I’m certain that at some point in your life, you’ve had to deal with a bad boss. The unfortunate truth is that lousy leaders contaminate an otherwise healthy environment. Some do it more obviously through aggressive, loud, opinionated, dominating communication and behavior. Others covertly use their employees and team members as pawns to elevate their own platform. In both cases, bad bosses create a devastating and unproductive environment that tolerates (and celebrates) unnecessary stress and a decline of productivity.
While they may excel at their job (in terms of hustle and performance), there are leaders who are placed in management roles who may not be at all qualified to operate at the capacity for which they’ve been empowered. You know who I’m talking about: The bosses who are noncommunicative, political, wishy-washy and narrow-minded. The ones who received their position simply because of who they know with little consideration of what they know. They’re the ones who turn up late every day and then watch the clock every time you make a move. The ones who don’t possess an ounce of true leadership within.
The tale of the bad boss
Immediately after graduating from college, my sister, a communication major, received a well-paying career opportunity in sales. It was a field in which she truly excelled. She was so good that she could sell a melting popsicle to a woman wearing all white. Shortly after being promoted within the organization, she ran into a “brick wall” whom I’ll name “Melinda”. Melinda was the top salesperson in the company, responsible for over $2 million in revenue. Her impressive sales, however, were overshadowed by her inability to effectively lead the team. Her erratic behavior, histrionic outbursts and verbal abuse crippled her team and ultimately stifled the long-term growth of the company. Although she could hold her own very well and deal with the bad boss, my sister eventually left her position to pursue other opportunities.
The moral of the story: Everything rises and falls upon leadership. Everything.
How to deal with a bad boss
If you’re in a difficult situation with a bad boss, how do you keep your head above water? How do you keep your fist out of the office drywall? Here are four important keys to keeping your cool and successfully navigating through your relationship with a lousy leader:
1. Stay consistent.
To me, this is the most important key to dealing with a bad boss because actions speak louder than words. Consistent follow-through, excellence and communication build a vault of influence on your behalf. You may have a completely incompetent boss, perhaps one who is even less capable than you. But remember: True leadership is influence, not position. You may not have the title (yet), but your consistency will build rapport with your team and earn their trust. After all, your reputation is more valuable than your talent or a big fat pay raise.
2. Don’t take it personally.
As much as it seems like you’re being thrown under the bus and ignored, it may not be about you. Truth be told, you’re not the only one who has to deal with your boss’s fire on a regular basis. The next time you draft a scathing email in response to a negative situation, read it (it’s cathartic, trust me). Then breathe, delete it and start over. Deal with the issue, but do so professionally, tactfully and assertively in writing. Then follow up face to face where the core value for the relationship can properly function as the bridge to healthy, constructive communication.
3. Manage your expectations when dealing with a bad boss.
It’s important that your desire for excellence, growth and great leadership doesn’t make you too idealistic. Honestly, this has been a challenge for me. I read a lot of leadership books. I am passionate about developing my own potential (as well as the potential of others). But it is important to remember that we work with real people. People who make mistakes despite their best efforts and who don’t operate perfectly all of the time. Everyone has a bad day. Everyone hurts. We all have weaknesses. Extend grace, my friend, because you’d desire the same.
4. Don’t complain to co-workers or team members and don’t publicly point out the leader’s flaws.
But don’t stuff your frustration, either. Here is a litmus test assessment of your present leadership capacity: Handle this situation professionally. Seek out a trusted mentor, your spouse, significant other or even HR if the situation warrants their involvement. Processing the issues will help you find clarity amidst the clouds. You can’t let your frustration taint your talent (or, most importantly, your character) and destroy your drive. Deal with the issue as often as you need. Then make a choice to either go with the flow or go out the door without burning relationship bridges.
If you work for a great boss (or serve under a great leader), you’re very fortunate. In fact, you should tell them they’re great. If you do have to deal with a bad boss, stay excellent. Stay passionate. Stay assertive. Your own leadership capacity will grow immeasurably as you do.
This article originally appeared on chriscookis.com.
This article was published in March 2019 and has been updated. Photo by fizkes/Shutterstock
Christopher Cook is a leadership coach and business consultant to both Fortune 1000 and nonprofit organizations. Additionally, he is the host of “Win Today with Christopher Cook,” a popular weekly podcast, available on Apple Podcasts, Google Play and other outlets. Through his work at WINTODAY.tv and as a contributor for SUCCESS magazine, he serves as a guide to help people design their road map to wholeness from the inside out.