Business Times

There are no bad bosses

By Lionel Wijesiri

I really have a bad boss! This is a complaint I often hear from young and old employees whenever I meet them on social or business gatherings. The most recent one came from Dhammika, senior IT executive, who moaned that he had only one good boss in his 15 year career, and that his wife had three bad bosses out of five. “This makes no sense,” he declared, “Why would they treat us so badly?”

Is there any error in Dhammika’s reasoning? Yes, to some extent! In an ideal world you should have bosses who are excellent communicators and motivators but we live on Earth, which unfortunately is not the ideal planet.

Take Michael, aged 25, for example. He is a hard-working employee working for a consumer products distribution company. He told me that he is now sending out resumes every day. “I think my boss is a manic depressive,” he explained. “He switches gears quickly from telling us ‘you guys are doing great’ to ‘what we do is absolutely crap’ in the span of 30 seconds.” While Michael hates to admit it, the off-the-wall actions of his boss have impacted his work and the work of his colleagues who also despise the boss.

“Most of us just take his instructions with a grain of salt now, knowing he’ll change it, hate it or forget about it,” he added. “I won’t say we do the bare minimum, but we work only hard enough to please his ego and not for what would be best for the company.”

My response to these complaints is always the same. Your boss is what he is for one important reason: either he is the owner or someone above them thinks that he should be the boss! He may have lied or bribed his way to the top but complaining about your plight will get you nowhere.

I believe there are no “bad” bosses; only bosses that you’re not managing well. This isn’t to say that you should ever put up with a harassing boss, but you need to understand that handling your boss well is an essential workplace skill, one that you will, unfortunately, be required to keep activated throughout your career.

Sometime back, I had a lady boss who practically devoured her assistants like a lioness carelessly crunching on baby rabbits. I was one of her victims. She treated me as yet another spare part: necessary, but clearly her possession. The entire staff walked around on pins and needles trying to accommodate her insane demands. “You don’t have to like me but you do have to do what’s told,” she screamed. The employees responded silently.

The problem with eccentric bosses is how they communicate and act, but there is a big difference with the efficacy of what they demand which can be Mozart-like perfection. I was less cynical and thicker-skinned and tolerated her abrasiveness, and learnt lot from the experience. It helped me in my career development. Today, I am very grateful to her.

My advice to all those ‘harassed’ employees is straight-forward. If you don’t respect your boss, you have three choices: (1) leave, (2) diplomatically push back. For example, try to change him or appeal to a higher authority to get rid of him, (3) adjust your own attitude. The last option is difficult but possible. But staying around and complaining is not an acceptable option. It does not work. It will make you miserable and it’s a matter of time your boss will come to know. And that will be the beginning of the end of your career.

(The writer is a corporate director with 23 years of hands-on experience in General Management and human resources development, and a prolific writer on a range of issues).

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