The people you’re stuck with

Sometimes they’re family members. Sometimes they’re people you work with. Sometimes they’re neighbours. They’re the people you wouldn’t choose to spend time with, but you need to.

Worrying about them or even allowing yourself to be annoyed by them is a waste of time and mental energy. Far better to overcome your annoyances and learn to work professionally with them, even though you wouldn’t choose to socialise with them. Much better for your career, your job satisfaction and your job performance. Here are four tips:

  1. Don’t take their behaviour personally. Maybe they’re having a bad day or maybe they have worries at home. Provided they behave pretty much the same with everyone, understand it isn’t about you.
  2. Look for their strengths and good points. Everyone has them. Recognise and acknowledge their abilities and find ways to put their expertise to good use.
  3. Maintain your professionalism at all times. Communicate with them constructively, not angrily or sarcastically – don’t let them dictate your behaviour.
  4. Stay focused on your work goals and what you want to achieve. This takes your mind off how annoying they are and helps you get on with doing what you’re paid to do – your job.
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Is our industrial relations going to go full circle?

Between Federation in 1901 and 1983, social justice guided how we managed our economy and workplace relations. The Australian Industrial Relations Commission (AIRC) acted as an independent umpire in workplace relations and based wages and working conditions in part on what it thought was a fair, or living, wage. This meant that, in the interests of fairness and a reasonable standard of living, some people in some occupations were paid more than their contributions were worth.

By 1983, the world had changed dramatically since Federation. The government of the day decided that we needed to make big changes in our workplaces to survive in the global marketplace. It began a gradual move towards decentralising workplace relations and allowing the market to determine wages and working conditions. This began as a joint effort between the government and the unions – remember The Accords?

By 1996 when the Liberal Howard government took over from the Hawke and Keating Labor governments, two of the three pillars of Australian workplace relations, tariff protection and centralised wage fixing, were all but gone. The third pillar, the AIRC, was about to go. The new government further deregulated the labour market and replaced social justice principles with economic rationalism. The role of workplace legislation moved from social fairness and protection to promoting the efficient functioning of labour markets.

The world continues to change. With the rapid rise of artificial intelligence, computer are predicted to take over millions of jobs in the next 15 years. (See my blog How not to lose your job to a computer.) As a result, people are beginning to talk once more about a living wage. The argument is that since computers will perform so many jobs, a lot of us won’t need to work. But we’ll still need money to pay the bills and live a good life. This is where the living wage comes back into the picture. Paying people whose jobs are taken over by computers a living wage will free them up to do creative work, entrepreneurial work, voluntary work, research work and so on. People can ‘follow their dream’ once they’re freed from the need to earn money. In the end, life could be pretty good.

Help people through change

You’ve heard it before and you’ll hear it again: Change is all around us. Society, the marketplace, the economy and technology are all transforming with dizzying speed. For instance:

  • Australia’s economy has become a service and knowledge economy, which means organisations don’t gain their value from their machinery and equipment but from their people. Organisational wealth comes from successfully storing and using knowledge to create innovative products and services and develop innovative, sustainable, value-adding and profitable systems.
  • Our definition of what a family unit is continues to change.
  • The capabilities of information, communications and bio and nano technologies (e.g. motor the size of a pinhead) continue to soar and promise to transform our lives.
  • Globalisation makes it easier for epidemics to wipe out or temporarily disable a significant portion of our population and wipe out all or part of an organisation’s supply chain.

And that’s just a sample of what’s going on around us. The world is changing so fast that standing still doesn’t exist – we’re either moving forward and making progress or we’re going backward. In fact, the speed of change is speeding up, and right now is the slowest we’ll ever experience it.

To survive, never mind thrive, we all need to stay on top of the game and better still, stay one step ahead. We all need keep up to date with trends so we can more easily adapt as everything around us changes. Perhaps more than anything, we need to keep learning – about the area and industry we work in, about the technology we use, and about new ways of doing things.

Don’t change the rules

Maybe you’ve spent time in a European country or North America. If you drove or even crossed the street, how hard was it to get used to driving on the right or looking right before crossing the road? Hard, right?

There’s a good reason for that. Yes, old habits die hard. And more than that, the first rules we learn (‘Look right, look left, then look right again’) are exceedingly ‘sticky’. That makes them not just hard to unlearn, but really, really, really hard to unlearn.

