We’ve all been there. At one time or another throughout our careers, we’ve reported to somebody with a big title, fat paycheck, and reserved parking space only to wonder, “How did they get the job?”
Incompetence and bad behavior often trump true leadership, and this unfortunately can affect our work lives. Here are five types of bad bosses–and how to deal with them (when quitting isn’t an option).
1. The manager who says “yes” and then pretends like that was never the case
You were given the “green light” to move forward on an initiative. But once again, your boss has not only changed her mind, but it appears she’s forgotten all about ever having approved the project.
Now if this is a shift in direction based on some new critical information, that’s totally legit. But if this behavior is déjà vu more times than you can count, you’ve got a problem.
How to deal
The way to approach this challenge is to identify what’s causing the “stop and go”: Who seems to always be whispering in her ear? Once you get a sense for who else may be involved in helping to change her mind, include those voices in meetings and get their sign-offs before you begin any project.
And once you do–wait. Build into your project timeline a few days to let the dust settle, and then circle back with your boss to confirm plans. You may not stop the behavior, but you will feel more in control and not spend so much time working on projects that may never see the light of day.
2. The manager who doesn’t let you work with others (ever)
Your organization has a lot of departments and different perspectives. You think the project you’re working on would benefit from cross-functional teamwork.
Your boss doesn’t. He might tell you that it’s better to involve others at the 11th hour. He might say that everyone is busy with other priorities. All of that may be true to some extent. But if his lack of support for collaboration is creating silos, something has to change.
How to deal
Take the conversations offline and out of the office. Make a point to visit other departments regularly. During lunch or after work, share whatever exciting projects you and your team are working on that may impact the entire company. Transparency and truth are keys to success and to being a real leader (whether you have the title or not).
3. The manager who doesn’t just disagree with your ideas, they take it out on you
You pitch an idea or share your perspective with your boss and she disagrees. After that, you’re not included in meetings. When you do get a seat at the table, you’re ignored.
It’s a real possibility your boss is, indeed, retaliating against you. It’s also possible that it’s just your imagination. Sadly, many times it’s the former scenario.
How to deal
Although this kind of behavior is illegal, bad bosses know how to subtly intimidate with the end goal of making you so uncomfortable that you’ll resign.
And maybe you should. It’s one way of dealing with the unfortunate situation.
Another way is to schedule a meeting with your manager and share your view of what you think is happening and ask for her perspective. Back at your desk, type out a short email referencing the meeting, what was discussed, and letting her know that you understand the priorities she set forth (list them) and that you’re really glad the air has been cleared.
Of course, there’s no guarantee she’ll stop, but it does give you a record of sorts and puts her on alert–so that if or when it happens again, you can confidently reach out to HR for guidance.
4. The manager who likes to play the blame game
You and your team launched a new campaign. Unfortunately, the results weren’t as good as you’d hoped. You report your numbers to your boss and share lessons learned, but it’s not good enough. Your boss wants to know who’s to blame.
How to deal
Come to the table with a reminder of what was agreed upon and what the hopes were for the project. Share a debrief of how prior projects succeeded. Then, transition to the current project, sharing the pros and cons and always emphasizing the positives (and not pointing fingers).
By focusing on the team effort versus one specific mistake made by one specific person, you make it harder for your manager to single members out.
5. The manager who takes full credit for work they didn’t do
You’ve been working day and night to move mountains. The day comes when you’ve succeeded, and it’s time for everyone to know. But when the press release goes out, you’re not mentioned.
While it isn’t unusual for a department head to pat herself on the back for “overseeing” your success, it’s a sign of a bad leader to dismiss those who really did the lion’s share of the job.
How to deal
If public announcements don’t recognize the right individuals or acknowledge a team effort, the way to approach your boss depends on them. If you think it was a very purposeful decision, this is one time you have to let it go. If people on your own team should have been applauded and weren’t, then do it yourself. Even if it’s just in an internal email to them or throwing an appreciation lunch, you have the opportunity to do what your boss doesn’t: Be a leader.
But if you feel comfortable, send a quick email to your boss letting them know your team put a lot of work into the initiative and were a little disappointed not to see their names recognized publicly. Maybe she’ll apologize, maybe she won’t–but your team will be stronger because you advocated for them.
Anybody can be a boss–it doesn’t immediately equate to being a leader. Keeping an eye out for these warning signs will help you understand the kind of person you report to–and whether it’s worth leaving them.