There’s nothing worse in one’s work life than when the relationship with one’s manager is not working correctly. No matter what the reason, it causes stress during the work day, and it can affect one’s career path in the organization when the relationship is not working as well as it could be.
At the same time, it’s all too easy to point fingers at a manager and to blame others in positions of higher authority. Let’s face it, we all have blind spots. In a Harvard Business Review article titled Dealing with an Incompetent Boss, the author shares some of the issues that occur when facing this problem and makes some suggestions about how to deal with it. First of all, it’s not an uncommon problem. People get promoted for all sorts of reasons, and sometimes these individuals are missing important skills to be a good manager:
Ineptitude in managers is unfortunately common. McKee says that’s because too many companies promote people for the wrong reasons. People get ahead because they show results or have the right technical capabilities, but they often don’t have the requisite people skills
The impact of a bad boss can be enough to make anyone want to leave their job, sap their productivity and even affect their health. But before jumping off the bridge about leaving any job, the article says to take a step back and see the forest through the tress.
Among the recommendations, these jumped out:
Identify the Incompetence Sometimes when working for someone, we just don’t have all the facts. As an underling, we’re not privy to all that is on our manager’s plate – their pressures, their MBO’s, and such. This is even more complex when a manager is not geographically co-located with the direct report or the manager is completely virtual. All one has to go on are expressionless email and telephone conversations. It’s really easy for things to get skewed and misinterpreted in those scenarios. The article noted:
“When you’re looking at your boss, the first thing you need to do before you judge, is look at yourself,” says McKee. Many people have blind spots when it comes to their bosses… Ask yourself whether you are jealous of her position or if you have a natural tendency to resist authority.
Consider whether you have all of the relevant information. “Be cautious about your judgment until you collect the evidence,” says Useem. Remember she may have stressors you don’t see or fully understand. “It’s very common for people to completely miss the pressures their boss is under. Partly because a good manager will buffer you from them,” says McKee.
Make it about you, not your boss This one made sense because whenever someone is criticized, especially a boss, the defensive mechanisms will be kicked into high gear. If the comment can be framed by what is trying to be accomplished without blaming or insinuating a lack of support, everyone will be better off:
“Telling someone who is not self aware that they aren’t self aware is generally not helpful,” McKee explains. Instead, say something like: “I want to do a good job and achieve my goals, and I need your help to do that.” Be specific about what you want: his input on your work, an introduction to another colleague, his permission to reach out to a client, etc. …. Help him solve the problem.”
There were a few other practical suggestions recommended along with a couple of stories that shared complicated manager-employee relationships. Overall, we know that we cannot get along with everyone all of the time. Hopefully, if one is having a problem relationship with a manager, a tactful way to deal with it can be found. Sometimes it cannot, and leaving the organization is the right choice. It’s worth taking the extra effort to find a mutually beneficial solution; it will prepare any future management challenges or roles because managing people is not an easy job.
It seems that the easiest times are when one is able to choose his or her manager; however, things change in organizations. The best communication lessons are learned when assigned a new manager. One has to get creative and find the right balance of communication and managing up to that person. It’s a constant balancing act. What are your experiences in dealing with a manager that isn’t working out great with you?
About the Author
Steve Prettyman, AASEE, AASPI, BSM, MBA, C.P.M., CCST III is an licensed journeyman electrician with experience in commercial/industrial construction, industrial maintenance, project management experience, and purchasing. Steve is currently employed as a senior sourcing specialist for engineered electrical hardware for Dow in Houston, Tex.