Unlearning something and learning something else to replace it is frustrating. It’s mentally exhausting. That’s just one of many good reasons to hire trainable people rather than people with experience – your rules and procedures are likely to be slightly different and therefore, require unlearning and re-learning. Old habits die hard and the longer we’ve had them, the more effort and the longer it takes to replace them. To help new starts perform well, hire people who haven’t done the specific tasks they’ll be doing in your team.

To help your team perform well, don’t change rules without a compelling reason. (This applies to your customers and your family, too. It does not apply to continuous incremental improvements.)

There’s enough change to deal with without creating more change unnecessarily.

 

Toxic bosses Part 3

Over the last two weeks, we’ve considered how to recognise and survive working for control freaks, hollow superstars, wily politicians and narcissists. This week it’s how to survive working for dictators and bullies. They all prove boss is a four-letter word.

Dictators take being the boss into the stratosphere. They take no questions and give no explanations. They issue orders and tell you what to do – even when they don’t need to. They play their cards close to their chests, they solve your problems and everyone else’s problems, too, and they make all the decision themselves – even those you’d like to be involved in and could help with.

Some dictators simply love the sound of their own voice. Some can’t bring themselves to trust their followers – any of them – even though their poor followers probably are trustworthy. In the minds of dictators, their only option is to continually drive people and push them hard to do an honest day’s work.

Here are the two secrets to working for dictators:

  1. Remember that their ‘don’t trust anyone’ view of the world is their problem, not yours.
  2. Don’t give into the temptation to become as lazy and irresponsible as they seem to believe you are and just sit back and let the dictator do all your thinking for you.

The best thing to do, I think, is to keep your head down, do your work, and look for a new leader who doesn’t turn ‘boss’ into a four-letter word.

I’ve saved the most toxic boss of all until last – the bully. Bullies pick on one or two of their weaker followers and entertain themselves by abusing, belittling and berating them, assigning them impossible tasks with ridiculous time constraints and generally setting them up to fail.

And here’s the rub – to everyone else, bullies are often charming, and clever enough to hide their bullying ways from everyone but their victims. In fact, people usually find it hard to believe that a bully boss really does intimidate, terrorise and persecute anyone. That’s what makes them so dangerous.

If anyone out there is the victim of a bully boss, do not be conned into believing that you’re the failure your boss is making you out to be. Keep a record of the bullying treatment you receive (dates, times, locations, what was said, anyone else who was present). These records can help you see, clearly and objectively, that you’re not to blame and you may be able to use these records as proof of your boss’s toxic behaviour towards you.

My suggestion is that you find another leader as fast as you can, someone who inspires you and helps you achieve feats you never knew you could achieve. Look for someone who is talented and has high, but realistic, standards, who will give you constructive feedback, set challenging targets and expect a lot of good work from you. Above all, look for a leader who makes you feel energised and confident.

(I trust you didn’t recognise any of the characteristics of toxic leaders we’ve discussed over the last three posts in yourself. If you did, you know what to do. Change your ways and learn to be a real leader-manager.)

Toxic bosses Part 2

Last week we looked at how to deal with control freak bosses and hollow superstar bosses. This week, it’s wily politicians and narcissists.

Those wily politicians are easy to spot – they’re the managers who extol whatever is flavour-of-the-month in the organisation and next month when it changes, their theme song does too. Wily politicians are verbal contortionists who rush towards power like iron filings to a magnate. To the wily politician, ‘It’s all about ME’ and their sole goal is to survive and thrive – whatever it takes and whoever else suffers.

Their political skills are actually quite awesome. Wily politicians always know exactly what the prevailing mood of the people who count most in the organisation is and some of them are so good, they can even predict changes in direction.

Maybe the worst thing about working for a wily politician is that they’re only concerned with the people ‘up the ladder’, the more senior managers – certainly not the people at their own level or, heaven forbid, those below their level! This means that if you work for a wily politician, your only value is how well you can help him or her look good and how quickly you respond to the changing fads they follow (or rather, give lip-service to).

When your boss is a wily politician who delivers at least minimal results, you can benefit from being part of their team and, provided you can offer solid performance, you’ll be highly prized for making your boss look good. When your wily politician boss is a non-performer, move on as fast as you can before your reputation suffers.

