It’s another excerpt from my book, Brazen Careerist: The New Rules for Success. This is tip #33 : There Are No Bad Bosses, Only Whiny Employees.
Want to deal with a bad boss? First, stop complaining. Unless your boss breaks the law, you don’t have a bad boss, you have a boss you are managing poorly. Pick on your boss all you want, but if you were taking responsibility for your career, you wouldn’t let your boss’s problems bring you down.
Everyone has something to offer. Find that in your boss and focus on learning everything you can. Or leave. The good news is that in most cases, you don’t have to leave. You just need to manage your relationship with your boss with more empathy, more distance, and more strategy.
My favorite example of a managing a bad boss is one I had at a software company who refused to learn how to use a computer. I conducted most communication with him via phone, and I often played the role of secretary even though I was a vice president. He once said to me, “You’re such a fast typist!” And I thought, “You’re such a complete idiot!”
But in truth, he was not. He was a top negotiator of government contracts. I stepped back and recognized that he was overwhelmed with the prospect of changing the way he had been working for twenty years, and I was in a position to help him. I found that the more dependent he was on me for email, the more I was able to insert myself into high-level deals that he would not otherwise have let me in on. I helped him avoid having to change, and he taught me how to be a dealmaker.
It’s always important to weigh the benefits. A good boss would have learned to type and never would have thought of delegating his typing to a vice president. But I didn’t have a good boss. I had a typical boss – one with poor execution of good intentions. He had knowledge and skills to offer me as long as I could manage our relationship productively. I never expected him to manage the relationship for us, because I wanted to make sure I was getting what I needed out of it.
I could have spent my time complaining. There was a lot to complain about. Instead I always approached him with empathy and knew when to put my two cents in and when to shut up.
Aside from cutting a deal, he didn’t have a lot of management skills, and this gap left more room for me to shine. My solid interpersonal skills helped fill in what he was missing and helped me to get what I wanted: A (reluctant and difficult but ultimately) very useful mentor.
So take another look at the boss you call bad. Think about what motivates him: What is he scared about that you can make easier? What is he lacking that you can compensate for? What does he wish you would do that you don’t? Once you start managing this relationship more skillfully, you will be able to get more from your boss in terms of coaching and support: You’ll be able to tip the scales from the bad boss side to the learning opportunity side.
In fact, you should always hope for a little incompetence on your boss’s part. The hole in his list of talents provides a place for you to shine. The point, after all, and no one shines when they’re complaining.