Good bosses are hard to come by--but it's no secret why. Being a boss is just like being an accountant, or a writer, or any other position of responsibility. Some people are naturally good at it. Some people work really hard to be good at it. And most people end up being content with the performance equivalent of a passing grade--never exceeding what their job requires as a minimum.
When working with an unpleasant or difficult boss, your first instinct might be to quit and find a new job, but that job probably won't have a perfect boss either. A better first step is to adjust your work style to better accommodate your boss's attitudes and behaviors, and possibly work toward a better mutual relationship along the way.
The three worst types of bosses there are, with strategies and approaches to manage them, illustrate.
1. The Micromanager. The micromanager is a common boss archetype who feels the compulsive need to control as much as possible, whenever possible. Rather than relay a simple set of goals or instructions, the micromanager will give you detailed, step-by-step instructions on how to do everything, and will follow up with you to make sure you're doing it right. Questioning every minute of your time that can be, he or she peers over your shoulder as you attempt to remain productive.
One of the biggest problems with micromanagers is that they don't know how disruptive they're being. In fact, most micromanagers believe themselves to be insightful and helpful. In their minds, they aren't interfering with your work style or interrupting your flow; they're merely improving your work with a few helpful suggestions.
There are two good strategies for dealing with a micromanager. The first is the best: Politely point out his or her tendencies as a form of positive feedback. Let the person know that this system of management is unhelpful, and suggest a few improvements--you might be surprised at how positively he or she responds. The second is to force summarization by asking for (and reiterating) the main goals of the micromanager's requests.
2. The No-Show. The no-show is a world away from the micromanager; instead of always looking over your shoulder, the no-show is often nowhere to be found. It could be because he or she is lazy, or too busy with other work, but the bottom line is the same--you have little to no direction, and no one to look to when you run into a problem.
For some workers, this is a dream--minimal direction and near-complete working freedom. For most of us, though, a little structure is necessary to achieve an effective degree of productivity. What if you have questions on your assignment? What if you're overworked or underworked? What if you need an outside opinion on your next decision? A boss needs to be there.
Again, there are a few strategies here, but the most important is direct feedback: Let your boss know you'd appreciate him or her being more available for questions, feedback, and direction. Second, try simplifying decisions for the boss. Instead of asking broad questions like "What's my direction on this?" or "What do I do now?" try to ask yes or no questions.
3. The Incompetent. The incompetent boss comes in a number of varieties; the person might be well-intentioned, nice, and hardworking, or miserly, critical, and distant. The underlying quality is the kicker: The boss isn't very good at the job.
In some ways, the incompetent is the hardest to deal with, because you can't correct incompetence through feedback the way you can micromanagement or psychological absenteeism. Instead, your options are rather limited. You can take some extra time to help your boss out--such as by supplying your own independent research to help his or her decisions--or you can seek leadership elsewhere by relying on your peers, another department, or a higher-up for direction. Both of these options take extra time and leave you vulnerable, so if your boss is hopelessly incompetent (and try to remain objective here), it may be time to find another line of work.
These three types of bosses aren't the only ones who will give you a hard time, but they are some of the most difficult personalities to deal with as an employee. This doesn't mean they're ineffective bosses, or that they're inherently bad at their jobs, but it does mean you'll need to put forth some extra effort if you want to establish and maintain healthy working relationships with them.