SelectOne Blog

Coping with the Freak Show of Difficult Managers


We’ve all been there. Dreading the drive into work everyday, knowing a horrible boss is just waiting for you to walk through the door to unilaterally accost, wrecking any chance you had at a sane day. 

Difficult managers come in various forms and a broad spectrum and there's simply no cookie-cutter approach to universally solving the conundrum of being trapped under a horrible boss or leadership team.  Companies are comprised of people with different communication styles, responsibilities, aspirations, personal lives, experiences and backgrounds.

In many ways, dealing with conflict and resolution, the interpersonal push and pull, is ubiquitous across all industries, markets, companies, levels, and specializations we support.   

Before identifying productive approaches to coping with the freak show of difficult managers, we must fully understand the spectrum of horrible bosses: 

The Micromanager This person renders any critical thought you may have had or potentially could have in the future useless, because you spend so much of your time answering their menial questions about obvious day to day tasks that you have little time to do anything but respond to them. Any time you work on a project they’ve “delegated”, you feel more like a child with a professional babysitter than a competent, productive member of working society with a college education.

What To Do?  Try getting out in front of your manager on a key project.  Call a meeting to discuss broad project objectives, but come armed with research, timelines, roadmaps, and deliverables defined, and ask what you can do to take the pressure off of your manager.  Then, make sure the project is crushed harder than no other project has, with an obviously successful outcome.  When your boss invariably acquiesces to cough out a compliment, let him/her know you do your best work when you’re able to anticipate and think critically with some space.  

The Hothead – This person flies off the handle every time something slightly deviates from their expectations. Did someone light a match?  Call the fire department!!!  Is the Internet down?  Scream at the IT guy or vendor!!! You tiptoe around this person because you’re afraid any little thing is going to, and usually does, send them into a tailspin. The Hothead creates a dreaded negativity-work-vortex, within which you are routinely drawn.

What To Do?  First and foremost, don’t feed the beast by fanning the flames and contributing to the reactionary, alarmist moments yourself.  When something doesn’t go to plan, remain calm.  If the “problem” being fretted over really isn’t worth addressing with a real solution, bite your tongue, and ride out the storm. But if it’s something worth solving, while clearly still eliciting an overreaction, think quickly on your feet, offering up solutions which you will personally take ownership over driving.  Hopefully this will go a long way toward gaining respect of the Hothead, and maybe, if you’re lucky, make him/her react less violently when problems occur, knowing they have a big time problem-solver on their team.

The Wildcard – Sometimes, you’re their best friend, and you can do no wrong!  Other times, you’re a blabbering idiot who has no business operating a motor vehicle.  You have no clue when you’ll be in good favor, or be cast aside as an incompetent fool.  While we all have mood swings driven by any number of factors, this manager has them to an extreme, and their team feels the wrath of good and evil raining down upon them in unpredictable torrential downpours of equally unwarranted compliments and derision.

What To Do?  See if there’s any correlation going on, especially with the negative side of the Wildcard: time of day, day of the week, interaction with certain people, stresses of certain recurring responsibilities, incompetence of coworkers, etc.  To the extent that any correlation exists, simply get yourself out of the line of fire by removing yourself from triggering situations.  If this isn’t possible, do your best to put your top work in front of this person – triple check your work, figure out ways to make their life easier, and make them look good in front of their boss.  And if the volatility is so extreme and unpredictable, perhaps a new job is in order!

The Amoeba – By very definition, this manager is spineless in their dealings with nearly everyone.  They provide very little guidance to their teams for fear of rubbing anyone the wrong way, which crushes any chance of development opportunities for staff members. When the opportunity exists to advocate on behalf of their staff, they whither at the hint of conflict and run for the hills!

What To Do?  At its core, this situation is workable.  At heart, The Amoeba is a good person, but seeks a little more validation from those around them and doesn’t want to rock the boat.  Approaching this manager with a direct conversation and some potential solutions to improve the situation will likely be met with reception. Helping provide a specific plan to implement the changes alongside this person could actually yield a positive outcome.

The Fascist – The weight of The Fascist’s oppression is crushing.  They squash ideas, creativity, and positive exposure to coworkers and other leaders, for fear you may be perceived as being more valuable than they are. They belittle anyone on their team with ease, thriving on the perceived power they wield.  Their motivation is derived from putting others down, without regard to any type of business objective or shared professional success.  Don’t ask me how, but there are many of these “leaders” sucking the souls out of their teams and sapping value from the companies paying their wage.  They’re everywhere!

What To Do?  Bide your time, learning as much as you can in the interim.  See if you can transfer to another department.  If not, do your job as well as you can, and explore other opportunities.  Nobody deserves to be treated poorly. If this happens to you and your manager is utterly unapproachable, the best approach is to control the only thing possible, which is your employment situation.  

No matter which of these creatures you’ve faced, be thankful.  In the moment they cause deep questioning of vocational choices and gray hairs to sprout, but ultimately, they’ve provided you the roadmap of how not to run a team. So many times leading people comes down to the golden rule through applying empathy in situations we encounter.  Transparency, directness, empowerment, steadiness, assertiveness, collaboration, accountability, humility, and respect are among the tenets of truly inspiring leaders.  Even when faced with the opposite, the opportunity exists everyday to learn from the shortcomings to strengthen yourself and those around you.


Be the first_ SelectOne

No Comments Yet

Let us know what you think