Tuesday, September 1, 2009

4 Ways to Handle Your Childish Boss

There's probably no subject that generates more discussion on this blog than two words: "bad boss."

Personally, I don't know anyone who doesn't have a bad boss story. I know I have more than a few, and no matter how long I've been in the workforce, a bad boss can get to me. I'm always looking for solutions on how to deal with these rotten managers, and some days I'm more successful that others in applying those strategies. (Some days I think about hurling rotten eggs at the manager's house under the cover of night. But then I think of how I don't want to waste a rotten egg.)

Here's a recent story I did for Gannett on how to deal with bad bosses:

Just as child experts often advise exasperated parents to provide strong parameters for their unruly toddlers, workplace expert Lynn Taylor says it’s time we did the same for bratty bosses.

“Just as children with too much power need controls, so do bosses with too much power,” Taylor says. “Otherwise, they just get worse.”

Bad behavior may mean calling employees at all hours of the day and night, pitching hissy fits, being stubborn, bullying, bragging and generally making employees uncomfortable and stressed. Not exactly the kind of manager that generates productivity, creativity and efficiency.

“Any kind of stressful situation – such as this bad economy – can make it worse,” Taylor says. “It’s going to put this kind of boss into overdrive.”

Taylor says she was so struck by the resemblances between a tyrant toddler and a terrible boss that she calls these kinds of bosses the “terrible office tyrant” or “TOT.” Her new book, “Tame Your Terrible Office Tyrant,” (Wiley, $21.95) draws direct correlations between the fussy and uncooperative child and the adult version roaming the cubicles at work.

Rather than caving into these kinds of leaders, Taylor says, more employees need a plan of action to deal with such childish behavior that can arise when bosses “act out” under the pressures of their job. She says her plan involves employees staying “calm,” another acronym that stands for:

• Communicate. “Bravely talk to your boss,” she says. “Hiding your light under a bushel won’t be doing anyone a favor.” She suggests by talking to the boss and showing what you have to offer, it also will help your own career.
• Anticipate. Know the hot-button issues for your boss, and steer clear or head them off. Know good times to speak with him, and what helps calm him.
• Laugh. “Humor is a great diffuser, and in these tough times we need them more than ever,” she says. For example, when times are tense, you might ask, “Anyone need a donut?” as a way to show “we’re all human.”
• Manage. “Managing up doesn’t mean kissing up,” Taylor says. “It means you set boundaries and you stand your ground. Employees often fear reprisals for setting boundaries, but managers respect them. Otherwise, you’re going to have them calling you at midnight. They appreciate being told not to do that.”

Taylor says that when bosses are “lost little lambs”, they can make employee lives miserable because their own insecurities make them clingy and helpless, depending on workers to do tasks for them.

“At least with little kids, you know that helping them usually leads to a burst of independence and pride in accomplishing a new skill,” she says.

But a boss can always pull rank and force you to help, so Taylor advises employees – seeking a more self-sufficient manager – should privately tell the boss that while they would like to help, they have their own workload to tackle.

“You can help break the dependency cycle,” Taylor says. “You’d be surprised at how often (the boss) doesn’t realize she’s being needy to the point of distraction.”

Finally, Taylor cautions workers not to believe the childish boss will improve with the economy. “They also behave this way during any period of stress – even in good times,” she says. “That’s why it’s important that when you interview for jobs, make sure you are alert for these kinds of bosses.”

At the same time, Taylor believes that companies must do more to end this cycle of bad boss behavior and provide good management training, a supportive environment for employees and a company culture that emphasizes childish behavior will not be tolerated. If not, employers will watch talented employees walk out the door and tyrant bosses continue their reign of terror, she says.

Have you developed strategies for dealing with a bad boss?


angelique said...

ahhh - the true problem is when the TOT is the owner of a small company and the only boss.

Dan said...

I belong to the silent generation and have never had a bad boss. I have had a few dumbos, but I always thought it was a point of honor not to be disconcerted by stupidity. Fact of the matter, as Taylor suggests you can go a long way toward creating a good boss. My blog speaks to this very issue: http://bit.ly/m6NiP

Anita said...

That is a tough situation, and one I have faced. I found the best way to deal with it was just focusing on the experience I was getting and the skills I was learning -- and then I left for a better boss.

Anita said...

Thanks for the link. The more information on this subject, the better.

Sandra said...

I once had a boss who preferred cats over people. Cats could do not wrong, people he basically hid from. Hard to communicate with that type of childish boss. I stuck out the job though because it was the best in town and HE eventually left to open a cat adoption center. I found useful tips in Taylor's Tame Your Terrible Office Tyrant blog so I can more effectively handle my new boss since I am not sure how he feels about cats. Here's her blog:

Anita said...

Sounds like HE found the perfect job for him, and you both benefited from it!