How to Change a Bad Boss into a Good Boss
The uncontested, number-one reason why people are unhappy and stressed at work is bad management. Nothing has more power to turn your work situation from happy to crappy than a bad boss. Sadly there are quite a few of them around. A British study accused one in four bosses of being bad, while a Norwegian study said one in five. The reason that having a bad manager is so bad for us is that managers have power over us. Managers can change our work situation, give us good or bad tasks, and, ultimately, fire us. This power imbalance is why a good relationship with your manager is so important.
The good news is that you are not powerless. You don't need to quietly accept a bad boss – quite the contrary. If your boss is not treating you and your co-workers right, you have a responsibility to do something. And in many, many cases, bosses long for feedback from their employees – they want to know what they can do better.
Here are the steps you must take, to deal with a bad boss.
1: Assume no bad intentions.
While some of the things your boss does may make you unhappy at work, it is probably not why they do it. Until proven otherwise, assume that they mean well and are simply unaware of the effects of their actions.
2: Classify your boss
Which of these three categories does your bad boss fall into?
a.) Doesn't know they are bad.
b.) Knows they are bad and wants to improve.
c.) Doesn't want to know they are bad or doesn't care.
Many managers who make their employees unhappy are simply unaware of this fact—nobody has ever told them that what they do isn't working. Some managers know that what they're doing is wrong and are trying to improve—these people need our support and good advice in order to do better.
But this may not always work. There's also the third category of boss: those who steadfastly refuse to acknowledge that they're bad leaders, or who revel in the fact that they make people unhappy at work. These managers are usually beyond helping and may never learn and improve. Get away from them as fast as you can. Here's an example I heard from a reader of my blog.
I used to be the Public Relations Coordinator and Editor for a local non-profit organization. A couple of months before I threw in the towel my grandmother became very ill. After a phone call from a family member I was told to come to her bedside, as death was imminent.
I told my boss that I needed to leave for a family emergency and explained the situation and how close I was to my grandmother. My boss replied, “Well, she's not dead yet, so I don't have to grant your leave."
I was told to complete my workday. Suffice to say I did not finish my workday and quit on the spot.
3: Let your boss know what they could do better
Presuming your boss is in category 1 or 2, you must let them know what they can improve. This can be scary because of the power imbalance between managers and employees, but it needs to be done. Managers aren't mind readers, and they need honest, constructive feedback.
Do it sooner rather than later. It can be tempting to wait, thinking that it might get better on its own, or that your boss might be promoted, transferred or leave. Don't wait – sooner is better.
Also, be specific and tell your manager, “When you do X it makes me do Y, which results in Z." If you can show how his/her actions reduce motivation, hurt business, or increase expenses, you're more likely to convince him/her that this is a serious issue.
4: Praise your manager when he or she gets it right.
When your boss gets it right, remember to praise them. Many managers never receive praise because people mistakenly believe that praise should only flow from managers to employees.
You may be nervous about approaching your manager and giving them advice, but good managers are truly grateful for constructive, useful feedback, and will appreciate any opportunity they get to learn how to do a better job.
5: If all else fails, get out.
If you've tried to make it work and can't, it's time to get away. You can go for another job inside the company (with someone you know to be a great boss), or in another organization.
According to workplace researchers Sharon Jordan-Evans and Beverly Kaye, when people quit, they don't leave the company, they leave a bad boss. Surveys show that up to 75% of employees who leave their jobs do so at least in part because of their immediate manager. In the exit interview dutifully performed by HR, employees may say that they got a higher salary or a shorter commute out of the switch, but in anonymous surveys the truth comes out: My bad boss drove me away.
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