How to deal with an ineffective boss

How to deal with an ineffective boss

Managing upwards, unobtrusively, is key


In reality, you have only two choices: Keep waiting for the organisation to fix your flawed leader – or find ways of doing so yourself.

In reality, you have only two choices: Keep waiting for the organisation to fix your flawed leader – or find ways of doing so yourself.

In my experience, there are three particularly ineffective types of leaders. Here are a few ways of dealing with each:

The indecisive boss

Leaders are indecisive for a variety of reasons. Some may be perfectionists who won’t make decisions until they gather all the data; others are paralysed by uncertainty; and many simply prefer the seeming safety of the status quo. Instead of waiting for an indecisive boss to make the call, you should enable him or her to overcome that weakness.

Some proven methods:

- Define before deciding.

Instead of seeking a decision, involve the indecisive leader in defining the problem.

- Force the first step.  

Big decisions can be broken down into small ones. All you need is for your manager to make one small decision that enables you to take the first step; then the next one, and so on.

- Build trust.

- Have a conversation.

Get together as a team and have a candid, unscheduled discussion with your manager about the way his or her behaviour is affecting productivity and morale. Be honest, but respectful.

The insecure manager

Managers are supposed to motivate employees, not compete with them. Yet, many supervisors inhibit talented employees and good ideas because of their own insecurities.

Here’s how to tackle an insecure boss:

- Understand the root cause.

Step back and look at the big picture. Many pressures – such as year-end goals or unfinished projects – might be the cause of the boss’s anxiety. Make sure you aren’t feeding your boss’s insecurity by acting too aggressively. If you approach him or her collaboratively, you might just get better results.

- Be more transparent. Self-doubting managers fear the unknown and assume the unintended. Trust, the only antidote, is built by transparency. Even if it takes more time and effort, share as much information as possible. l Appreciate the positives. Insecurity is often reflective of the lack of self-esteem, so pay attention to strengths.

The all-knowing leader

Some executives think they know it all. They assume they are the smartest people in the room, feel they are the only ones interested in succeeding, and constantly tell stories about how they pulled off impossible things in the past.They also believe that without them, everything will fall apart. Such leaders aren’t incompetent, but you wish they would trust more, listen more and be more inclusive.You can manage them in the following ways:

- Allow your boss to discover your ideas.

They love spotting great ideas themselves. Try presenting your ideas as if they are half-baked, or as though you’re unsure of their efficacy and need to hone them. That will ensure immediate buy-in by your supervisor, and rapid decisions.

- Channel the boss’s energy.

All-knowing executives like to be engaged with something new all the time. Once they have a new idea to play with, employees will get the time and the space to do their job.

The trick, though, is to create productive areas of diversion, so the organisation benefits from the boss’s energy.

- Enable the boss to experience reality.

Many of us may feel that it’s not our job to mend flawed supervisors and that top management needs to intervene.

In reality, you have only two choices: Keep waiting for the organisation to fix your flawed leader – or find ways of doing so yourself.

If you take matters into your own hands even in small ways, you will be able to ensure that you get past the inertia of your boss.

Vineet Nayar is the founder of the Sampark Foundation and the former CEO of HCL Technologies. He is the author of Employees first, customers Second.In association with Harvard Business Review

Previously published in The Irish Times.


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