A bad boss can just about kill you—not literally, of course. But a bad boss can kill the part of your soul that is the source of your positive energy and commitment.
Your boss may make you want to surf the Web or call headhunters, looking for a job anywhere but where you are. You might feel very sorry for yourself.
But don't! You can't allow yourself to become a victim. When it comes to your career, this attitude will kill all your options.
Like every other unfortunate or unfair situation that befalls you in life, working for a difficult boss is a problem, but it's one you can solve.
To do so, ask yourself the following series of questions, the answers to which will help you navigate what is usually a painful experience—painful, but yours to accept, fix or end.
Why is my boss acting like a jerk?
Sometimes the answer is a no-brainer. Your boss is acting like a jerk because that's the way he treats everyone who answers to him. But it's an entirely different situation if your boss is nasty only to you.
In that case, you need to start asking yourself what you have done to earn his disapproval. Think hard about your performance and reflect on how you may have fallen short. Also consider your attitude towards authority, because that may be the source of your problem.
Maybe you're comfortable with authority, and the rest of your self-examination has you coming up empty-handed too. Then it's time to find out what your boss is thinking. If you're lucky, he'll come clean about your shortcomings and you can work together to correct them.
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As you improve your performance or attitude, his attitude towards you just might improve as well.
Ironically, you are in a much different situation if you find out that your boss is satisfied with your performance. That means he is being awful, simply because he doesn't particularly like you, in which case the next question is:
What's the endgame for my boss?
Sometimes it's obvious that a bad boss is on the way out. His superiors have signalled as much to the organization or he is making it clear that he can't wait to move on. In either case, you're playing a waiting game. Deliver strong results and maintain a can-do approach until relief arrives.
You are in a different boat if your bad boss is not going anywhere anytime soon. Many bad bosses are managers who have bad values, but deliver good results, and they are the most difficult to handle. They often hang around for a long time, kept on staff because of their results.
Most good companies know about these people and eventually move them out. But almost every company keeps these types of managers around for longer than is good for the organization.
If you feel that's the case, your next question should be:
What will happen to me if I deliver results and endure my bad boss?
If you think that a higher-up in your organization sympathizes with your situation, it's possible that you will eventually be promoted as a reward for surviving it. While you're waiting, hang in there and give the job your all.
But be careful. Suppress the impulse to complain about a bad boss to his colleagues and superiors. The big boss may be looking out for you when he scolds your boss for his behaviour, but you can be sure that your life will only become more unpleasant afterward.
There's always an element of uncertainty in this situation. All you know for sure is that going to work isn't fun. Which is why you need to ask yourself the following:
Why do I work here anyway?
Few jobs are perfect. If you have a bad boss and the situation isn't going to change anytime soon, you need to assess your trade-offs and ask, “Is this worth it?”
If the answer is no, then start constructing an exit plan that will get you out the door with as little damage as possible to your career and reputation.
On the other hand, if you expect that in the long-term your job will benefit your career, you really have no choice.
Focus on why you are staying, and understand that your bad boss is the downside of the deal you have made with yourself. This means you've forfeited your right to complain.
You can't consider yourself a victim anymore. When you own your choices, you own their consequences.
Is your job worth the price of enduring a bad boss? If the trade-off is not worth it, leave gracefully.
And when the time comes that you're in charge, remember exactly what made that boss so bad and how it made you feel. You'll never treat anyone the same way.
Write to Jack & Suzy
Jack and Suzy are eager to hear about your career dilemmas and challenges at work, and look forward to answering some of your questions in future columns. Jack and Suzy Welch are the authors of the international best-seller, Winning. Their latest book is Winning: The Answers: Confronting 74 of the Toughest Questions in Business Today. Mint readers can email them questions at firstname.lastname@example.org Please include your name, occupation and city. Only select questions will be answered.
©2009/The NYT Syndicate
Adapted from Winning (HarperBusiness Publishers, 2005) by Jack Welch with Suzy Welch.)