Dear Dave: We have a new manager who is making life difficult for us. Our former manager always took time to get close to us, and we always knew what he meant and what was really important to know. Our new manager has no people skills and has not made any attempt to get to know us. Plus, he hides out in his office and every so often comes out to criticize someone, and then retreats back to his office. How can we cope? – Stuck
Dear Stuck: First, let me say, “Yikes!” Sadly, your manager will not change unless he absolutely decides to or is forced to. I am always confused and irritated when bad bosses acquire good positions. However, if you believe in Karma, your boss will spiral downward in the management chain of command.
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To be fair, it is best to understand what he is going through and what has made him the way he is. Maybe your boss lacks training and is so overwhelmed with his job that he can’t provide support for you. Perhaps he has been promoted too quickly or his reporting responsibilities have expanded beyond his reach and capabilities. And maybe he has never learned that good managers are visible and interactive with their employees. Or maybe he is just a lousy leader!
When managers feel vulnerable and are unsure of themselves, some really strange things happen … and I don’t mean strangely good. At its worst, some managers will behave as your boss does – communicate very little, and then go out and terrify employees with periodic drive-by shootings. It’s possible that his boss treats him the same way and this is all he knows.
It appears your manager has a trust issue – there is none! Research reveals that when managers possess low self-certainty and low self-esteem, their actions and attitudes typically follow a pattern of mistrust and they then distance themselves from their employees. In short, if they do not feel good about themselves, they will not feel good about their employees. Sadly, this causes good employees to leave and the ones that remain are miserable.
So, the big question is, how do you put up with all this?
First, find your purpose: I believe you are what you think you are. Even though your boss is filling your head with negative, degrading comments, protecting your self-image is what counts. Try to think of the positive achievements you have made and be proud of them. By doing this you will develop a thick skin that will shield you from his negativity.
Have a plan to spend valuable time learning and growing: Maybe it is time for you to vacate your job and aspire to something better. Think about returning to school, learning new skills, and making yourself more valuable to your company or even a new company. There are many opportunities for you to gain knowledge, and you should investigate them. And please, don’t let your boss’ immature attitude and behaviors impact your home life. Leave work at work.
Here is another tactic, and you may not like this one, get to know your boss: Ask him for time to talk and show an interest in him and his background, and even what his management philosophy might be – if he has one. Ask questions about his past and how he grew into his current role. Become familiar with him. Show him you care. Say hello to him every morning. It may not stop the negativity but, you will be surprised at how good it will make you feel.
Finally, be diplomatic and sincere and ask him to clarify the important things he says: This tactic is somewhat difficult to pull off, but you can say that you are trying to do your best work and you often need to hear things more than once, or more fully, so you can get things right. Your goal is to help your manager believe that you and your coworkers will get more done if everyone understands things thoroughly and are on the same page.
I believe what employees want most in their manager is for them to be good communicators in words and actions. Managers need to be clear! If they are not, mistakes will be made, and workers may even end up working hard on the wrong things. Simply, your boss’ mistakes will become your mistakes. And guess who will get the blame?
Most importantly, rise above all this, as hard as it may be. It would be nice to have a “smartness stick” and be able to bop poor managers over the head and they are suddenly brilliant leaders. But this is not going to happen, so you need to protect yourself – even if it means a quick departure.
Contact Dave Conrad with questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org. Conrad is an associate professor of business at Augsburg University in Rochester.