Project Management Professional (PMP)® Articles - The Bad Boss Chronicles

The Bad Boss Chronicles: How to Thrive in a Poorly Managed Organization

By Christopher Scordo PMP, ITIL

Is it possible to be a great manager when you’re working in a poorly managed organization? If you have a “bad boss,” you’ve probably asked yourself this question quite a few times.

You might have even spent some days slumped over your desk, counting the hours until the end of the work day, the days left before Friday and possibly even surfing through the “help wanted” ads.

But all isn’t lost just because you’re working in a poorly managed organization. With the right strategy, you can turn such a situation into an opportunity to overcome adversity and to demonstrate greatness.

Here are four rules to help you to do just that:

Rule #1: Don’t Be a Part of the Problem The first step to overcoming negativity is to not participate in it.

This is because the most challenging thing about working for a “bad boss” isn’t the behaviors you have to put up with from them. The challenges come from the negative behaviors which you allow your boss to bring out in you. Every time you complain about your boss or about their management style, you’re doing two things.

  • Absorbing their negativity and allowing it to impact your performance and your attitude.
  • Becoming part of the problem by making yourself a “transmitter” of negativity.

Complaining not only wastes your energy, it sends a subconscious message to everyone around you. It assures them that it’s okay to complain about a problem instead of coming up with a solution. You might not be able to control the fact that you’re working in a poorly managed organization, but you CAN control your response. You can do this by making a conscious choice to:

  • Walk away from any conversion which is directed towards criticizing your boss
  • Walk away from any conversion which is directed towards complaining about the negative results being produced in your organization
  • Severely limit or completely cut off your interaction with anyone who is a known “conductor” of negativity (gossipers, chronic complainers etc)

Most often, coming up with a solution to a problem takes about as much energy as complaining about it does, so save your energy for rule #2…

#2: Talk Less, Demonstrate More There’s only one way to overcome a culture which has become littered with negativity through complaining, gossiping and that’s through actions that demonstrate positive results. You have to prove to people that there’s still hope to get things done and to do a great job in your organization. This can’t be done through debate or through saying nice things and trying to “lighten up” the conversations in your workplace.

Words are easy to argue with, and people who complain are pretty good at arguing. However, actions and results cannot be disputed. Conserve your energy for the job, skip the morning “hate huddles” where people sit in the break room and swap horror stories about what’s going on at work.

Instead, spend this time going over your goals and objectives for the day. Focus on the things you CAN control and invest your energy into things which will produce positive results. Do this for 30 days and see if the change in your OWN attitude doesn’t convince you of the value of talking less and acting more.

#3: Be a Positive Influence by Managing Yourself First There are probably dozens of things that frustrate you about your job, but how much time do you spend worrying over things you have no control over? Even if you’re supposed to have control over some things, but your boss keeps overstepping your boundaries, focus on what you can control and give your very best to those tasks instead of complaining about your boss’s micromanaging.

How many times have you complained to your boss about something only to have them divert the attention to something else that you’re doing wrong anyway? This is a common practice of poor leaders, but you can make yourself immune to it by being someone who gets the job done and who takes full responsibility for the things which the CAN control.

If you do this long enough and you’re producing results, you’ll have a lot more leverage to voice your concerns and your requests for change and reform in the workplace.

#4: Use Your Boss’s Weaknesses to Your Advantage, and Theirs There are two ways to look at your boss’s weaknesses, you can see them as a hindrance of you can see them as an opportunity for you to fill in and meet an organizational need which your boss is incapable of meeting. Put yourself in your bosses’ shoes and ask yourself what their biggest challenge is in the workplace.

What could YOU do to apply YOUR strengths and help make your boss’s life easier? Find the unmet need in your organization, and start asking yourself how you can fulfill it.

Warning: Prepare for Resistance! Applying these four rules comes with two challenges. First, you don’t want to assert yourself and apply step #4 too early, especially if your boss is the controlling type. Don’t try to influence anyone or anything outside your current position until you’ve first exhausted the opportunities of your current position.

Manage yourself first, demonstrate greatness through your actions and through the results produced by those actions. Wait until your boss starts to take notice, that’s usually your time to ask how you can help them.

The second challenge is that some of your coworkers will likely criticize you, calling you a “kiss up” or a “brownnoser.” Ignore them and stay committed to your plans. Most likely, they’ll end up answering to you in the near future…or complaining about you during their “morning huddles.”

Either way, the personal and professional growth you experience as a result of taking the path less followed will be worth it.