Chapter 1 PracticaL Mentor’s Guide On How To Cope With A Difficult Boss

Jul 8th, 2012 | By | Category: abundance, Career advice, challenges, difficult boss, strategy, tactics

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Chapter 1,

Difficult Bosses Are The Norm.

There are countless pages written on how to deal with a difficult boss, but none seem to provide real solutions to the problem. At least they never did for me.
I consider myself average, and it is easier for me to count the good bosses I’ve worked for, because after working part time through high school, four years in the military, four years of college, and 37 years in the workforce, I only need some of the fingers on one hand to complete the tally of my good bosses.

In fairness, I was a manager in varying capacities in my high school jobs, military, and about half of my career. Even when I was a manager, I had difficult bosses. I used to think the higher one rose in an organization the less chance of getting a bad boss, I found the exact opposite to be true. Rising higher may insulate you from some of the day-to-day interactions, but the higher you go in an organization the more difficult people you have to deal with.

What my experience has taught me is a difficult boss is probably the number one complaint among all workers. Everyone would like more pay, better hours, and a safe, comfortable work environment, but most would trade, at least some of it to work for a good boss. Unfortunately, good bosses are few and far between.

Dealing with a difficult boss is the most important skill you will ever acquire. Like it or not dealing effectively with a difficult boss is one of the most important aspects of a successful career. All of the advances I’ve made in my career were achieved while working for a good boss. My most stressful times were when I was ineffective at dealing with a difficult boss. So is it important to learn to deal with a difficult boss? You bet it is.

The problem is, it is not always easy to deal with a difficult boss. They usually are holding all the cards, including the ultimate – your fired; go directly to unemployment card, while. While you are holding cards, like, a weak union rep, and unsupportive coworkers. It is a stacked deck, but you have to play the cards you are dealt.

One of the easiest ways to deal with a difficult boss is not be assigned to work for one in the first place. Remember how it was in college, when you shopped for the better professors? Some of the high achievers would actually postpone taking a class until they could get the professor they wanted. At the time I thought it was non-sense how much of a difference could it make. I learned the hard way that it was the difference between an A and a C, and the difference between a 3.5 and a 2.5 grade point average when looking for a job, or grad school. The same is true in the workforce. If a boss gives low performance reviews it affects pay raises, bonuses, and promotion potential.

Great concept! How many people get to choose their bosses? In many large organizations there is a lot of lateral mobility. It is sometimes worth moving sideways or even back a step to work for a good boss. Most often you will make up what you loose plus some, and will enjoy your work a lot more. This is a serious decision, and should not to be made without serious consideration of all the risks. In addition, like school a boss’s reputation is well known. Perhaps you can shop for a good boss, just like in school, by only applying for jobs where the boss has a good reputation. Trouble is like school, those jobs are the hardest to get.

On a particular occasion I had an opportunity to move from a position where I was having difficulties with my supervisor. The difficulties were nothing major or detrimental, just some little things that made working for him less than ideal. My biggest problem was he competed with his staff, and didn’t want to see anyone get promoted. There were some very senior people in the department who had withered on the vine because of the boss’s poor recommendations. Had I been smart and done my homework, I would have never applied for a job in his department in the first place. I took the opportunity to lateral move to a different department, where the boss had a great reputation. I got there a couple of months before he announced his retirement. His replacement was not the same caliber of supervisor, and I was stuck with another difficult boss. Sometimes our best thought out plans go a stray, but you have to keep trying.

If you do not have the option to pick your boss, you may be able to have a good boss pick you. Often management puts together a task force to work on special projects. These projects are usually managed by supervisors with good reputations, and in favor with upper management. In addition, to be selected to work on special projects is a real career booster. The general routine is those selected are temporarily reassigned to the task force. When the project is completed you are given a choice of where you wanted to be reassigned. The smart people followed the project supervisor. The trick is to get picked for the project.

Of course you can always look for another job at a different organization, but in my experience, difficult bosses are the norm not the exception, so the odds of finding a really good boss by the luck of the draw are slim. Although there is an unproven axiom that all new jobs are great for the first six months, and I found this to be generally true, during the first six months you are in a steep learning curve and everything seems new and novel. After about six months it starts to become routine, the novelty begins to wear off, and you are held accountable for carrying your own weight.

Even if you manage to find a good boss, it seems change is inevitable, and chances are you will end up working for a difficult boss. It is worth your while to learn to deal with a difficult boss.

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