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The Bad Boss Chronicles: How to Thrive in a Poorly Managed Organization

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Is it possible to be a great manager when you’re working in a poorly managed organization? If you have a “bad boss,” you’ve probably asked yourself this question quite a few times.

You might have even spent some days slumped over your desk, counting the hours until the end of the work day, the days left before Friday and possibly even surfing through the “help wanted” ads.

But all isn’t lost just because you’re working in a poorly managed organization. With the right strategy, you can turn such a situation into an opportunity to overcome adversity and to demonstrate greatness.

Here are four rules to help you to do just that:

Rule #1: Don’t Be a Part of the Problem

The first step to overcoming negativity is to not participate in it.

This is because the most challenging thing about working for a “bad boss” isn’t the behaviors you have to put up with from them. The challenges come from the negative behaviors which you allow your boss to bring out in you. Every time you complain about your boss or about their management style, you’re doing two things.

  • Absorbing their negativity and allowing it to impact your performance and your attitude.
  • Becoming part of the problem by making yourself a “transmitter” of negativity.

Complaining not only wastes your energy, it sends a subconscious message to everyone around you. It assures them that it’s okay to complain about a problem instead of coming up with a solution. You might not be able to control the fact that you’re working in a poorly managed organization, but you CAN control your response. You can do this by making a conscious choice to:

  • Walk away from any conversion which is directed towards criticizing your boss
  • Walk away from any conversion which is directed towards complaining about the negative results being produced in your organization
  • Severely limit or completely cut off your interaction with anyone who is a known “conductor” of negativity (gossipers, chronic complainers etc)

Most often, coming up with a solution to a problem takes about as much energy as complaining about it does, so save your energy for rule #2…

#2: Talk Less, Demonstrate More

There’s only one way to overcome a culture which has become littered with negativity through complaining, gossiping and that’s through actions that demonstrate positive results. You have to prove to people that there’s still hope to get things done and to do a great job in your organization. This can’t be done through debate or through saying nice things and trying to “lighten up” the conversations in your workplace.

Words are easy to argue with, and people who complain are pretty good at arguing. However, actions and results cannot be disputed. Conserve your energy for the job, skip the morning “hate huddles” where people sit in the break room and swap horror stories about what’s going on at work.

Instead, spend this time going over your goals and objectives for the day. Focus on the things you CAN control and invest your energy into things which will produce positive results. Do this for 30 days and see if the change in your OWN attitude doesn’t convince you of the value of talking less and acting more.

#3: Be a Positive Influence by Managing Yourself First

There are probably dozens of things that frustrate you about your job, but how much time do you spend worrying over things you have no control over? Even if you’re supposed to have control over some things, but your boss keeps overstepping your boundaries, focus on what you can control and give your very best to those tasks instead of complaining about your boss’s micromanaging.

How many times have you complained to your boss about something only to have them divert the attention to something else that you’re doing wrong anyway? This is a common practice of poor leaders, but you can make yourself immune to it by being someone who gets the job done and who takes full responsibility for the things which the CAN control.

If you do this long enough and you’re producing results, you’ll have a lot more leverage to voice your concerns and your requests for change and reform in the workplace.

#4: Use Your Boss’s Weaknesses to Your Advantage, and Theirs

There are two ways to look at your boss’s weaknesses, you can see them as a hindrance of you can see them as an opportunity for you to fill in and meet an organizational need which your boss is incapable of meeting. Put yourself in your bosses’ shoes and ask yourself what their biggest challenge is in the workplace.

What could YOU do to apply YOUR strengths and help make your boss’s life easier? Find the unmet need in your organization, and start asking yourself how you can fulfill it.

Warning: Prepare for Resistance!

Applying these four rules comes with two challenges. First, you don’t want to assert yourself and apply step #4 too early, especially if your boss is the controlling type. Don’t try to influence anyone or anything outside your current position until you’ve first exhausted the opportunities of your current position.

Manage yourself first, demonstrate greatness through your actions and through the results produced by those actions. Wait until your boss starts to take notice, that’s usually your time to ask how you can help them.

The second challenge is that some of your coworkers will likely criticize you, calling you a “kiss up” or a “brownnoser.” Ignore them and stay committed to your plans. Most likely, they’ll end up answering to you in the near future…or complaining about you during their “morning huddles.”

Either way, the personal and professional growth you experience as a result of taking the path less followed will be worth it.

6. Underestimating Project Effort

Project managers have to ensure they remain realistic about what the project requires in order to prevent problems further down the line. Often times during planning activities, project managers are keen to appease their client and ensure there are no conflicts regarding the cost, schedule, or budget of a newly awarded project. This can sometimes lead to a “sunshine policy”, where new project managers are hesitant to accurately reflect the effort involved with project requirements. This type of underestimating is especially problematic, because the burden falls on team members to ensure work is performed faster or cheaper.

7. Letting Small Issues Evolve into Big Problems

When project issues surface, they need to be addressed straight away. Whether it is a project requirement that was misunderstood by a team member, and requires re-work, or a mistake in the project budget; it is the job of the project manager to clearly address these issues (and own up to them) as they arise. Many projects fail because small issues turn in to huge problems, causing distrust among the client and project team. As soon as an issue rears its head, tackle it directly.

8. Not Knowing when to ask for Help

If you are stuck as a project manager, ask for help. You do not need to know everything and being arrogant and not asking for help can put a project at serious risk. If it is technical or subject matter expertise you need assistance with, start by asking your team for advice. If you need assistance managing your client or project, reach out to a colleague or upper management. Most importantly, be honest and positive with your request and you will find others will respect your ability to ask for help.

9. Saying Yes to Everything

As a project manager, you should be flexible and visibly eager to assist your client. But saying yes all the time is a bad habit that can ultimately lead to projects that spiral out of scope, and team members who are over worked. As a project manager you need to know when enough is enough, and most importantly, how to diplomatically reject client requests that do not allow for more time (or budget).

10. Ignoring Team Mistakes

Mistakes happen, it’s human nature. As a project manager, it’s up to you to spot team member mistakes and deal with them immediately in a diplomatic, positive fashion. If the client is affected, inform them of how you plan on fixing the mistake, and (most importantly) how it will be prevented in the future. Failure to address team mistakes results in a culture where resources no longer care about quality, and this can poison a project.

As project managers, our highest priority is our client’s success. As such, this can sometimes lead to decision making that, while good intentioned, does not result in a well-run project or happy team resources. Being a project manager is no easy task and while mistakes will happen, knowing what the most common errors are could help you nip them in the bud before they derail your project.

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