I have spent the morning reading various people’s reactions to the election – some are elated and some express that they are fearful, anxious and even terrified about what is to come. The headliner in the New Yorker this morning was “An American Tragedy”. This is NOT a political piece, but I couldn’t help draw a connection between the country’s reactions to someone many feel is unfit to lead and how people tend to feel and react when they are working for someone they clash with. I’ve created resumes for hundreds of people and coached many who are looking for a job because they can’t stand their current boss. I’ve also worked with organizations and with managers who struggle with engaging their employees and leading rather than dictating. It’s not easy for anyone and the stress caused can be debilitating.
Typically when someone has a serious personality clash or even an ethical issue with a boss, I explore with them the possibility of just ending the relationship. It’s usually the likely outcome anyway and unless the boss does something illegal and is indicted or fired (or impeached), the likelihood of you winning a turf war with your boss is slim to none. For the sake of argument, though, let’s assume leaving is not an option and for the foreseeable future your boss isn’t going anywhere either. What can you do?
Many people are familiar with the Serenity Prayer, a battle cry for those in recovery and just plain good advice for everyone else, too. In the event that you can’t change something, your option is to accept it. Note, that acceptance does NOT mean liking something. It means ceasing to indulge in mental exercises wishing things were different, complaining and obsessing. It means settling in to the reality of your reality and figuring out how to operate.
Keep your side of the street clean
Someone who used to be a mentor told me often that poor leadership is no excuse for poor followership. What I understood this to mean is that it doesn’t really matter how your boss chooses to conduct his/or her affairs. Their actions and even their opinion of you is none of your business. What is your business is doing the best job you can on principle. Presumably the organization you are part of is one whose mission you value and whose success is intrinsically linked with your own. As well, you also have a sense of loyalty and integrity (or why else would the bad boss be under your skin so badly?). Failing to give your best because of your leader may give you a short-term surge of self-righteous satisfaction, but that is fleeting and will leave you feeling depressed and ashamed, and possibly vulnerable to termination for cause.
“It always works out in the end. If it hasn’t worked out yet, then it’s not the end.” – Tracy McMillan.
I’d lay pretty good odds that if you look back over your life, the worst times have eventually passed, the pain has eased, and more than likely some good was even wrought out of challenging, if not devastating, times. This is easier to understand if you have a faith in a power greater than yourself, but even if you don’t, understand that things have a way of resolving themselves. When I was getting my coaching certification, one of the things an instructor suggested was to imagine all the people I struggled with the most sitting in a room with a “Carrie’s Team” T-Shirt. That’s right – they all in their own way helped me or taught me something I needed to know. For that, I am truly grateful to them.
Give away your resentment
This one is hands down the hardest. I suspect you won’t want to do it and for the sake of transparency I’ll admit that for me this step usually comes last and is done most reluctantly. There is something satisfying about holding onto a justified resentment. When someone has cheated or betrayed or bullied us, it is almost cathartic to hold onto it, talk about it with your allies, and even use it as an excuse for failing to do your best. And all that aside, you will feel better, advance farther in your career, and experience almost inexplicable success if you take this on. Choose to forgive and let it go. Divorce yourself from the negative emotion associated with your bad boss. The magic formula that was passed on to me was to ‘bless those who curse me’. Practically speaking, this means praying for (or stating a positive intention for, if you’re not prayerfully inclined) all the things you want for yourself for your bad boss. For example “I pray for success, prosperity, and wisdom for John.”. Don’t include suggestions of what they need to change..i.e. “I pray John stops being such a jerk”… just pray for all the best to happen for John. Let me emphasize this may make you want to vomit at first. It’s really hard. And if you do it every day for 14 days you will feel much differently. It’s not about reconciliation, it’s about freeing the hold John has on your emotions.
So there you have it. You’ll notice that none of these steps have to do with changing one hair on your bad boss’s head. It’s not about that. It’s about maintaining your dignity, humanity, and integrity in the face of what may seem devastatingly bad leadership. I’d love to hear your stories!
Carrie Maldonado is the founder of Today’s Leadership Solutions, a Seattle-based consulting firm focused on helping organizations, leaders and job seekers to identify workplace solutions that work. As a certified executive coach, organizational development expert and resume writer, Carrie consults with small to medium sized businesses on OD, human resources and recruiting solutions in addition to providing career coaching to managers and executives in transition. Carrie can be reached for consultation at firstname.lastname@example.org