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6 Proven Ways to Work With a Bad Boss

No one likes a jerk, and when the jerk is your boss it can be downright terrifying. But you have more control than you think. Much more.
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Dislike your boss? You're not alone. According to research on the topic, three out of four employees say that dealing with their boss is the worst and most stressful part of their job. Two-thirds say they would happily take a new boss over a pay raise. According to Karin Hurt, author of Overcoming an Imperfect Boss, "The secret to a healthy boss-subordinate relationship is to remember that it's just that, a relationship. You're two messy human beings doing the best you can."

Boss-subordinate relationships are unnatural by design: You look to a person you have not chosen (and whom you may or may not respect) for affirmation, evaluation, and reward.  In order to succeed you have to figure out what will make this person like you and adjust accordingly. To turn around even the most difficult boss relationship apply these six proven approaches.

1. Don't Become a Jerk Yourself

Whatever you do, don't sit around commiserating with coworkers about your bad boss. Stay focused on the work and avoid the gossip. If you need to talk to someone, choose HR or other formal support. Pay close attention to how the stress is impacting you, your team, and your family. Find folks who will tell you the truth. Bad behavior is contagious. Be sure you stay true to your own personal leadership philosophy.

2. Say something

If you think you've got a bad boss, and everyone else does too, I challenge you to go deeper. Get to know him. Tell him the truth. If everybody's frustrated, he knows it. Chances are, under all that bluster, he's starving for help. Ask about the pressures he's under, and how you can best help. Find out whether you're doing something that unleashes his inner jerk, and adjust as best you can.

3. Make her life easier

Is a well-known law of nature: Bad bosses get worse under stress. Do what you can to ease your boss’s pain. Do what you say you will, without needing to be reminded. Get ahead of deadlines. Communicate frequently in bulleted summaries. Your boss knows there are problems; shielding her from them will only make her nervous.  She will sleep better knowing you're all over it.

4. Reduce dependency

It's not your boss's responsibility to motivate you, develop you, or direct your career. That's your job. Sure, the best leaders will help you grow, but never forget who's really in charge--you. So if your boss doesn't have it to give, don't waste time being frustrated. Stop coveting thy co-worker's boss, and find the support you need. Get a mentor. Develop stronger peer relationships. Work on special projects that expose you to other leaders and their styles.

5. Be true to yourself

Find ways to ground yourself. Exercise, meditation, and prayer are all good options. Remember that this bad boss is just one transient person in your life. This season will end, but you will live with who you are becoming forever.

6. Learn by (negative) example

You can learn as much from a bad boss as a good one. Pay close attention to the impact your boss's behavior has on you and your teammates. What doesn't kill you will make you a stronger leader. Keep a journal or make a running list. Make a vow to never be "that guy."

Remember: Leadership isn't easy, for your boss or for you. Consider your relationship with your boss as a learning laboratory. Leverage every interaction to improve your own leadership.  Be the boss you wish you had.

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Last updated: Apr 11, 2014

PETER ECONOMY

While Peter Economy has spent the better part of two decades of his life slugging it out mano a mano in the management trenches, he is also the best-selling author of Managing for Dummies, The Management Bible, Leading Through Uncertainty, and more than 75 other books, with total sales in excess of two million copies. He has also served as associate editor for Leader to Leader for more than 10 years, where he has worked on projects with the likes of Jim Collins, Frances Hesselbein, Marshall Goldsmith, and many other top management and leadership thinkers. Sign up here to always stay up to date with Peter's latest Inc.com columns, and visit him anytime at petereconomy.com.




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