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.)

Advertisements

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.

 

 

 

 

How to deal with personality ‘issues’

The other day, a friend rang wanting to chat through an ‘issue’ she has with one of her team members. ‘I try not to let it’, she said, ‘but her constant, slow shuffle to the cafe bar gets on my nerves. She doesn’t have much to say for herself, either, and I’m the sort of team leader who likes to chat things through. Maybe it’s a generation thing; she’s a bit older than me and I’ve read that older workers aren’t as ‘teamy’ and ‘chatty’ as people my age. She’s hard to manage; it’s a personality thing, I guess.’
So I asked what her work quality was like and it seems it’s fine. She meets all her targets and the others in the team seem to like and respect her. In fact, they often go to her for advice and help when they need it.
That answer brought me to my next question: How would – let’s call her ‘Jane’ – describe this behaviour of hers, the trips to the cafe bar and her quietness? That’s always a good question to ask because it’s unlikely people describe their behaviour in the same way you do, and the answer always puts another slant on the issue.
And the third question: Is the issue worth making a song and dance over? My friend decided it wasn’t.
In summary, here are the first three questions to ask yourself when someone irritates you:
1. How is their work?
2. How would they describe their behaviour?
3. Is it worth addressing?
And when you’re ready, here’s the fourth question:
4. Is this annoying behaviour telling you something about yourself?
This question helps you look into your mental mirror. What we ‘see’ in others (or think we see) is often a reflection of ourselves. As someone once told me, when you ‘point the finger’ at someone, there’s another three fingers pointing back at you. Psychologists call this projection. We do it whenever we attach a characteristic to another person that really belongs to us.
These might be qualities we don’t want to own up to, negative things, like ‘He’s selfish’, or ‘She’s inconsiderate’. Rather than acknowledge we are like this ourselves, it’s easier on the ego to point the finger at someone else.
(We can project our own positive qualities onto other people too. Perhaps we don’t want to boast about them or more likely, we don’t even realise we have them. So we shift them over to someone else.)
Well, my friend drinks tea, not coffee, and likes to chat, so no, ‘Jane’ wasn’t reminding her of something about herself she didn’t like. Ah, but come to think about it …
Long story short, ‘Jane’ reminded my friend about someone in her past that she didn’t like at all, a ‘horrible’ aunt who was really mean to her when she was a child. That was what was causing the ‘issue’. My friend was sorely tempted to deal with ‘Jane’ the way she would have liked to have dealt with her nasty aunt. Once my friend realised that, the ‘issue’ evaporated.
The next time you seem to have a personality clash of some sort, think about whether your description of the other person says more about yourself or someone else in your life, than it says about them.
These are four powerful questions to work through when one of your team members or a colleague annoys you and you need to decide whether the ‘issue’ is worth addressing.

Give people ‘the finger’

We all like to think we’re in charge of our own behaviour but that isn’t always the case. The reason is – our brain. Our brain is filled with specialised circuits that do all sorts of things for us. Some of those circuits are called ‘mirror circuits’. The job of mirror circuits is called ‘interpersonal limbic regulation’ and they prompt us to respond to other people’s emotions and behaviour in kind. These mirror circuits are located in the limbic cortex, our ‘Caveman Brain’.

Some mirror circuits give us empathy for others – we see someone looking sad and our mirror circuits fire off sadness, so we sort of know how they feel. Or we see someone laughing and happy and we smile and feel happy, too.

Our mirror circuits fire off when someone treats us kindly, too. We want to return that kindness. That’s why being nice spreads around to others, like dropping a little pebble in a puddle – the ripples spread.

And here’s the rub. Our mirror circuits fire off when someone is rude, too. Here’s an example. I don’t know about the drivers where you live but I do know about the drivers in Adelaide. Lots of them are pretty rude. For instance, when you pull over to let someone through on a narrow street or in a car park, 49 out of 50 of them don’t lift a finger to say ‘Thank you’.

On Kangaroo Island, on the other hand, every driver lifts a finger to say ‘Hello’ to everyone they pass, never mind to say ‘Thank you’. So when you drive around Kangaroo Island, it only takes a couple of cars going by and lifting the ‘Hello’ finger before you’re lifting the ‘Hello’ finger too. Mirror circuits. People are friendly and you want to be friendly back.

