Rule 3: Put your boss on the couch
Bosses all fall into a few generalized categories. Determine which one is your boss.
The Little League Parent
This type of boss acts as your parent. But do not fall under the mistaken impression that they are actually your parent. This is a dangerous way of thinking, because at the end of the day, parents love their children unconditionally (or at least they are supposed to). Your boss does not. To prove this to yourself, just do a bad job. Remember that any good work that you do will be a credit to your manager’s ability to hire and develop the best talent (Amazon leadership principle). If you look good, your boss looks good. The converse is also true. Do not forget that.
Now if you’re lucky, a little league parent boss acts as a mentor. Or they can be the bad kind of parent who makes you feel inadequate. Even in such a scenario, you can still learn much from them, as they may will teach you much, even if it is in a condescending manner. However, you can’t afford to have this type of boss beyond your 20s and early 30s, because you cannot develop a brand of your own under such a boss. If you don’t move on, you’ll be forced to regardless: At some point, as you presumably progress in your career and experience, you will start to question your boss more. Such a manager cannot stand this loss of authority.
This is the better version of the Little League parent. As mentioned before, work is not your family, and your boss is not your parent. A more apt analogy describing the bond at work would be military. A mentor will develop a “band of brothers” style team underneath him who will be fiercely loyal. This loyalty is earned by taking care of his subordinates. He is a rising tide, one that elevates the entire team. He protects you from the predators in the company, develops yours career, puts in a good word with the higher ups who matter, and when the time has come, helps you leave the nest and spread your wings.
The mentor takes care of you, the wastrel wants you to take care of everything and do all the work. Yet even such a boss can be good. Because you’re doing all the work of someone one level above you, you’ll be given more responsibility. Leverage the tougher assignments as learning opportunities and a chance to meet powerful people, the people that your boss would normally interact with if he did his job.
This person is a hated enemy in the organization, but may have survived … so far. You will do well to keep your brand separate from your boss, as difficult as a balancing act as that may be. The key is to show that you are loyal to your boss, but also loyal to the company. Your brand should be that of someone who is useful not just to your boss but to the whole org. Make alliances with others. History is full of once popular bosses becoming pariahs, and his subordinates suffering the same fate.
This quote from the book stands out, and reads like something from the 48 laws of power: The most powerful king’s courtier is never given the same respect as someone who controls the smallest duchy.
Even if you have the best boss, and not a pariah, you will never gain as much respect as someone loyal to the company but also an independent power.
The One Way User
The one way user is the type of boss diminishes your contributions, claims them for himself, and doesn’t give you any recognition. These bosses are vain and concerned only building their own brand. They will use their employees, but forget that rewarding and acknowledging said employees is how to foster long term good will and loyalty. You will not be able to grow under such a boss. Recognize the situation, and find a new boss. Most people do. I’ve seen this before at work, and a tell tale sign is high turnover rate under such a manager, not to mention all the complaints on the rumor mill.
Indecisive and weak. Will not praise you for fear of losing you. Will require lots of hand holding, and reassurance on their decisions or emails, but won’t let you take initiative on any new ideas. In fact, the only time the wimp shows bravery, is in shooting down your ideas. Will tell you he has your back but then disappears at the first sign of trouble. He is the bureaucrat and dead weight of the organization. But of course will still try to claim all the credit. You will not get much done under such a boss.
The Know it All
This type of boss will never admit they are wrong, and will never listen. At least they won’t steal your ideas, but that’s because they think their ideas are the best. But when you implement their brilliant ideas and things don’t go well, you take the blame. Because after all, they are geniuses who know everything, so if something went wrong with their brilliant ideas, it can’t possibly be their fault. You won’t learn much from these type of bosses because they won’t let you think on your own. These types of people are terrible as bosses but even worse as subordinates. They can end up sinking the whole company with their brilliant ideas and inability to listen to feedback from others.
What can you do?
In the face of so much incompetence, arrogance, and abuse, what can you do? Your boss has all the power, but you are not completely helpless. Here’s a few things you can do.
Turn down passage on the Titantic
Don’t forget that when you go to an interview, you are also evaluating the company, team, and boss that you will be working for. Many bad bosses will have tells that give them away during the interview process. During the interview with the hiring manager, you might be criticized during the interview, or encounter overt hostility. A one way user boss will focus entirely on how you will benefit them. The boss might start criticizing people on the team. Guess what? You’ll eventually be a target of such criticism as well. Find out as much as you can about the boss, the team, and the company. Talk to other employees, ex employees, and read the news. Check resources like blind or glassdoor. If it doesn’t feel right, don’t take the job.
Get out of Dodge
As long as you are learning, the Faustian bargain of gaining experience and contacts in exchange for long brutal hours is worth it. However, if your boss sucks and your prospects are dim, go somewhere else. Staying too comfortable in a place after you’ve already learned everything you could at a position is going to lock you into mediocrity. Thinking that you can always change jobs and take on something more challenging in the distant future lulls you into complacency. Some day the distance future becomes the present and you’ll be wondering what went wrong. If you are no longer learning, adding to your brand, and if the company isn’t moving you up, its time to go somewhere else.
Make friends in high places
Even if you have a terrible boss, there’s a good chance other people higher up in the org have taken notice of you. For example, you are able to give a well thought out and detailed answer to a question from your boss’s boss, while your own boss cannot. Look for signs of sympathy, gratitude, and interest from higher ups.
Be careful though, and never talk bad about your boss. As stated previously, this is bad for your brand and makes you look untrustworthy. Furthermore, it is insulting to superiors, as it implies they’re unable to notice what’s going on. The exception to this rule is when a higher up directly asks you about the situation. In that case, be diplomatic but direct.
Finally, treat times of crisis as opportunity. Tough times and upheaval at a company will reveal who truly holds the power. In normal times, the hierarchy is observed, but in tough times, the people truly in power play their hands and step in to act. Those are the people you want to win over. You will also see just how much power your boss actually has. If they’re ineffective, it won’t be much. Crisis are also an opportunity for you to shine. Whenever there’s a fire, the people in charge will see who can get stuff done and who cannot. This is the best way to get out from under a bad boss.
You can enjoy a dish best served cold
Things may be bad now, but take comfort in the fact that someday you may end up in a position of power over a bad boss who once made life miserable for you.