Let’s pretend, hypothetically, that you report to a manager who falls short of ideal. Perhaps he (or she) undermines your efforts, micromanages, only notices what’s wrong, doesn’t walk the talk, vanishes into thin air, takes credit for your work, has vague expectations, doesn’t communicate, criticizes you in public, and expects you to do the work of a small nation.
Are you doomed? You are not.
The first step in dealing with a manager who doesn’t manage is letting go of the futile hope that he will change. This is a big step. Do yourself a favor and stop banging your head against the wall. It is astounding how much effort is poured down the drain by wishing someone else would change her (or his) personality and overcome all her shortcomings. You cannot fundamentally change your manager.
All you can do is manage yourself.
In fact, you only directly control three things in the entire world. Interestingly, none of these are other people. You are in charge of your thoughts, your words, and your actions. That’s it. Most of us neglect these three key items, however. Instead we direct our precious, limited energy on thinking and talking about how others should be different. This is fruitless and even lazy. As long as I’m focused on what’s wrong with you, I don’t need to pay any attention to improving me.
Focus on you. Rather than hoping you can mysteriously change the fundamental personality traits of those around you, direct your energy on perfecting your own sweet self.
Once you accept that your manager’s innate temperament won’t change, think about how you can improve the situation. For example, let’s say you wish your manager would be clearer about your deadlines and deliverables. What can you do about clarifying deadlines and deliverables? Perhaps schedule a meeting to review project priorities, follow up with an email summary, and provide weekly progress reports.
What if you believe your manager has no idea what you are accomplishing? How about creating quarterly one-page bullet point summaries highlighting your key accomplishments and outcomes?
Let’s say you never get any positive reinforcement or praise for your hard work. This is a widespread phenomenon. In this case, you might need to learn to let go of the need for regular, external commendation. Replace that with internal acknowledgement--and make sure you give plenty of meaningful, supportive feedback to your own direct reports.
What if your manager makes you more than miserable? Perhaps there is borderline abuse or ethical issues. In these cases, you have two choices, and neither includes hanging in there. One is to approach HR to either change the reporting structure or have the manager removed. The other is to find another job. If you find yourself in a truly toxic situation, you owe it to yourself to change your situation. Again, you’re in control of your own life. Knowing when to take action is just as important as knowing how to accept--and work with--others’ shortcomings.
--Devora Zack, CEO of Only Connect Consulting, is the author of Managing for People Who Hate Managing  (2012) and Networking for People Who Hate Networking  (2010). Her books are translated into 12 languages and have been featured globally on ABC, The Wall Street Journal, Fox, CNBC, USA Today, Cosmo International, Oprah.com, SiriusXM, Forbes, and dozens other publications and media channels.
[Image: Flickr user Peter Stinson ]