There is no shortage of information on how to deal with difficult employees. In fact, I wrote a book about managing even the most unruly employees. Yet it’s not only employees who can be difficult—managers can be challenging to work with too.
In fact, a Bossology survey found:
- 48% of respondents would fire their boss if they could
- 29% would like their manager assessed by a workplace psychologist
- 23% said they would send their boss to management training
So let’s take the employee’s side and talk about how to deal with difficult managers. We will take a quick look at the common challenges managers face, share what managers are looking for, and go over six common types of “bad managers.” We’ll even give you a quiz to test your skills.
Three Common Challenges Managers Face
Being a manager is not easy. It can be downright difficult, especially for newbies. Let’s take a step back and think about the common stress factors for managers, which will give you perspective on some of their behaviors.
- Many managers have more work than resources, and the resources commonly fluctuate. This makes it difficult for them to stick to a solid plan of action; it also creates scenarios where they must fill in the gaps, or ask too much of their teams.
- They also face shifting priorities. Spending time developing strategies to meet an organization’s priorities only to have those priorities shift mid-implementation is downright frustrating, discouraging, and confusing. How can anyone accomplish goals if the end game keeps changing?
- Lastly, managers often find themselves in the role of “piggy in the middle.” They are the go-betweens when it comes to decisions and disagreements between leadership and employees, and even between employees. They may not agree with leadership, but likely won’t be able to express that. They may not agree with the employees either. It’s possible they don’t agree with either!
What Managers Want is Pretty Simple
If you strip away all of the workplace politics, personalities, pressures, and personal stresses, what a manager wants is pretty simple.
- To get the job done
- A happy staff
- A loyal staff
- Great staff attendance
Strong managers want a little more than that. They have specific wants from their employees.
Strong Managers Want Their Staff:
- To tell them how things are going, because they might be able to help
- Give them good information
- Give them timely information
- Challenge them when you think they are wrong
- Offer honest feedback
But we’re not talking about strong managers today. We are talking about the ones that make employees want to call in sick to hit the job boards. The common types of bad managers are absent managers, micro-managers, autocratic managers, seagull managers, delegator managers and the headless chicken managers. Does seeing that list make you groan? The good news is you can deal with these people if you know how.
Let’s take a moment for a quiz. Read the following six scenarios, and think about how you would handle the situation. After the quiz, we will discuss practical tips for dealing with the difficult managers we see pop up in these scenarios.
Quiz: How Do You Deal With This Manager?
To increase the size of the quiz, click on image to reveal zoom option on bottom.
I bet you’re glad you don’t work for any of these people! Or maybe you’ve got it bad too. Let’s go through each scenario, identify the problem, and cover some practical tips for dealing with it.
Answer Key & Practical Tips for Dealing With Difficult Managers
Absent Managers (Rose)
Problem: A manager who is too ‘hands-off’, leaving you with no firm idea of what they expect of you
– You will have to become your own manager
– Work hard on your self-motivation
– If you’re unsure of how to handle a task, then push your manager for more detailed direction
– Ask for regular feedback
Problem: A manager who – perhaps through stress or insecurity – constantly hovers over you and monitors what you do
– Try to see tasks from their point of view; have you given them a reason to stand over you more than usual?
– Pay very close attention to detail
– Get a good idea of what they expect of you before setting out on a task
– Suggest a timeframe for reporting back to them
Autocratic Managers (Aleah)
Problem: A manager who tends to see the bigger picture, telling you to do a task, rather than discussing it, and will often be higher up the management chain
– Earn their trust by keeping them informed of any developments
– They love information, so keep them updated on good news
– If there is bad news to communicate, then go to them with some solutions to the problem
Seagull Managers (Raj)
Problem: A seagull manager will “fly in, make a lot of noise, dump on everyone, then fly out.” You may not see much of these managers on a day-to-day basis, but you’ll certainly know about it when you do
– Always be prepared for when they might suddenly ‘swoop in’
– Make sure you are aware of key projects, including where you are with them and any results you have already seen
– Your success with this manager will depend on you having a cool head and being prepared
Delegator Managers (Helena)
Problem: A manager who is happy for you to complete tasks on your own but then might take the credit for the work you have done!
– Keep your best ideas until a team meeting
– Keep a paper trail of emails about the tasks you’re working on
– Never go behind their back – even if they do claim ‘ownership’ of what you have done
Headless Chicken Managers (James)
Problem: A manager who is over-stressed and over-worked, who is beginning to lose their grip on things. Can suddenly veer from trust to micro-management
– Where you can, try and make life easier for your manager
– Anticipate tasks and problems before they arise
– Ask if you can take on responsibility for a project
– Be aware that the manager may well ‘burn out’ and that the answer to the problem might be out of your hands
How did you do? Were you able to identify the problems with the managers in these scenarios and come up with a game plan?
Ultimately, the more we recognize that we are all human beings with individual needs, personal lives, communication styles, cultures and histories, the better we can strip away assumptions and build real relationships. Sure, it takes some emotional intelligence, but that’s something you can work on improving too. We spend too much time at work not to have genuine relationships with those we work with.