Management is a skill, and is dependent on other skill sets such as communication, leadership, critical and strategic thinking, and business. For now, I just want to focus on the fact that there are bad managers in the world, and how we can adapt to poor management to decrease our own stress levels.
- Focus on empathy. Your horrid boss (or maybe just mildly flawed boss) is a fellow human being, doing what they believe is right. You can de-stress from their poor decisions by realizing that is all they are – poor decisions made by someone who doesn’t yet quite know what they are doing. Becoming a manager doesn’t flip some switch that makes you all-knowing or all-powerful. It just changes your role, and makes you work with a more complex skill set than you did before. All new managers are therefore bad at their job. It may sound counter-intuitive, but just acknowledging that they aren’t great at their job can decrease your stress. It let’s you avoid thinking of a poor manager as an adversary. You can think of them as a friend who is struggling, and who just happens to be in charge or a small part of your life. This doesn’t remove the problems bad managers cause, but it let’s you remember that you are a team working together, and help to put up with problems while you find the right time and ways to fix them.
- Draw boundaries. Being forgiving of a bad boss doesn’t mean you need to take anything they throw at you. If they cross a line that makes your work environment unpleasant, hostile, or toxic, speak up. If they are not solving a problem, just walk away from that problem until they do. Make it clear to your boss that you are drawing a boundary to limit your own stress and mental health, and it is their responsibility to fix their team. This again matches some tactics from other articles – to know your needs, stand up for yourself when they aren’t met, and put the responsibility to solve team problems back onto the person leading the team, and not on individuals. Hold your boss accountable for their own job responsibilities by sticking to your boundaries.
- Keep in mind that this is just a job. All jobs have their problems. Think carefully about whether your boss’ problems are so bad that you cannot work with them, or if they can be seen as just an annoyance. The more senior-level you are in your work, the easier it is to just do your job regardless of who you report to.
In some ways, I am encouraging you to not respect your boss too much. Respect is earned, not assigned on an org chart. If they are a good boss who leads the team well, by all means respect and follow them. But if they are not leading the team well, then you shouldn’t follow well either. Again, you can fail to follow a bad boss without it being adversarial.
As an example, I spent the prior year of my life working with a couple guys who may honestly be the worst leaders I’ve ever seen. I’ll skip the gory details, but they wanted to improve on a collection of products by stagnating our most successful product. They figured then they could write a new product, and all of our unhappy customers would jump ship to our new product. So they directed us devs to just stop fixing anything and let the old product die from abandonment.
We didn’t fight them over that direction – we just ignored it. We kept on fixing bugs, kept on supporting customers, and kept everything running. We didn’t have to get into conflict with them over their poor management decisions… we just did what was right for the business despite middle managers who were making mistakes.
There is always some risk in defying your leaders – you do have to be correct in your stance. If you are defiant and incorrect, you may not keep your job. But being defiant and correct, and driving the business forward despite poor leadership earns respect, and helps you get more autonomy in the future. Use defiance carefully, but do use it. The control it gives you feels empowering and decreases stress.