It’s no secret that as some people climb the ranks of their industry, the stress caused by increases in pressure and responsibility are often reflected in increasingly particular, and often peculiar, behaviour.
Demanding bosses come in a range of different guises, and many people can relate to having a manager whose (ahem) unique leadership style puts a strain on daily life. Public examples of challenging management styles abound. US court documents revealed that Mike Jeffries, the former CEO of Abercrombie & Fitch, forced the stewards on his private jet to follow a strict (and bizarre) manual for how to dress and behave, right down to the amount of cologne male staff should wear. Meanwhile, former Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer was an admitted micromanager.
BBC Capital asked a group of experts to identify five different types of boss that can be a challenge to work with, and offer strategies on how to handle each one.
Megalomaniacs tend to be larger-than-life characters who, while charming, require immense amounts of attention, control and loyalty. They’re notorious for taking credit for any successes (due or undue) and externalising the blame for any failures.
Wendy Behary, author of Disarming the Narcissist, says that, as bosses, they lack the ability to connect with others at a more personal level because they have an underdeveloped capacity for empathy. “Underneath all the bluster, boasting, bullying and controlling is someone who has a lot of insecurity and, ironically, a great sense of inadequacy that they are trying desperately to not expose,” she explains.
Underneath all the bluster, boasting, bullying and controlling is someone who has a lot of insecurity
Dealing with this type of boss is inherently risky. “There’s this myth that if you just follow them along they’ll lead you to the spotlight,” Behary says, “but you have to be wary of the promises made by narcissists that seem to be in your favour, and you have to be careful when working with them never to get too attached to the outcomes.”
Micromanagers are bosses that need to be involved in every aspect of an employee’s work because they have a fear of giving up control. They like to check progress frequently, review completed tasks and be copied on all memos, causing tension with highly independent or well-seasoned workers.
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Marie G. McIntyre, author of Secrets to Winning at Office Politics, says the key to working with micromanagers is understanding that anxiety is the driving force behind this behaviour. This is why a potential gut reaction of attempting to push them away is actually a big mistake.
The key to working with micromanagers is understanding that anxiety is the driving force behind this behaviour
“That’s the worst thing you can do because it makes the micromanager more anxious,” she says. “They not only don’t know what’s going on, but they start to think you might not tell them things, so they tend to push harder and hover more.”
Instead, respond to that anxiety by giving your boss more information and letting them know what you’re working on, McIntyre explains. “You want them to develop a sense of trust in you because the more the micromanager feels that you’re not going to surprise them, the more comfortable they’ll be in letting go.”
The higher one climbs up the food chain the further managers get from the day-to-day operations of a company, which is why many bosses can become hopeless dreamers who set lofty goals without offering tangible plans to accomplish them.
Break down a pie-in-the-sky proposal into more manageable segments
The visceral response to such unrealistic demands may be to call them impossible, but a better idea is to break down a pie-in-the-sky proposal into more manageable segments to expose glaring concerns, explains Dana Brownlee, president of Professionalism Matters, a boutique corporate training firm based in Atlanta. “Instead of telling them ‘no,’ you’re now becoming your boss’ advocate and the first person to point out the potential risks so that they can make the best decision.”
Brownlee says this is a much more tactical conversation that “helps shock your boss back into reality.”
How can you achieve your goals if the goalpost keeps shifting? This is the problem of working for a flip-flopper, whose lack of direction and conviction can put employees in a no-win situation.
Working for this type of boss may require ‘managing up’
A recent survey of 1,000 UK workers by Brighton-based Crunch Accounting found that a lack of direction (32%) and being indecisive (21%) were the two most infuriating habits of British bosses.
Brownlee says working for this type of boss may require ‘managing up,’ or building a strategic relationship to help modify their indecisive behaviours. “You have to take the lead and pull the information out of them by asking very pointed questions and documenting their responses.”
Brownlee adds that asking for tasks to be prioritised and checking in often to review expectations can help buffer you from undue blame when the boundaries of an assignment shift beyond your control.
An overbearing boss tends to bulldoze through others’ ideas with their own, hindering a collaborative environment and stifling attempts at teamwork. Their domineering attitude makes it difficult for employees to question the best approach to a given task.
You’ll have the best chance for a constructive conversation if you can first unite behind the objective, says Jean-François Manzoni, president of IMD business school in Lausanne, Switzerland. “When you disagree on the how, always connect on the why,” he advises. Only then will you have an avenue for dialogue.
When you disagree on the how, always connect on the why
No matter the boss type, Manzoni cautions that attaching labels like demanding or overbearing can ultimately become a self-fulfilling prophecy. “The moment you label someone as difficult you’ve just made them more difficult to work with because you’re not going to give this person the benefit of the doubt anymore and you’re not going to relate with them on a productive level.”
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