How to Deal with Difficult Office Leadership

"People don't leave jobs; they leave bosses" is an age-old adage in the world of HR. And most of us can probably identify with the saying. A job with so-so potential can be enjoyable with the right leadership—and on the flip side, no amount of growth potential can compensate for a dysfunctional manager. The trick is to figure out how to deal with difficult office leadership so you're making the most of your current professional opportunity. Before you start sending out your resume, consider these guidelines.

Ask yourself: What story are you making up right now?

In her book Rising Strong, author Brené Brown suggests that when you're upset or frustrated, you ask yourself, "What story am I making up right now?" It's a simple mind shift that can help you see a situation more clearly. As Brown explains, our brains rush in to "explain" why something is happening, and often that narrative turns negative. Your manager might very well be incompetent and unfair. But you might also be exaggerating the situation in your frustration.

Figure out your boss's communication style and adapt.

Take a workplace communications training, and you'll likely be sorted into different categories of communicators. Some people value brevity above all else; others want to exchange pleasantries first. You need to figure out your supervisor's preference and adapt. Your work will go a lot more smoothly if you're speaking the same language.

Ask for clarity.

Once you've figured out how your boss likes to communicate, you need to use those skills to ensure you have a clear understanding of your boss's expectations. It's much easier to clear up the details of a project before it starts than it is to switch course midstream. Figure out whether your boss would like to recap the details at the end of your conversation or whether he or she would prefer you send a written summary of your meeting. It might seem like an extra step, but that clarity could prevent headaches later.

Help your boss look good.

We're not recommending you become a brownnoser, but even if you have the nicest boss on earth, it still makes sense to figure out your supervisor's priorities and help achieve them. After all, you want to be viewed as part of the solution, not the problem. For instance, if your boss is concerned your department's reports be submitted to his or her supervisor in a timely fashion, make sure your contributions are ready well before deadline.

Be a leader yourself.

The concept of "leadership" is often misconstrued in the workplace. You don't have to be in the C-suite or even be a supervisor to be a leader. All employees can be leaders by taking responsibility for their work, taking initiative, and maintaining a positive attitude. You might not think your company's higher-ups will notice, but they will. Again—it's all about being part of the solution.

Remember: You can only control you.

You can armchair-quarterback your boss' performance over happy hour all you want (though it's not recommended). At the end of the day, however, you only have control over your own actions. You can't change your boss or your company. You can either learn to cope or find a new situation.

Learn what you can.

Ideally, your boss would also be an amazing mentor—think Mr. Miyagi in the Karate Kid movies. But, at some point in your career, you'll have a boss who's more like Michael Scott from The Office. It's important to recognize you can learn a lot about what not to do in these scenarios. You're figuring out what’s important to you in a leader and learning what type of leader you would want to be when you're the supervisor.

If, after contemplation, you still feel the leadership at your company is detrimental to your well-being or your career, it might be time to move on. Just make sure you've exhausted your resources. The grass isn't always greener.

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