Accelerating the Advancement of Women Leaders 


December 12, 2018

If the experience of working with a challenging manager were less common, movies like Horrible Bosses and The Devil Wears Prada wouldn’t be so funny. The thing is, most of us can relate just a little. But there’s not much to laugh at when you and your boss are like oil and water. Something has to give and it’s pretty much got to be you.
But, before you let a difficult (or even quirky) boss torpedo your success, make sure you’re doing everything you can to make the relationship work.
For starters, make sure your boss is actually difficult. Try observing her objectively for a couple days to determine what makes her so challenging for you. Is she under intense pressure from above? Is her style just very different from yours? Do others find her as challenging as you do? Have you been unresponsive to requests? Try imaging the most forgiving reasons for her actions and see if it changes your perspective.
Get into her/his head. Does she most value loyalty, creativity and new ideas, hard work and long hours? Is she trying to grow the department or fix a bad reputation? The more you understand what motivates your boss, the better prepared you will be to help her succeed and create a better partnership between you.
Pinpoint the problem areas. Is your boss a micromanager? Disorganized? In over his head? If you can identify your areas of greatest conflict, you may be able to solve them. Try getting out in front of a micromanager by anticipating the reassurance and detail he will want ahead of time. Create organization systems for the department that help your boss stay on task. And don’t assume your boss has all the answers. He may be the manager but he’s not all-knowing. Provide support that will help him look his best.
Don’t take it out on your work. Turning in low quality work, constantly extending your lunch hour or working at a snail’s pace may feel like you’re taking a stand against a difficult manager, but of course you’re just hurting your coworkers and your reputation. Maintain your high standards and you are more likely to improve the relationship and be better positioned to take advantage of new opportunities as they arise. 
Prepare your exit plan. If you’ve truly given it your best shot and things aren’t getting any better, it’s time to consider moving on. Seek out mentors in other areas who can help you navigate opportunities in other parts of the company. If you have to leave the organization, they may also be able to serve as a reference. If you believe your boss is truly abusive or unfair, contact Human Resources for help.
If possible, ask future colleagues what the working situation is like and how they would describe the manager before you commit to your next role.

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