From the control freak to the person who takes credit for your ideas, if you’ve got a bad boss, you’re not alone. Eighty percent of employees reported having had one at least once in their career and 55% have left a job because of them, according to a study reported by HR magazine.
While you can look for a new job, it might be easier to manage up, adopting a mentality that focuses on helping senior leaders be more successful, says Dana Brownlee, author of The Unwritten Rules of Managing Up and founder of Professionalism Matters, a corporate training firm.
“Managing up is adjusting to your boss’s preferred style and communication by anticipating their needs and being proactive,” she says. “You should do it with all of your bosses, but it can be helpful when you’ve got a boss who’s less than perfect.”
Brownlee offers advice on how to manage up three common types of bad bosses:
This tornado type of boss is a bull in a china shop, says Brownlee. “They’re intimidating and when they’re in the room, the conversation changes,” she says. “They have a domineering personality and suck up all the oxygen in the room.”
Manage up by getting ahead of them, suggests Brownlee. “If you have a major meeting on Friday, have a pre-meeting with them and preempt the potential negative impact,” she says.
For example, you can say, “I know how important it is to you that we get good feedback, and my concern is that when you offer something, the other people will glom on to what you say. I’m wondering if you can wait to give your opinion, and see what the others come up with first.”
“Bosses like being problem solvers,” says Brownlee. “By focusing on the end result and the task at hand, they’ll be more willing to go along with it.”
The Clueless Chameleon
The clueless chameleon is the boss who keeps changing their mind. “They don’t know what they want, and working for them is like a mental scavenger hunt,” says Brownlee. “You think you’re on track and know what they want, but when you do that, it changes.”
Manage up by asking them to finish this question, says Brownlee: “I would consider this project a success if … ”
“It can be a great way to focus them,” she says. “Just because they don’t know what they want doesn’t mean they won’t hold your feet to fire when they don’t get it. They can be all over the place, and asking them to finish that sentence forces them to get clear.”
Brownlee also recommends documenting everything with a chameleon boss. “Send them an email confirming a conversation,” she says. “If you don’t have a documentation trail, you’ll get burned in the end. Put it back on yourself. Say, ‘I just want to circle back and confirm the who, what, why, where and when.'”
Finally, if your boss is a micromanager, manage up by getting ahead of them, suggests Brownlee. “Flip the script and propose a check-in schedule,” she says. “Say, ‘I know this is a high-profile project, and I was thinking, why don’t we schedule a status meeting every other Monday? I’ll prepare a status report to be emailed to you on the other Mondays. If anything significant comes up, I’ll reach out as soon as possible. Would that work for you?'”
It’s important to engage the micromanager early on. “Satiate their anxiety by getting them in the weeds early on so they know the project is on the right track,” says Brownlee. “Ask what’s on their mind, and get that addressed at the beginning.”
Managing up isn’t about changing who you are; it’s about making changes to better fit your boss’s work style. “At the end of the day it’s making their life easier,” says Brownlee. “It’s not about kissing up. It’s about being the one to tell the boss the hard truth. The best leaders want an environment where people are willing to speak up. Get ahead of them. When done right, managing up is a win/win.”