If you’ve been in the workforce for any length of time, you’ve noticed that not all managers are equally qualified to lead others. While it would be ideal if all managers reached their positions based on their leadership abilities, individual performance, politics, and other factors often drive promotions. As a result, many executives reach leadership positions without the right skills and experience required to effectively lead people.
As an experienced professional, you’ve likely worked for at least one challenging manager throughout your career. In the process, you’ve suffered the anxiety, frustration, and fury that result. Even if all other factors are positive, having a challenging manager can make your job unbearable.
So what are your options? While it’s only natural to feel powerlessness in these types of situations, you have more choices than you may realize. Here are some steps you can take:
Change Your Perspective
How well do you actually know your manager? Do you understand what drives him? Can you relate to the pressures he’s experiencing? What are his communication preferences?
The frustration and anger that accompany a bad working relationship can cloud our perceptions. Once we’ve determined how we feel about someone, it’s difficult to change that impression. As challenging as it might feel, try to see things from your manager’s perspective. Doing so could help you to gain a deeper understanding of him and ultimately improve your view of the situation.
Much of the conflict we experience with our managers results from poor communication. Take a moment to reflect on a time when you approached a new initiative or assignment with confidence but your manager later dismissed or criticized your work. What happened? More often than not, the problem was not your work or your manager’s response; it was the fact that you each had very different expectations.
Many workplace (and personal) relationship challenges would be avoided if clear expectations were established upfront. Unfortunately, many managers are too busy or distracted to confirm that their communication is clear. Unless you say otherwise, they will assume that you are in alignment. Even if you think you understand your marching orders, ask clarifying questions and gather as much information as possible to ensure that you and your manager are on the same page.
Seek a Mentor
Sometimes, despite your best efforts, your relationship seems irreparable. This can be particularly damaging to your career if your manager is a highly influential or politically connected figure in your organization. If you can’t get your manager’s support, it is critical that you seek support elsewhere.
Find a mentor or other influential leader you can trust to help you navigate the challenges you’re experiencing. Having someone who can offer insights on how to effectively approach specific situations can help you feel more confident and comfortable in your role. You must be strategic, however. You do not want to be perceived as going around your boss. You might even find it helpful to connect with an outside resource, such as an executive coach. The key is to engage a trusted resource confidentially who can provide critical support without undermining your manager’s established authority.
It’s very difficult to maintain a positive attitude when you’re frustrated with your manager. Not doing so, however, will only make things worse. To best protect your reputation and avoid hurting your career, it is critical that you act professionally at all times.
Do not engage in gossip, bad-mouthing, or other behaviors that can come back to haunt you. If you have a difficult boss, others likely feel the same way about him and can feel your pain. Behaving unprofessionally doesn’t endear you to others; it simply damages your image.
Explore Your Options
In any situation, it’s critical to acknowledge what you can and can’t control. The steps outlined here allow you to take some control of a difficult work environment. Ultimately, though, any relationship involves two people. In order for change to occur, the other person must be responsive to your efforts.
If you’ve tried everything and nothing has worked, it’s time to consider other options. Are there other roles internally that would not only allow you to escape your difficult work situation but also help you to advance your career? Are there external opportunities you can begin to explore?
There are few things more frustrating in a job than working for a difficult manager. It can, however, be a great growth opportunity. If you strive to become a more effective leader, learning to communicate with others of all types will be critical to your success. Take advantage of this time to strengthen your own communication and leadership skills. And always remember that you do have options and support available to get you through this challenging time.