide better training and coaching, and you’ll both become more aware of your strengths, weaknesses, and how to leverage them.

Dealing with a sub-par manager is frustrating, but you aren’t just a helpless bystander in the situation. You’re in this together! When you take action that’s within your control, you’ll find that you don’t just have to deal with the situation—but you can actually turn it into something positive.

Photo of employee and boss courtesy of Shutterstock.

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