October 13, 2009
News & Opinion: Working For You Isn't Working For Me Q&A
Katherine Crowley and Kathi Elster have spent years analyzing the effects of poor management, or to put it bluntly, working with a nutcase boss. Some people react by quitting, others give in and live miserably for years, but as the authors point out, there are much better ways to handle the situation. This insight is detailed in their new book, Working For You Isn't Working For Me: The Ultimate Guide to Managing Your Boss. Here are a few questions I sent the authors after checking out their book. Their answers hint at what a great read the book is, not only for those looking to gain sanity leverage in their job, but also as a guide for any manager to be conscious of how to treat and interact with their employees. For most people, the short answer to a horrible boss is, "quit." Why is this not always the best decision? Kathi E. – Let’s face it, in this economy most people do not have the luxury to quit their jobs. Another reason why people should think before they quit, is the fact that there’s no guarantee that your next boss will be any better. We believe that once you understand our 4-step process (detect, detach, depersonalize, and deal) you can handle whatever kind of boss is thrown at you. Katherine C. – Usually, if you’ve reached the “I want to quit” stage with a boss, your interactions with this person have also eroded your self-confidence. It’s very common for an unhappy employee to want to quit, yet feel insecure regarding his or her capabilities. Do I qualify for a better position? Would anyone want to hire me? These questions can plague an employee who wants to leave. That’s why we encourage readers to try our process – if you take the actions we suggest and still want to quit, you’ll be able to do it with confidence and conviction. For some, the reaction to a bad boss might be to embrace their faults and try to befriend or understand them on a more personal level in order to show them your level of commitment when others have run screaming. Does this work? Katherine C – I’m a psychotherapist, so I’m allowed to say this: Understanding is over-rated. It may feel helpful to understand why your boss is chronically late, or why your supervisor needs to take credit for your ideas, but it doesn’t really help you manage the relationship. Many employees try to analyze their bosses in an effort to feel a greater sense of control. While understanding what makes your boss tick on personal level may help you feel more compassionate towards him or her, dealing with the behavior requires more strategy. Kathi E – Understanding your boss’s weaknesses and issues on a personal level can be worth the effort for some of us. The individuals who master this ability are what we call the unpaid therapists of the workplace. We suggest that if you do invest a lot of your time trying to understand the boss, you should be careful not to over compensate for his or her weakness. In other words, don’t do your boss’s job just because you understand his or her deep-rooted problems. The book talks about detaching and depersonalizing, which seem ironic for the workplace. How can these be implemented to everyone's advantage, and is there a limit to existing like this? Katherine C. – Detaching and depersonalizing are terms we use to describe actions you can take to get some emotional distance from your relationship with the boss. Detaching from the boss is almost anti-intuitive because when you work for a difficult authority figure the natural tendency is to become obsessed with fixing the relationship. To detach is to let go of fixing the boss, and take back your personal power. By restoring your energy (through exercise or meditation), repairing your emotional state (getting support from family and friends) and rebuilding your confidence (writing down your successes every day, showcasing your talents in some way) you actually become clear-headed and grounded enough to effectively manage the relationship. Kathi E. – The skill of not taking the boss’s bad behavior personally is also vital to success at work. Depersonalizing takes any of the remaining emotional turmoil out of your relationship with the boss. An important part of depersonalizing is figuring out what fears your boss may be triggering in you. We offer readers a Boss Baggage Assessment that identifies the needs, expectations and fears that they bring to any relationship with authority. Most people feel immediate relief after they take it. For example, if you work for a very controlling boss, and you discover that you naturally challenge authority, then you’ll understand why this heavy-handed manager triggers your worst fears of being marginalized and dismissed. The book covers a wide range of psychological profiles and how to deal with them. Are there any boss/employee profile combos that are ideal pairings? What are some tips for exploring that possibility in the interview process? Kathi E. – What we call the extroverts (stars and challengers) work well with ambivalent bosses (scared cows, checked out, spineless) because the extroverts can run the office and shine. The caregivers (nurtures and harmonizers) can manage head game bosses (chronic critics, rule changers, under miner’s) because they are the ones these bosses tend to like. Katherine C. – Once you know your own Boss Baggage, you can make it your job to interview any potential employer with questions that uncover their management style. Ask, “What kind of person does best here?” “How would you describe your management style?” Find out from past or current employees what they like best and what they find most challenging about working for this person. One general piece of advice, if you smell smoke (temper problems, bad boundaries, poor ethics) there’s usually fire. Based on your profile, you can decide whether a potential boss’s faults are manageable to you or unacceptable. How can each of us prepare to not become bad bosses when given the opportunity to lead? Kathi E. – We suggest that any new boss spend time learning how to manage people. Managing your team’s workload is important, but knowing how to motivate and lead people, will produce a better work product. Understand that people bring their baggage to work with them in the form of expectations, needs, and fears. It’s worth your time learning about the baggage that each person brings to your office. We suggest that no one hire without giving the potential candidate our Boss Baggage Assessment in Chapter 5 of Working for You Isn’t Working for Me. It will tell you all you need to know before you hire someone. Katherine C. – Very often, the most competent worker is promoted to a leadership position. Rarely does a company consider whether this individual likes motivating and leading others. Part of what you might consider is whether you want to manage. It’s not for everyone. If you do decide to take on the challenge, be willing to learn communication skills and leadership skills as part of your professional development.