I’m having a really hard time with my manager at work, and I don’t know whether I should confront her about it or just grin and bear it. I don’t want to get into specifics, but just to give one example, there have been a handful of times lately when she has thrown me under the bus and made me look bad in front of clients and other co-workers for things that weren’t my fault. I’ve worked for a number of people like this (or worse) and I’m at a loss as to how to address the situation. What should I do?
There is perhaps nothing more soul-crushing in the workplace than having a really bad manager or boss. Working for one can feel like a prison we choose to live in 40+ hours a week. We return every day to earn a paycheck, hoping and praying for the possibility of change. But simply waiting for a manager to change their ways seldom results in a transformation of our circumstances. Thus, the old adage is generally true, “people don’t quit jobs, they quit managers.”
But management, in general, is a really good and vital thing that exists ultimately to make people effective toward the goals and mission of an organization. When a manager is good, they encourage creativity, collaborate with us on solutions, co-labor with us when times get tough, and help us develop our strengths. However, when a manager treats us poorly, ignores us, or doesn’t give us what we need, we become less effective or disengaged and the organization suffers.
Of course, the organization isn’t all that suffers. Our personal lives do, too. We may drive home with a deflated sense of purpose, embittered, and with an increasingly shortened fuse. Our loved ones, no doubt, are the first victims of the aftermath. They get a drained and moody version of us, and we experience a duller version of ourselves as we step into work the next day. And the cycle continues.
A Variety of Poor Managers
Poor managers come in all shapes and sizes, and from every color and creed. You’d never be able to spot a good or bad manager walking down the street. Their true managerial identities are concealed until you have to report to one. After reflecting, I counted 23 managers I’ve reported directly to throughout my professional career. They stretch across the spectrum of good to bad to ugly with a few memorable standouts. Of the not so stellar ones, three distinct types emerge: the cop manager, the cocky manager, and the crafty manager.
The cop manager micromanages you. Before you can make it to your desk after a meeting, he’s asking you about those TPS reports. He is overbearing, overwhelming and overcome with insecurity that if he doesn’t intervene, the job won’t get done. He has difficulty trusting his people, but he also rarely gives people the opportunity to earn his trust. Under his supervision, it becomes difficult to be spontaneous and creative and tends to feel claustrophobic. Sometimes micromanagement is warranted, but for the cop manager, it’s the rule, not the exception.
The cocky manager doesn’t have any time for you. If you’ve got a question, she’s likely to pawn you off on someone other than herself or provide an answer that brings little or no value. In meetings, she will rarely give accolades to team members in the presence of more senior leadership (in fact, she may even throw you under the bus). She’s far more concerned with preserving her own reputation than building up her team. If she needs to take part in the same activities as her subordinates for a day or two, she is psychologically insulted. The cocky manager is rarely seen taking quality time to listen to her employees, engage them and coach them in their personal goals.
The crafty manager seems supportive at the surface. He greets you with a big smile every day and even pays some attention to your personal life. At times, he’ll make you feel good about yourself, saying vague statements like “good job today,” and “thank you for your leadership.” However, you’ll never receive an authentic feedback session with him. He’ll dredge up gossip about your peers rather than speaking to them directly, and then he’ll turn around and do the same thing with your peers about you. Your ideas are heard, but rarely considered. Your feelings are encouraged, but ultimately dismissed. His goal is to have his ideas and feelings fill the minds of others. And if he’s crafty enough, it will work—to the detriment of the team and the organization as a whole.
This is nowhere near an exhaustive list of poor manager types, and I’m sure you can fill in the gaps with your experience. But poor managers like these have to be addressed—and sometimes confronted—with love and truth. But how?
Don’t Hate On Your Boss
Managers need love too. There is often a great deal of hostility directed at managers, and it doesn’t make their already challenging job any easier. We have to remember that people are poor managers for a reason. They were either managed this way by someone else, were never trained to manage well, or were not born to manage at all!
On that note, when you’ve had a rough day or week with your boss, the temptation is to communicate your frustrations to a co-worker or friend. There is a place for venting, but there can be a fine line between venting about someone and gossiping about them. The problem with gossip is it doesn’t get you closer to a solution, but tends to deepen your resentment toward them instead. Having a solution-focused conversation with a trusted advisor is a much better use of your time.
Have an Adult Conversation
Before you reach your breaking point, it’s best to sit down with your superior and be honest about your situation. There is a strategic way of doing it that may result in a more profitable outcome.
Some managers need to be confronted, but most of the time, an open and direct conversation is the best way to go. The progression can go something like this:
Demonstrate your aspiration: “I really want to do great work for this team and for this company…
Provide context to her behavior: “but when we’re in meetings with our client, like we were yesterday…”
Describe a frequent behavior: “and you told the client it was my fault we didn’t make the deadline…”
Illustrate this behavior’s specific impact on you: “it stalled my productivity for the rest of the day and impacted my ability to trust you in those types of meetings.”
At this point, you can allow her to respond and ask how you can work together to improve your relationship in the future. This shows her your desire to perform well, gives her a specific example of her challenging behavior and how it affected your performance (something they should really care about!).
If your conversations are in the spirit of “how we can work better together,” an improved relationship is likely to form over time.
If you’ve given your best effort and after some time there is no improvement in your working relationship, prayerfully considering a transfer or a new job is a wise decision.
Wishing you a better future with your boss. Don’t lose hope!
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David Miller helps large companies go through big changes involving strategy, technology and talent. When he's not traveling all over the United States for his clients, you can find him at a local music venue in Los Angeles soaking in some good tunes or pigging out at one of LA's fine eateries. Follow him on Twitter at @david_t_miller