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 than others through aggressive, loud, opinionated, dominating communication and behavior, and some 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 where unnecessary stress and a decline of productivity is not only tolerated but also celebrated.
And 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 at all be qualified to operate in the capacity for which they’ve been empowered. You know who I’m talking about: the bosses who are non-communicative, 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; 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.
Immediately after graduating from college, my sister, a communication major, received a well-paying career opportunity in sales, 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 herself. Her impressive sales, however, were overshadowed by her inability to effectively lead the team. Quite honestly, 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, my sister eventually left her position to pursue other opportunities.
The moral of the story: Everything rises and falls upon leadership. Everything.
If you’re in a difficult situation with a bad boss, how do you keep your head above water and 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, consistent excellence and consistent 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 for the long haul. 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 at all. Truth be told, you’re not the only member of your team who has to deal with your boss’s fire on a regular basis. The next time you draft a scathing, emotional email message in response to a negative situation, read it to yourself (it’s cathartic, trust me), breathe, then delete it and start over. Deal with the issue, but do so professionally, tactfully and assertively in writing, and 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.
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 and 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 best efforts and who don’t operate perfectly all of the time. Everyone has a bad day. Everyone hurts. Everyone has 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 (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 work for a difficult individual, stay excellent. Stay passionate. Stay assertive. Your own leadership capacity will grow immeasurably as you do.
This article originally appeared on chriscookis.com.