50% of American workers have quit a job because of a mean boss.
The proverbial horrible boss is a real thing. A workplace can turn into a dreaded place of annoyance, frustration, pain, and stress if your boss is annoying, incompetent, or downright mean.
But what can you do? If leaving your job is a risk that you’re not willing to take, is there an alternative? Can you change your boss, improve your work, and hang on to your job?
As it turns out, the answer is yes. The answer lies in the data, a bit of boldness, and a take-control process. Here’s what you need to know and do.
The Portrait of a Perfect Boss
What does the ideal boss look like?
You may have your own ideas of what you’d like to see in a boss. According to Gallup research, there are five traits that characterize a good boss.
1. Provide Motivation: A good boss can motivate workers to do great work.
2. Overcome Obstacles: A good boss will provide the incentive and advice for overcoming the internal and external challenges to success.
3. Provide Accountability: A good boss helps workers understand their performance and how to make it better.
4. Develop Trust: A good boss shapes a culture where team members trust each other and their management.
5. Make Beneficial Decisions: A good boss knows exactly how to make the right decisions.
The abysmal fact is that only 20% of today’s managers exhibit any of those qualities. Management is a high calling, and few people are truly qualified.
If your boss stinks, you’re not alone. As Jim Clifton, CEO of Gallup, pessimistically put it, “nothing fixes a bad manager.”
Thankfully, by adjusting your personal approach, you can overcome the odds and make the changes that will revolutionize your work environment.
Schedule a Meeting
The only way things are going to get better is by facing the issue head-on. You’ve got to meet with your boss.
As things stand right now, your boss is the obstacle to your workplace wellbeing. In order to get better, you have to approach this obstacle.
Research indicates that the single most important element in workplace relationships is communication. If your manager is not communicating with you, then you need to communicate with her.
The Wall Street Journal diagnoses the problem in this way: “So, what do workers want from their managers? In a word, communication.”
Communication is the path to improved relationships, and it’s up to you to make that communication happen.
Your first task is to schedule an hour-long meeting with your boss. Insist on it. Be relentless about it. Make it happen.
And if you can’t get an hour with your boss? You should probably find a different job.
Don’t Tell Your Boss That You’re Annoyed
What do you talk to your boss about? I’ll explain below. First, however, bear in mind that this is not a gripe session.
Sharing with your boss a list of your grievances won’t solve anything. Your annoyance, whether explicit or implicit, is a fact of your work life.
You won’t gain anything by airing your complaints. Your boss won’t change now that he knows you’re upset. Instead, focus on what does need to change.
What needs to change? There are four main areas. I’ll explain each of them in the sections below. It’s up to you to define these areas and to develop actionable information within each one.
If your boss won’t provide explicit answers, then you need to make the answers as explicit as possible, then work to implement change.
Only 12% of American workers claim to know their work expectations and priorities (source). The 12% who have such an advantage are much happier at work as a result.
The first thing you need to discover from your boss is the expectations he has for you. What are you expected to do? What are you expected to achieve? Get a clear answer on this foundational topic.
To “show up and get work done” is not an expectation. You need explicit and data-driven answers to this question. If your boss hedges with an answer, then state your own expectations, and ask for your boss’s consent.
Someone has to manage your work expectations, and if your boss doesn’t do it, then you must do it for him or her.
Define Your Priorities
After setting expectations, you must define priorities. Expectations are the broad context of the job. Priorities are the narrow tasks that a job focuses on.
A priority, by definition, is a single thing. Considering the complexity of today’s knowledge workers, “priorities” encompass a whole range of tasks. Keep this priority list as narrow as possible—five at most.
Your priority list will form your plan of action for your job performance.
You need to set boundaries. If there are certain things limiting your impact at work, list them out. Define your own boundaries—boundaries that will enable you to to meet the expectations and achieve the priorities.
For most people, the unreasonable standard of an 80-hour week is unsustainable. That’s why some people are faking it. Instead of shambling your way through a charade, create a list of boundaries. Back up this boundary with a job-related reason.
For example, explain that you need to leave the office by 6 PM each day in order to get the sleep you need each night. Getting the proper amount of sleep is the only way you can be productive at work the next day.
Another boundary may be spending no more than three hours in meetings each day, so you can get your other work done.
Figure out your boundaries, so you can safeguard the first two issues—expectations and priorities.
One thing that few bosses provide is accountability. Accountability is not micro-management or breathing-down-your-neck. It is, instead, a method of creating productive collaboration between worker and manager.
You should schedule a regularly occurring meeting with your boss in order to keep your job aligned for optimal happiness and productivity. Here are some things you should cover in a regularly recurring meeting.
- Ask for Input: Your boss may have answers or guidance on issues or job-related questions.
- Update Your Progress: Share with your boss how you’re progressing on certain of your tasks. That way, she knows that you’re getting stuff done and staying productive.
- Reassess Expectations: Expectations are not static statements. They should be adjusted according to the season, the company’s vision, and your personal situation. Revisit expectations if necessary.
- Set New Priorities: Priorities, too, will be constantly shifting. Don’t saddle yourself with outdated priorities. Make it a point to refine and define your new priorities. Your boss will sense your progress.
- Reassert Your Boundaries: Finally, if your boundaries are getting trampled, you may need to draw a line in the sand yet again.
Conclusion: Quit Your Job at the Right Time
Before you quit your job, give it a try. Change your boss.
You won’t end up with the perfect boss, but you will develop a sense of control and autonomy. At the very least, you will create a work culture that is defined, priority-driven, and manageable.
If your manager isn’t creating the right environment, you can shape your own personal management environment. In the process, you might just show your boss a better way of doing things.
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