PAUL RENAUD
executive coach

How to manage your boss

In my opinion the relationship with your boss can be ‘heaven or hell’. There’s no middle ground.

In other words, it can be complete bliss or enough to drive you crazy. One day he’s fine the next day you wish he’d disappear (btw, I mean he or she).

The relationship with your boss can make every aspect of your work more challenging, but how do you make it effective and overall bearable?

If you were hired by this boss and you’ve noticed a recent change in behavior this may be caused by something outside your control which means that there’s hope for this ‘nice guy’ that hired you.

If you inherited what seems to be the ‘boss from hell’ and she’s showing behaviors such as being: inept, inconsistent, belligerent, authoritarian, she can’t communicate, she doesn’t listen, she’s alienating you and you feel that you’re incompatible, well that may be a bit trickier.

Don’t dust off your CV too quickly. I’ve compiled some ideas on how to deal with a difficult boss and if managed properly, you may transform this person into your next ally. So as a first suggestion, get more data on this new person before you decide to move on or not.

Here are five valuable ways on how to manage your boss:

1. Listen and Learn.
Any boss starting a new job needs at least 3 months to become ‘informed’ since it’s way too soon for him or her to be effective on the job. Presumably this person was hired because the organization had a problem, it required a shake up or it needed a new direction. You can’t pick up these true motives if you don’t take the time to listen as opposed to talking on top of him to demonstrate how smart you are and how diligent you’ve been.

Be Zen; Listen; give the guy the floor and pick up on what he is not saying. This is the perfect time to practice your listening skills. Besides he doesn’t know you’re this quiet usually. At one point he will ask for your position on an issue.

2. Learn to become self-reliant: A manager who doesn’t always provide you with adequate resources or direction can be a good thing. Realize that this is perhaps your chance to fly on your own. Learn from your peers that report to the same boss as to how they’ve ‘managed the boss’ and try to do things on your own. At your next one on one meeting with the boss mention that you managed to solve “X” problem by doing “Y”. Wait and assess the reaction. You may get: 1) ‘Humm… well done!’ 2) ‘Next time let’s discuss this kind of matter’ or 3) ‘I don’t want you to decide on these matters without briefing me’. Clearly, scenario #1 is best. If you’ve messed up don’t hesitate to acknowledge that this was an oversight on your part and it won’t happen again. Don’t forget ‘we’re going fishing’ here hence why I also suggest to apologize quickly even if you don’t feel comfortable doing so. Besides it’s untenable for you to not make decisions on your own on the long term. No pain, no gain.

If this boss doesn’t recognize or appreciate your efforts, so be it. Deep down you know if you’ve done the right thing or not. I tell my clients don’t take it personal. This is business and your skin has to become thicker to put up with some abuse. As you weather more and more storms, this builds your confidence.

3. Improve your assertiveness in communicating.
My job as a Coach is to help people improve their performance. In one week alone, I had 2 examples of a boss & direct report that were avoiding each other – and I’m relating to executives here. It was mind blowing. They were too uncomfortable, too uneasy with the tension that both wanted to avoid having a frank discussion of what was obviously needed to take place or solved – sort of a ‘Hey there’s an elephant in the room but I don’t want to be the first one to say …there’s an elephant in the room’. The paradox is that you’re waiting for the boss to bring it up, and he’s testing you to see if you have the courage to address it. This is a waste of perfectly good energy on both sides.

Bring up the awkward subjects; talk about your poor results; discuss openly when two peers had a blow out in a meeting. By mustering up the courage to bring up delicate topics you remove that uneasy feeling and you show your boss the initiative and maturity required for the job. This builds trust equity over time. Don’t forget some bosses were hired because of their technical talents and they’re not always good, frank communicators which means their communication skills are still in development mode.

4. Become selective & choose your battles: When working with a difficult boss, everyday conversations can seem like warfare. From requesting input to defending a decision you made or explaining why you think your course of action is the right one. You may even experience cynicism and get the ‘cold’ treatment or whatever comes in between.

Remember that the higher you climb, the less feedback you receive and the more you are expected to be nimble with all kinds of bosses. View these moments as learning opportunities — when it’s worth bringing up an issue, when to push back and when to let it go.

Good leaders will be testing your logic, your reasoning but also your sense of flexibility to commit for you but also for the team, hence the greater good. If you come across as a cry baby because you’ve lost the last battle with him or a peer, that sends the message that you aren’t resilient enough when things get rough. He’s not counting how many times you win so consider doing the same. Developing rapport with the boss is more important than keeping score on who’s winning or losing.

5. Act of Random Kindness: Consider developing rapport with this person.  
This is tough, but manageable. You may feel that networking with a boss is not possible, not worth it or, you just don’t know how to approach her. If this is the case the first thing to do is accept that when you work for a boss, you often work among difficult people, so you may as well try to make this easy on yourself. How?

Try to find a common interest. By networking internally with people that know your boss, you may find a common interest (ex. Golf, Sailing, pottery, dress-making, kids of the same age, etc.).

Hint: Some people post or hang photos of their hobbies or family members on the wall of their work area, cubicle or office. The next time you’re there, take a look and ask a few genuine questions.

If she answers, you may find you completely avoided what you came to see her for in the first place. If she opens up on her interests, it’s the perfect time to get to know her a bit better. Maybe she’s been having issues with kids the same age as yours. Provide a quick solution i.e. babysitter, school or pediatrician without being intrusive.

As you walk back to your office with a completely different view of this no longer difficult boss, look what just happened: With an Act of Random Kindness, you developed rapport with your boss. Don’t stop there since you still have a long way to go but as you build rapport, this has positive, tangible effects on trust.

These are just 5 of many ways to manage your boss. Like everything else in an organization, you must adapt and adapting means that you need to be flexible.

Give these 5 tips your best shot. When it comes to developing people skills we all get better with practice.

Paul Renaud is a Certified Executive Coach (ICF), Networking specialist and TEDx speaker and he focuses on helping executives at all stages in their careers optimize their opportunities for success. To see Paul’s video on this topic, visit www.paul-renaud.com