The Horrible Boss: Managerial Ineffectiveness Explored – Action Strategies For Dealing With A Horrible Boss

Dwight Mihalicz,

In Parts 1 to 5 of the Horrible Boss series, we discussed the concept of bad managers through the lens of managerial ineffectiveness. We presented a framework for understanding performance that outlined the 3 key dimensions of job effectiveness: Mental Processing Capability, Skills and Knowledge and Application as playing an instrumental role in defining or preventing the horrible boss. Each cause was further explored by discussing possible symptoms of ineffectiveness leading direct report managers to characterize their manager as a horrible boss. In Part 6, the final piece of the series, we will present action strategies for how to deal with a less-than-stellar boss that will help you emerge happier, healthier and in control of your situation.

Managerial Ineffectiveness is a Systemic Problem

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Wayne Hochwarter, Professor of Management at Florida State University, shared some insight recently with very telling research conducted on leadership dynamics; more specifically, job satisfaction and managerial relationships. His study concluded as many as 40 percent of people in the workforce admit they wouldn’t acknowledge their boss if they saw him or her on the street. Further, the thing most respondents said they enjoyed most about their job was “leaving.” These statistics are shocking, no doubt, but the study reveals something more important than disgruntled workers. The research lets us know that this is not a unique problem with a few individuals, but a systemic lack of managerial effectiveness in terms of managers not doing the best job they can to benefit their direct reports.

What Do I Do? 5 Things

What can subordinate managers do when faced with a horrible boss? Luckily, aside from quitting, moving to a new location or denial, there are a few action strategies that employees can use to fight “horrible boss” syndrome and come up standing tall.

    1. Be Introspective

The number one strategy for facing obstacles of any sort is to be introspective. As a manager in your own right, you need to look inside yourself and ask the tough questions. Being honest with answers to questions like, “Am I truly the right fit for this job?” and, “Do I enjoy my work?” will help identify when it is time to move on. It could be that you’ve outgrown the job and clashing with a manager is simply a consequence of being ready to be promoted. It may not have to be a vertical move but a horizontal shift that can give you the chance to use different capabilities. Being introspective is key in recognizing when it is time to reevaluate a current position.

    1. Be Proactive, Not Reactive

What can we learn from the Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People? Simply that being proactive rather than reactive can help you make better choices in terms of receiving negative stimulus, ingesting it and using it in a positive way. Covey’s insight is critical for learning how to more effectively deal with a tumultuous relationship and for understanding the negative implications of letting a sour relationship incubate. Deal with the situation by exploring alternatives that you yourself can control, and you will always identify a healthier approach.

    1. Explore Your Sphere of Control

Another excellent strategy for dealing with a horrible boss comes from Shana Johnson’s work on understanding and exploring sphere of control. If you are currently in a situation in your employment that’s not tolerable, write down the specific factors that are causing you to feel this way and identify which ones you have control over. For those things you can control, identify possibilities for how to remedy the situation.

What are the kinds of things you can influence and the types of things that you can be proactive about? It’s critical to understand why you have feelings of incompatibility with your manager. Whether you’re having difficulty getting important feedback from meetings, or it’s challenging to get information in a timely manner, identifying those things that you can directly influence will help you create solutions. For example, look at each of the 3 Key Dimensions of Effectiveness. For each of these dimensions, are you experiencing the related symptoms? This will help identify what are you getting and what is missing. For that which is missing, what can you be pro-active about seeking from your manager? Alternatively, if things are out of your control and beyond your ability to influence, you must ask yourself which things you are willing to accept and which are enough to warrant changing your situation.

    1. Be Responsible For Your Own Actions

Mark Samuel writes extensively on the topic of responsibility (he uses the work “accountability” in his writing, but my position is that accountability cannot be self-held; hence, I use the word responsibility which is self-held), and making yourself “indispensable.” As CEO of IMPAQ, an award winning consulting firm, Mark reminds us that it’s perfectly acceptable, if not preferable to get out of the victim loop and take charge of our lives. He takes the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People aspect of reactive versus proactive and applies it to life in the work place. Accountability in the workplace is full of advice on how to take control of improving a negative situation by being more responsive, and learning to “own” your part of the interaction with an ineffective manager.

    1. Having Confidence

Plenty of engaging books, well respected literature and academic articles exist on how to be more effective as a manager. What most strategies come down to in the end is confidence in yourself and total understanding of how you personally can change your situation. Horrible bosses are everywhere and when you can’t go to your superior for advice, guidance and direction, it absolutely has a negative impact on your performance and overall effectiveness. It comes down to this: what strategies can you put in place to draw out the interaction and support you need to be successful in your job?

There are undeniably more than a few horrible bosses out there and managers who do not know how to manage appropriately. The main approach of Effective Managers™ is to help all managers be more effective, to work with them to see more clearly what they can and should be doing to make direct reports more successful. “How do I, as a manager, interact and use the skills that I use with my direct reports to help me in my relationship with my own manager?” Confidence in oneself must precede knowledge, if knowledge is to be used effectively.

Managers learn from managers. Having the tools to identify and understand what makes a great boss and using that knowledge to pull up those beneath you can only help others to do the same. In situations where you are not enabled by your boss, but constrained, create another mechanism. Be introspective and aware of your own role in the relationship, make important decisions about your choices and more importantly, your role in terms of changing your situation. And finally, have confidence in your own abilities, skill and knowledge to fill the void by building positive, reinforcing relationships with those around you that can help drive you forward. This will undoubtedly give you the positive reinforcement you need to avoid the perils of being a horrible boss yourself.

Dwight Mihalicz

Dwight Mihalicz has over 40 years’ experience helping local, national, and international organizations achieve greater productivity, efficiency, and performance.
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