Apr 3 2014, 6:23pm CDT | by Forbes
She’s demanding. He’s overbearing. She’s unpredictable. He plays favorites.
We’ve all had leaders at some point in our career that spring to mind from at least one of those descriptions. And, the memories, if you let them become vivid enough in your mind, can make your stomach churn still today. The bad news is; for a lot of people, that churning isn’t caused by a memory, they’re dealing with one of those people today.
As we interview people about their work and careers from all over the world, the topic of difficult bosses somehow creeps into the conversation. It often starts as an underlying joke—people compare their boss to Mr. Burns, the classic curmudgeon from the TV show The Simpsons, or they compare them to Miranda Priestly (played by Meryl Streep) the controlling perfectionist in the movie Devil Wears Prada. But, then, the conversation turns real. Often times, one of the people joking about how horrible their boss is tells us the truth—that their current boss is literally causing them emotional distress.
But, are bosses all that bad?
A 2013 survey of 2,000 employees, conducted by Harris Interactive in conjunction with career website Glassdoor, revealed that two out 10 respondents reported feeling that their boss had hurt their career. Half of the respondents said they had a positive impact. And, the rest say their bosses didn’t have any impact (which might be as sad as having a negative impact).
Meanwhile, a study of 1,100 workers from various industries and professions was carried out at the Université Francois Rabelais, and published in the Journal of Business and Psychology. This study suggests that bad bosses might not just impact your career, but also your personal relationship and your health. Yep, your bad boss could increase your risk of heart disease (and, they don’t have the immediate gratification of junk food).
So, the question is, is your boss just plain bad? And, how do you get him off your back?
Data collected by the O.C. Tanner Institute, spotlighting 1.7 million cases of award-winning work shows there is something you can do to hush your unreasonable boss. And, the solution is not what you might assume. No, you don’t need to stroke their ego. No, you don’t have to change your personality. No, you don’t necessarily have to bend to their every whim.
The study by the O.C. Tanner Institute actually found something much more simple about award-winning workers (most often awarded by their manager or supervisor). It found that employees who get appreciated for their work, quite simply, create a difference people love.
Consider those words for a second: create a difference people love. That doesn’t mean, “meets expectations.” It doesn’t mean, “tries their hardest or works the longest.” It doesn’t even mean, “pretend to like and admire your boss.” Instead, those words mean that a person not only did their job, but they created a difference—different than the expected, different than the assumed, and different than the last time.
How do you know if you’re making a difference your boss will love?
1. Ask, “Who are they trying to make a difference for?” We’re all accountable to someone, and so is your boss. Is your boss trying to deliver value for board members, shareholders, customers, or their boss? Think deeper. Are they trying to impact the market, a peer group, or their results on the next management report? Megan, a manager of a large day care center told us that she couldn’t understand why her boss, the Regional Director, was giving her such a hard time at work. “I had cut operating costs significantly. I implemented all kinds of new procedures for the staff. But, It wasn’t until I realized that my boss was totally focused on increasing interaction time between the staff and the children that I could improve something that he cared about.”
2. Go and see. Listen for their common complaints and actually go look for differences you can make. Anil, an IT manager who felt underappreciated by his boss told us that it wasn’t until he walked into the sales department and asked reps why they weren’t using a new program, that he understood his boss’s frustration. The programs Anil developed were fantastic, but no one was using them because they did not know about them. He went to the marketing department and asked them to help him inform and educate people on the new program. When fellow employees began using the program, Anil got instant respect from his boss.
3. Join their team. Most of us don’t work at jobs that simply require us to follow rules explicitly. We’re in the age of innovation, and if you step into your boss’s shoes for a second to find out how you can make their life easier, you might be amazed by the respect returned. Shawn, who had just recently been hired as a Marketing Director told us that his CEO was questioning every media purchase his department was making. Although he was sending the CEO spreadsheets of marketing expenditures, demographics details, and ROI data, he didn’t account for the fact that CEO didn’t have the time to analyze all the data, and that, over time, the CEO had become exhausted by the lengthy reports. “He yelled at me,” said Shawn. “He told me he didn’t want all the details, but just wanted to know why we were choosing one media outlet over another.” Shawn changed his reports. Instead of spreadsheets and data, he sent overviews of media purchases, which explained why those outlets were chosen over others.
It’s true that all of us at one time in our careers have encountered the unbearable boss. However, if you really step back and think about all the bosses you’ve had that have been great, you’ll realize that they were probably the bosses who liked your work. They’re probably the bosses who applauded your thinking, or tenacity, or character. And, if you really want to get specific, your favorite bosses were probably those who loved what you did and inspired you to do more of it.
If you want to figure out how to get your boss off your back, create a difference they love. You never know, they just may become your favorite boss.
Learn more about the NYT Bestselling book Great Work: How to Make a Difference People Love.
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