6 Ways to Handle a Bad Manager


As we’ve been talking about bad management behavior over the past couple of weeks, a question was raised by one of our readers, Chris Fleek, that I will paraphrase as this: “What do you do if you have a bad manager?”  He was specifically asking how you get a bad manager to read a blog post like those we’ve been writing lately in hopes that you can improve their behavior without getting yourself fired.  There are thousands if not millions of people all around the world who work for bad managers and who feel hopeless that change will come.  So, I thought perhaps I’d brainstorm a list of things you might do if you find yourself in this situation.

Below is a list of things you can do if you find yourself working for a bad manager.  Not every approach is going to work for every situation, but hopefully there’s something here that might help.

  1. Call out the bad  behavior.  Depending on your manager, just being courageous enough to bring up the behavior to her can result in some change.  Despite what we like to think, most of the time our manager isn’t trying to make our life miserable, she is just clueless.  Help her out by sharing with her how her action had a negative impact on you.  Example: “The other day, when you did X, it caused some issues for me.  I’m sure you didn’t mean for this to happen, but when you do that, it causes Y and Z to take place, which is really frustrating . . .” 
  2. Clarify expectations.  Sadly, most managers have no freaking clue how to set goals or manage performance.  That means that we have to help them along with this.  It’s important to ask your manager specific questions about his expectations of you.  Ask questions like:
    • What do I need to do this year to be considered a top performer?
    • What are the most important things that I need to accomplish this year?
    • What things am I not doing today, that I should be doing to ensure you see me as one of your top people? 
    • What am I doing today that’s not what you’d like me to be doing?
  3. Model the behavior you’d like to see.  Ghandi said that “We must be the change we wish to see” so another way to help your bad manager is to show him how it’s done, particularly if you are a manager of people yourself.  Do the thing that you think is right and then share that with your manager and explain why you did it.  You don’t have to suggest they try it.  If your way gets results, she will pay attention and just might try some of what you are doing.  This approach doesn’t always work because many bad managers are not great learners, but it does work well in cases where you have a younger or newer manager who maybe just isn’t that skilled at managing.  
  4. Ask questions. Sometimes, asking a non-threatening question to seek further clarification on a decision or action can lead you into a productive conversation with your manager.  Generally speaking, managers do have reasons for what they do, but they aren’t always good reasons.  Making them explain their reasons can help improve their decision making.  Example: “The other day, you did X.  I have been asked by a few others why you would make that decision and I wasn’t sure how to explain it.  Can you share with me why you chose X as opposed to another option?”
  5. Be a squeeky wheel.  If nothing else seems to work and there’s a particular behavior from your boss that must change, bring it up frequently and pointedly to reinforce how important the issue is.  If there are others on your team who share the same concern, have them squeek as well.  This means sending emails with questions/comments.  Raising it in any one on one meetings you have with your manager.  It could mean leaving it on voice mail if you are getting the silent treatment.  Make the issue one that your manager can’t avoid.  If you create enough discomfort, there will be motivation to change.  Note: in order for this approach to work, you have to be a top performer who’s delivering the goods.  If you aren’t pulling your weight on the team, the manager will fix the squeeky wheel by replacing it.  
  6. Quit.  Sometimes, it’s best to move on.  The reality is that most bad managers aren’t going to change unless their managers make it important for them to do so.  And sadly, bad management is an epidemic.  So, you may need to move on and find a better manager to work for.  If you chose this path, invest time in thinking about how you will interview potential new managers to determine if they are the kind of person you want to work for.
Good luck out there!

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