[note_box] A supervisor has complete control over your most basic human needs. Your ability to put food on the table and a roof over your head. These are powerful motivating factors that allow a difficult supervisor to control people out of fear of losing these basic needs. We may not be able to always correct their behavior, but we should never have to live in fear and let our difficult boss control our lives. Tristan Loo [/note_box]
If you’re reading this then I know you understand what it’s like to have a toxic boss and work in an equally uninspiring work environment! It usually starts with the Monday morning groans on Sunday night when you begin to think about what awaits you at the start of the week. Ugghh, not another daaaayyy you say!
If this is you, then read on. It’s important to know how to manage a toxic boss but also knowing when and how to exit a situation that has become untenable for both your sanity and professional reputation.
Identifying And Understanding A Toxic Boss
In the beginning we start by giving them several passes but as the pattern of incompetence and bad behavior rears its head, only then do you realize the beast your dealing with is actually your boss who has the ability to make your life hell because you need to put food on the table. Slowly you begin to question their competence, lose respect and perhaps even feel unmotivated. Even if you like your job, the emotional BS that you have to put up with is just too much.
Most of the time this has to do with a need for control and respect while masking a deep level of incompetence they are deathly afraid of being discovered by their employees. Once discovered, then the passive-aggressive and vindictive games begin because they’ve been exposed. This voracious need for control also has to do with their inability to maintain any semblance of the control in their personal lives. Thus the only place they can maintain control is in the workplace. But as with their personal lives, things fall apart, eventually.
They lie and deceive their employees because their fragile egos are rarely able to handle the truth. Because of this refusal to hear the truth, this is almost always coupled with the fact that they aren’t great communicators which results in confusion for their employees. The information highway in the organization is typically a one way street where employees aren’t encouraged to speak up about the white elephants in the room because the only traffic that matters is the manager barking from the top down.
Managing The Beast
These issues are easy to identify if we’re working with a full deck ourselves. Trust me, you’re not crazy, but let’s discuss how to maintain your sanity while you manage the beast.
Do yourself a favor, never up the ante by trying to match their level of crazy. Fall back. Remain professional and never allow your emotions to get the best of you. Allowing yourself to get emotional about their behavior will never get you anywhere productive and only give them reason to try and ruin your career. It is up to you to manage the situation appropriately in such a way that you leave with your dignity and professional reputation in place. Yes, woosah trips to the bathroom are necessary but crying in the bathroom is not acceptable. Your sanity is not for sale.
Craft your plan B. This may involve opening up the search for another job while networking within your professional contacts. Hopefully you’ve kept in contact with coworkers and managers from previous positions because they tend to be a wealth of information and access to open positions.
Putting together a plan B also eases the feeling of being caught between a rock and a hard place. At the end of the day, while a toxic boss has the ability to cause you great mental stress, knowing that you have the power to change the situation by crafting your exit, increases your sense of control in the situation.
Don’t take it personally. Easier said than done! I know I know! And while you may be thinking, this is all personal because your feelings are caught up – this is never about you. Even if you are a horrible employee, as a manager they need to have the psychological restraint and professional aptitude to meet you where you are and figure out how to rectify the situation without being antagonizing. As I mentioned earlier, these managers tend to have control issues in their own personal lives. Using their employees like puppets to serve their pathological incompetence is really about filling a need that only psychotherapy can fix. Talk to friends that allow you to vent and get it all out! Sometimes talking to people who feel your pain helps to remind you that you’re not crazy for feeling this way.
Learn how to manage your boss by soothing their ego. Now, before you tell me that you’ll never cosign the abuse, this isn’t what I am asking you to do. Remember, this is someone that you cannot and should not be tasked to change. Comply with their demands but always be sure when beginning a project, ascertain what it is exactly they need from you. Make it all about them. Give them great compliments, even if unwarranted. This feeds their fragile ego while giving you breathing room. There are times when you may feel like a mindless sycophant, but this is all for the maintenance of your sanity.
When Do I Know It’s Time To Leave?
Monday morning blues usually signal it’s time to do some soul searching to figure out whether this is about you or the job itself. Do you feel challenged? Are you motivated? Do you have your own personal issues that contend with the demands of the job? An honest self assessment should help you figure out whether this is more about you, the position or your boss.
When the preoccupation with these issues litter your personal life during your off time it’s time to move on. If you’re finding it hard to cut the strings because the offenses you’ve suffered during the week never exit your mind then it’s time to move on. Find ways to de-stress and decompress once you exit the building. Stop answering email during off hours and create boundaries that you adhere to when you are off the clock.
If you’re mental health is a concern, there is no question, you should leave. Everyone’s situation is different in that we all don’t have the luxury of just picking up and leaving. But if you find yourself depressed and anxious to the point that you’re unable to function on all cylinders then you’ve got some hard decisions to make. Nothing is worth your peace of mind and we have one life. This isn’t a dress rehearsal. So where there is a will, make a way for your exit.
This is also where having multiple streams of income comes into play. I remember Tyra Banks talking about having “screw you” money and I will never forget it. There’s the emergency fund and then there’s “screw you” money. That’s the money you have set aside so that if you’re in a serious bind, then you can afford to leave the job and take some time off for 1-3 months while you get your head together. Hopefully, during that time, you can make it happen in such a way that you don’t have to go back and eventually work for yourself.
How To Leave A Bad Situation
Always try to give at least 2 weeks notice unless your job situation is so unmanageable that you must leave immediately. If your mental health is in jeopardy then you can request leave using FMLA time and get yourself together, then give your official notice if that isn’t sufficient.
If you’re unable to give 2 weeks, then try to give 1 week or even a few days. Unless you’re in a situation where your physical well being is at risk, then it’s always best to give proper notice. A crappy boss is never worth your reputation. Remember, people leave bosses, not jobs. Bow out gracefully knowing that it’s OK to get off this batty amusement park ride.
Are You A Crappy Manager?
Now if you’re a crappy manager there’s help for you. Brazen Careerist has a great article which discusses how to know if you’re a crappy manager. This applies to managers, supervisors, CEOs, directors and anyone else who managers a team of employees. It’s important to realize that the people who work for you are there to help you reach your goals. Without them, you are nothing. There is no business and there is no money to be made. Treat them badly and you end up depending on someone who hates your guts and only lives to make you miserable. If you’re a CEO behaving badly, then you’re business will forever be at the mercy of employees who hate you and eventually find ways to sabotage your efforts.
Deal with your issues now. More than likely, if you feel any of this applies to you then it’s time to really assess whether the tug of war with the people who report to you is really necessary. They want the same things you do : a productive environment where respect for one another is valued while being financially successful. Your outerworld (work) is a reflection of your inner world (how you think) and there’s a good chance that the things you think about your subordinates are really the things you feel about yourself. There’s a way to get what you want but creating conflict only begets more conflict which frustrates you further in the workplace. You may even blame them, but perhaps it’s time to look within. Let go and make the adult decision to change. As a leader, it starts with you. And, you’ll never get what you want from your employees what you aren’t willing to do yourself.