Narcissistic leaders are the ones who can ‘rally the troops’ and engage people’s hearts and minds but they also have massive ego problems. They adore the sounds of their own voices and tend to dominate meetings, even when it’s with more hot air than useful information and ideas.

Because they love themselves so much, narcissists are terrible coaches and mentors, so don’t expect to learn much from a narcissist boss. They’re often emotionally isolated, distrustful of others, self-involved and unpredictable, so unless you’re quite a strong person, they can easily destroy your self-confidence.

To top it off, narcissists are usually convinced they are always right, so they’ll take reckless risks and hear only what they want to hear. In fact, they tend to surround themselves with people who always agree and pander to their egos in all sorts of other ways.

There are five secrets to working for a self-centred self-admirer like this.

  1. Zip your lips when you disagree because putting forward an alternative point of view is very career-limiting.
  2. Make sure you don’t burst their over-inflated self-image bubble.
  3. Praise them like mad.
  4. Always communicate with a narcissist boss in terms of their own best interest.
  5. Don’t worry when they take all the credit for your ideas and hard work – that’s just what they do.

Toxic bosses Part 1

If you’re a boss, you won’t want to hear this, but I’m going to tell you anyway. Second to people’s Number One complaint about their work – ‘poor communication’ – is their Number Two complaint: my boss. Yes, it’s a fair bet you are a source of angst to those you lead and manage. Sorry about that. It’s also a fair bit that your boss is something of a source of angst to you, too.

Fortunately, most bosses aren’t really all that bad, just a little bit annoying – they’re at the top of the bell curve. Many bosses are quite good – they’re at one end of the bell curve. And then there are the bosses at the other end of the bell curve – the toxic bosses. Read on of yours is a toxic boss. We’ll look at two types of bosses we’d rather not be managed by this week (control freaks and hollow superstars); two next week (wily politicians and narcissists) and two the following week (dictators and bullies).

The control freak is a perennial non-favourite, so let’s begin there. These are the bosses who believe it’s never too soon to start worrying; never too late check, re-check and check again or review all the details – yet again. The control freak’s attention to detail can be mind-numbing, especially if you aren’t detail-oriented yourself. These bosses plan every action to the finest detail and keep the panic button close at hand. They leave nothing to chance and it’s never safe to relax.

Control-freak bosses are always looking over your-shoulder – which can be irritating. It’s easy to become dependent on them because they do all your thinking for you. But that’s the easy option and probably best avoided.

To survive a control freak, you can calm their qualms by providing plenty of information, even if you think it’s overkill. Establish priorities (which sometimes isn’t easy because to many control freaks, every task is an ‘A’ priority). Stay on top of details and deadlines and gain their trust with regular progress reports so they can see you’re on top of your job. The secret is to help your control freak boss gradually come to understand that you’re dependable and produce the right results without their continual input.

Another good idea is to notice whether there’s someone the control freak gives more lee-way to and if there is, watch those people and figure out how they operate and adopt a few of their bid-for-freedom tricks.

Remember that nothing is good enough for the control freak – and that includes you. So whatever you do, don’t let the control freak to erode your self-confidence – the problem lies with your boss, not with you. However, if you can cope with it, the control freak’s zeal for perfection can teach you how to think clearly and prevent projects from going off the rails and you may shine in the reflected light of their successes.

Hollow superstars are the publicity hounds with the big reputations. They’re the smooth-talking, high profile networkers extraordinaire, the sole operators who offer no support or guidance because they’re too busy concentrating on making themselves look good, looking in the mirror and advancing their own interests.

If you work for a hollow superstar, it probably really irks you that other people – people who don’t work for them, think they’re great – ‘Gee, aren’t you lucky working for so-and-so,’ they’ll say, ‘It must be wonderful!’ But from those who know these empty superstars best, the people who work for them, there is faint praise.

That’s because those who work for them are the poor unfortunates who are left to make the Superstar’s grandiose promises work in the real world; they’re the ones left to write their fabulous speeches and stand in the shadow while the boss takes all the glory – unless, of course, the superstar’s schemes go awry, in which case, they’re quick to take a step back and push a follower forward to take the blame.

The secret to surviving working for an empty superstar is to figure out their PR plan for themselves and help make it happen. Become indispensable to the empty superstar and have a fun ride on their coat-tail – if your own pride and ego will let you do that, that is!

Two more toxic bosses and how to deal with them next week.