How to manage your manager

We get this a lot: Powrsuiters dealing with managers who are absent, erratic and unreasonable. Managers are the number one reason people quit their jobs, and one in two employees have left because of theirs

Dealing with challenging dynamics is difficult, especially when there’s a power imbalance at play. Unfortunately, bad managers can be a miserable reality of the workplace. And it makes sense when you think about it: how much investment have you made in your leadership development? For many, the answer is very little! The (illogical) expectation that leaders should know how to do the job sets everyone up to fail.

The best advice we ever got from leadership guru Anne Elder-Knight, was to recognise that becoming a people leader meant becoming a beginner again. For high-achieving experts, that can be confronting – especially when they think everyone else knows what they’re doing! As a result, leaders can be guilty of hiding their challenges instead of asking for help.

Before you hand in your notice, why not try to take control of the situation?

The best solution is staring back at you in the mirror

Yes, we get it. It’s not your job to manage your manager.

Except that it is. 

We’d love to live in a world where people accommodate all of our needs, but they rarely do. The fastest way to ease your pain is to take control – it’s also a great way to put your leadership skills into practice. Even if it’s not fair. Even if it is easier to complain. Even if it is a bit scary.

Stakeholder management is a critical leadership skill; fortunately (like everything else), small actions can have a big impact. And because we know that one of the top causes of procrastination is delaying discomfort, we’ve made these actions as painless as possible. 😉 

Assume the best intentions

Hanlon’s Razor tells us to ‘never attribute malice to which is adequately explained by stupidity’. Good leaders understand the value of storytelling – but that doesn’t extend to the stories you’re telling yourself. It’s too easy to assume that someone deliberately tries to undermine, overwork, or misunderstand you. But chances are, you’ve just made an ass out of u and me

Action: When talking to yourself (and others) about your manager’s behaviour, stick to the facts. Swap ‘they don’t like/understand me’ for ‘they don’t ask about my life’. After all, you only know what they did (or didn’t) do; you don’t know why – unless you ask. This takes us to the next step: 

Ask for what you need

We’ve covered this before, but telling people what you need really is one of the most powerful ways to get it. We’ve been in many conversations with Powrsuiters who express frustration with the actions of their managers. We always ask one simple question: Have you raised it with them? You don’t need to dive into a big feedback session, but you can test a tiny new approach to working together.

Been to therapy? When giving feedback, you know to swap ‘you make me feel…’ with ‘when you do x, I feel y’ because it removes blame (and a defensive response). A powerful caveat: If you’re sick of taking on other people’s problems, your manager may be feeling the same. So, when it comes to managing your manager, we recommend coming armed with a solution.

Action: At your next one-on-one with your manager, pick one thing you’d like to improve and share it (remember to include a suggested fix!):

  • ‘When you ask me to do things at the last minute, I feel overwhelmed. I know some things are urgent, but could we look at scheduling other things further? Perhaps you could email/Slack/Teams me any new weekly priorities.’
  • ‘When you skip our one-on-one meetings, we get out of alignment. Is there a better time/day/method of catching up? I’m happy to swap to weekly email/Slack/Teams WIP updates and have a more structured catchup less often if it means we make them happen.’ 
  • ‘When you don’t give me context, I don’t feel I can deliver my best work. When you assign new work, could we spend 5 minutes discussing the background?’

Get wider support

We all know people who complain endlessly about their work; it doesn’t solve anything. Yes, venting is critical to identifying your emotions and clarifying the problem. But at some stage, it stops serving you and flashes a ‘stay clear’ warning to everyone who has to listen. Your personal board of directors are your professional support crew – but they’re only as useful as you let them be. Their perspectives and experiences can be your superpower if you allow them to share them. So, if your situation can’t be improved directly with your manager, ask for help. Listen to understand, and commit to one action to try before you next regroup.

Action: Who’s in your corner? Spend a few minutes jotting down a list of people genuinely interested in your success! It could be friends, past colleagues, parents, or unofficial mentors – but think about the people you’ve leaned on in the past for career guidance.

30 second action:

Practice empathy: the next time anyone does something that annoys you, force yourself to remove any assumptions of intent. Stick to the facts without adding a story about why.

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