Welcome to MarieClaire.com's brand-new job advice column courtesy of career coach Liz Bentley—check back often for her whip-smart real-world wisdom. Have questions of your own? Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org to get them answered right here.
Dear Liz: I hate my boss. Everything else about my job is great—I love my colleagues and the work I'm doing—but I dread having to interact with my boss (he's a poor manager and not very talented, IMHO). Is there anything I can do? —J.W., 29
Dear J.W.: Yes, there is something you can do: Suck it up! Bad bosses exist everywhere. It's not easy to be the boss and why you hate him is up for grabs—is it because he's demanding, holding you accountable, frustrated with work that's done poorly, not communicating his message clearly, or is he not interactive enough? If he's abusive and potentially breaking a law (sexual harassment, etc.) then you should report him to HR—but if he's just the average "bad boss," then welcome to the business world.
Here's How to Adjust Your Mindset
Bosses are under a lot of pressure to succeed and produce good teams with bosses of their own scrutinizing their work and giving them feedback. Cut him a break and follow this model for finding ways to work productively with him:
1. Acknowledge that no matter how much you complain, he's probably not going to change. The first step is to shift your mindset to recognize that you can only change yourself, not your boss. Often our instinct in life is to complain about others thinking that they should change. But in truth we can only make change in ourselves. Once you commit to that mindset, you're one step closer to success.
2. Try to empathize instead of judging. Walk in your boss's shoes for one minute. No one comes to work and thinks, "Today, I'm going to be a terrible boss that no one likes." For the most part, we all try to do our best every day. So try giving him the benefit of the doubt that he's doing his best. Not only will it help you be more understanding, but it's a better way to show up to life. Empathy always wins over judgement.
3. Anticipate what he needs to alleviate some pressure. Listen to your boss with a new perspective so that you can really hear what he wants. If it's not clear, ask questions and drill down. This way you can anticipate what he needs and deliver before he even asks for it. Every boss in the world loves an employee who can answer the question before it's asked and deliver on the goals—so not only are you reducing the friction between you, but you're engendering appreciation on his part.
4. Strategically manage up. Try out different responses to your boss until you find the one that works. The goal is not only to make him happy but to drive productivity and do a good job. You are not being paid to get along with your team; you are being paid to drive results. And if you have career ambitions, then you likely want to get promoted, which means you need your boss to think you're good.
But a Bad Boss Can Be a Gift
Throughout a lifetime career, you will come across difficult people to work with on all levels: bosses, peers, subordinates, and clients. Your goal will always be the same: Find ways to manage around them. And, in truth, a bad boss, coach, or teacher can often be your best learning experience. Those tough leaders often push us out of our comfort zone by mercilessly pointing out our flaws and making us work harder than we want too. In the end, they also teach you what behaviors to avoid when you yourself become the boss.
Life isn't fair. It's not supposed to be. And no boss wants a team that hates him. Your job is to learn to succeed no matter the circumstance. So suck it up and be your boss's best team player so that that bad boss promotes you at the next go round. And then when you are the boss, hope that your subordinates read this column.
Liz Bentley is the founder of Liz Bentley Associates, a consulting firm specializing in leadership development programs for individuals and companies. Drawing upon her background in psychology, previous experience in sales and management, and a lifetime of experience in competitive sports, Liz has a unique appreciation of mindset and the power it has to change patterns of behavior. Liz received her BA in Psychology from the University of Virginia and her coaching certification from New York University.