Is Your Boss Holding You Back? What to Do When You Have a Bad Manager

by Debra Bednar-Clark

I’ve had a lot of managers during my 20-year career at the biggest tech companies in the world. One was over-the-moon great. A handful were okay. A few were downright toxic. Ultimately, I gleaned that having a good manager is rare. In fact, research proves it: A Gallup study concluded that only 10% of managers possess the talent to manage.

If you think your boss is in the 90% — and holding you back in the process — this is what I suggest:

1. Take your manager off his/her pedestal.

We expect (and rightly so) our managers to be smarter than us, fight for us, and champion us. But the chance of having a good manager like that is the exception, not the rule. The first thing you need to do is take your manager off his/her pedestal. Once you understand that having a good manager is, unfortunately, more the exception than the rule, you can get exert your energy in getting what you need rather than hoping for something that isn’t there.

2. Double down on your manager’s strengths.

Even toxic managers have strengths. Your mission: Find them, use them, and let go of the rest. For example, I once had a manager who was draining to work for and a narcissist to boot. But, he was also incredibly creative. I used that to my advantage: Whenever I had an idea to solve a business challenge, I would often pitch it to him before I took action because more times than not, he’d make it bigger and bolder, which benefited both of us and the business.

3. Establish allies elsewhere.

Rather than hope and pray for your manager to change, create relationships and know and promote your value with his/her peers and/or his/her boss’s peers. The best way to do this is to find an initiative to work on that requires their expertise or unique perspective. While you’re working together, you’ll not only gain exposure to new ideas + approaches + skills, but you’ll also create advocates who have your back (which will come in handy during review time).

4. Broaden your exposure outside your firm.

Building your presence outside of your organization is equally as valuable as focusing on internal projects. To do that, find what matters most to you, and speak about it on panels, keynotes, blogs, and beyond. The more you demonstrate that you’re a powerhouse outside the company, the more the people inside your company, including your manger, will remember how invaluable you are.

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