How To Manage Upward (If You Have A Bad Boss)

One of the most common reasons people leave jobs is as a direct result of their manager. Some bosses micro-manage, others remain aloof; some get drunk on power and take credit for others’ work without acknowledging them; others make promotion decisions based on favoritism — some cases are more extreme than others, but the result is the breeding of negativity or toxicity in the workplace. While you won’t always have the option of quitting, you can take matters into your own hands by managing upward.

upward manage bad boss

Talk To Your Boss To Establish Common Ground

The first thing you can do is to set up a meeting with your boss to discuss your working relationship. Come prepared to the meeting with talking points, questions and solutions. Talk about both your work style preferences, inquire about their management style, the best ways to communicate, how frequent you want one-on-one check-ins, what you hope to get out of this manager-employee relationship, and then allow the conversation to be a two-way street where you both get to voice your opinions and come to a consensus. Always show respect and tact, but also be firm when necessary.

Don’t Be Afraid To Voice Your Frustrations, But Know The Time And Place

It’s easy to whine and complain about every little thing that doesn’t go your way — and the painful truth is that there are some instances you may just have to suffer through for the good of the team. But there are certainly times you shouldn’t be afraid to speak up. For example, if you notice your new boss is tracking your every move and making jokes in front of the team about your punctuality or work ethic, it’s within reason to bring your discomfort to his/her attention.

Set Up Skip-Level Meetings

One of the best things you can do is to establish a good working relationship with your boss’ boss. First, ask if you can set up regular skip-level meetings. Depending on how busy this person is, that could mean having one-on-ones on a monthly or even quarterly basis. Regardless of the frequency, try to establish a regular cadence where you can talk about high-level goals of yours, including where you see yourself as a next step. Be careful not to bad mouth your boss in front of this person — you don’t want to appear bitter or get personal; instead, if there is a broken process that’s causing you grief, you might talk objectively about it and suggest possible solutions or workarounds.

Create A Career Path For Yourself

No one else is going to do it for you. If you don’t like where you are right now and your boss isn’t helping your cause, set your eye on the prize and work toward it. It will give you hope and a reason to put in your maximum effort, even if your situation isn’t ideal. You’d be surprised how helpful it can be to sit down with your boss and outline your professional goals alongside the company’s business goals — and how they align. If you’re interested in shadowing people on other teams, talk to your boss about it and make it happen. If you want to have a greater role in a big project, talk to your boss about how to make it happen instead of expecting him/her to read your mind.

Build A Tier Of Support Around You

Find a mentor or sponsor, make connections across teams and functions, build a strong rapport with your co-workers, attend networking events — do what it takes to widen your circle of influence so you never have to feel alone as you navigate the complexities of your career. Also, be willing to self-reflect, acknowledge your own shortcomings and take others’ feedback and advice.

Deanna Hartley is a writer and editor who has spent the past decade publishing hundreds of print and digital bylines on topics including job search advice, career development, recruitment, HR and human capital management. Deanna has a master’s degree from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, was formerly a senior editor at award-winning publisher Human Capital Media and a senior copywriter at CareerBuilder. She currently works as a content manager at Aon, a global professional services firm. Her articles have appeared in a variety of publications, including the Chicago Tribune, Business Insider, Gannett and Workforce Magazine.

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