My top 3 tips for dealing with...well.. a crap Manager!

I could play around the edges by asking if your Manager is ineffective, or frustrating or promoted beyond their capability but if you have ever had a crap Manager you know that this word describes the situation best. The dread of going to work on Monday. Looking forward to your Manager going on holidays. Desperately wishing it was the weekend. Hoping your Manager won't speak with you on any given day.....wishing they would be hit by a bus get promoted into another business unit.... stuff like that.

A crap manager is not the person who talks to you about your performance when you should be doing better. Or the person who gives you honest feedback because they genuinely want you to improve. This is an AWESOME manager and leader. This is the kind of person you should want to work with and for.

This is my second post inspired by...well...a friend saying to me, could you write a post about "insert current problem here". My last one was on Career Sponsors. This problem seemed like a good post idea and one that I'm pretty sure everyone can relate to. I have worked for a handful of really great managers and a couple of truly awful ones. There is a group in the middle who are trying and learning and usually we have to be kind to and forgive some things. Unfortunately it's the awful ones that potentially teach us the most. Usually how not to do things. Sigh.

The problem with having a crap manager is that this person has the biggest effect on our day to day happiness. We spend a lot of time at work. I would at least like some of that time to be pleasant.

Lost in the woods? Don't know what to do?

1. Tip Number One - Quit
In my experience this is the most appealing option but not the most practical. Most of us have bills and mortgages and can't just give up our income without some planning or another job. As well as that, if we quit our jobs each time we ended up with a Manager we didn't like, well we might be quitting a lot of jobs!

Part of developing our career in organisations is being able to "manage-up" and learn to navigate through situations with difficult and challenging people. Quitting is sometimes the easy way out and sometimes it's the hard decision, when you have tried everything else.

I quit one job because of my Manager. I stuck it out for 12 months and in the end the stress was too much. Over the 12 month period I tried lots of things to make the situation better. I worked harder and longer, which only seemed to make things worse. I tried different styles of questioning to try and understand what this person wanted, which worked to a limited extent. In the end I didn't fit the culture and it was just too hard. I had put on weight and Arran was fed up with me in this job. I decided to have one final attempt to explain how I was feeling to my Manager and see if that would change anything. I decided that if the conversation didn't go well I was going to quit on the spot. Which is what I did. It was a huge relief and I should have quit 9 months earlier. Live and learn.

2. Tip Number Two - Have a strategy
Before I worked in Human Resources, I worked in retail. I had this Manager who as a person was kind, generous and liked me. As a Manager she was insecure, difficult, divisive and rude to customers. I felt like I was trapped in that job so I had to have a way of dealing with my daily frustration. It was pretty simple. Whenever I needed to go to the toilet I would walk the long way, my theory being the extra exercise would help my head and I would always walk past the pet shop to look at the puppies and kittens. That was a great stress release. I went to the toilet a lot. She probably thought I had some kind of bladder issue!

In more complex organisations you probably need more sophisticated strategies than looking at puppies and kittens!
  • Exercise every day. This is one of the best stress releases around and it is as good for your body and your head.
  • Work out if it's worth staying in the current situation. The 12 months I spent in the example above gave me some great experience and I know I learnt some things that mean I'm better at my job today, but would I put myself through a similar experience again with a difficult manager? No. Way. I very carefully choose the people I work for now.
  • Make a deal with yourself. We can do this when there are good reasons to stay apart from the crap manager situation, but only for a relatively short time. This doesn't change your manager but it gives you an end goal to focus on. Is there something you are working on that will help you in your career? Do you need to complete a project to demonstrate your commitment and gain vital experience? Agree with yourself to stay for a specified time; 3 months...6 months...12 months max and then have a plan to get out from under this manager.
  • Have an interest outside of work. One organisation I worked for was quite stressful. My Managers were not "crap" but I needed an outlet. I used to go to dance classes at the Sydney Dance Company. They were for about 2.5 hours and during the class you would learn a fairly long routine. I had to completely forget about work and use my brain and body in a different way to learn and perform the routine. It was very helpful.
3. Tip Number Three - Get some support
It can feel pretty lonely when you are dealing with a crap manager. This is the person who is supposed to be supporting you and helping with your career development, so you might need some support.

There are lots of people around who have experienced the same kind of issues that you are in. Seek them out and take them for coffee or lunch. Tell them about your experience, ask about theirs. Sharing a problem is a great start and is cathartic to a point. These kind of discussions are more useful if you do a little whinging and a lot of problem solving. Be open and ask lots of questions:
  • What strategies have they used to deal with similar issues? What has worked for them? 
  • What have they seen work for other people?
  • What do they suggest for your situation? 
  • Is there anything that could go wrong?What are the risks?
If you have a career sponsor or mentor this person would be a great place to start and there are often other people in organisations who will be happy to speak with you.

Ultimately the best course of action is to speak directly to your manager. A mentor or perhaps someone in HR could help you frame the conversation. Otherwise you may consider speaking with your Manager's Manager who might be able to influence the situation. If that doesn't work, do what I did and see tip 1!

Luckily crap Managers are not too common. Would love to hear how you dealt with a crap Manager in your career....