And in Adelaide, when you’ve pulled over to let another driver through and you don’t get the finger-lift ‘Thank you’, the temptation is after one or two times, not to do the finger-lift ‘Thank you’ to the next driver who pulls over for you. That’s the temptation, thanks to those mirror circuits in our Caveman Brain.

Now of course, you know what’s coming, don’t you. Sometimes, we need to over-ride those mirror circuits so that other people don’t dictate our behaviour when that behaviour is rude or anti-social in some other way. We want to use our ‘Thinking Brain’ to tell our ‘Caveman Brain’ to pull its head in, so to speak. That way, we can be pleasant and polite even when someone else isn’t.

And to my mind, that makes for a better place to live, to shop, to drive and to work. Because giving people ‘the finger’ is catching. So give people the ‘Thank you’ finger and the ‘Hello’ finger every chance you have. Niceness is catching and we all want to live and work in a nice place.

Tips for all leaders

We’ve been looking at some ideas to keep you afloat while you find your feet if you’re a new leader. I thought we’d look at tips for all leader-managers in this post. Since a huge part of your job no doubt entails communication, the tips are in the form of eight positive principles for cooperative communication. And here they are.

  1. Soften the ‘you’s’ or turn them into ‘I’s’ to avoid sounding pushy and dictatorial. So instead of saying ‘You’ll have to …’ say ‘Could you …’ or ‘Would you be able to …’ or ‘What I need is …’.
  2. Turn your cant’s into cans. Instead of ‘We can’t do that until next week’ say ‘We’ll be able to do that next week’.
  3. Take responsibility. It’s tempting to push blame onto someone else or to an unfortunate turn of events or an unexpected situation. But we’re not kids anymore, are we? When something goes wrong, saying ‘Here’s what I can do to fix that’ is much better.
  4. Say what you want, not what you don’t want. Rather than ‘Don’t race through this and make mistakes’ try ‘Think this through – take it one step at a time.’
  5. Offer improvement suggestions. When you’re tempted to say ‘That was OK but …’ or ‘That works except …’ try ‘If you do X, that will make it perfect!’
  6. Turn complaints into requests. ‘You never …’ becomes ‘How about…?’
  7. Share information. Rather than argue or accuse, you can offer your point of view and explain how you see a situation.
  8. Leave doors open. That way, a flat out ‘No’ can become a ‘Yes, as soon as …’.

These principles not only strengthen your working relationships, they also make you a great role model for your team and set the tone for a positive working climate.

Tips for new leaders Part I

From the moment you take up a leadership role, people are watching you. You are leading by example and the only question is: Is it the example you want to set?

As a leader-manager, you’re no longer a ‘me’ working on getting great results as an individual performer (even though that might be what earned you the promotion). Your job is now ‘we’ – getting great results from others by harnessing the power of collective effort. It isn’t your job to impress your new team. Your job is to get to know them and find out how you can help them do their jobs well.

Build a culture that strives for high productivity and quality and one that is enjoyable and personally rewarding for your team members to work in. You’re only as good as your followers’ performance, individually and as a team, so set high standards and insist on peoples’ best efforts. No one will thank you for mediocrity. That doesn’t mean micromanaging, but finding out what people need, procuring it for them, and standing back while they get on with it, ready to help when they need it.

Australians don’t like a ‘task master’ boss, one who is autocratic, results-driven and provides little feedback. People whinge and ultimately do the bare minimum and ‘the numbers’ crash. Concentrate on your team and helping them hit ‘the numbers’, not on bossing people around.

Good leadership, for Australians, is based on quality relationships and we’re either ‘full on’ or ‘full off’ in terms of engagement and motivation. This means that the little things really count, like saying ‘G’day’ and using a person’s name. Open communication, without compromising confidentiality, is seen as a sign of trust and inclusion. In contrast, ‘mushroom management’ – keeping people in the dark – is definitely not appreciated. Make sure you include all team members when you share information, too, not just a favoured few.

Stay visible and talk – and listen – to people face-to-face. Don’t retreat behind your desk and fire off emails and don’t pretend you have all the answers. Spend time building relationships with your team and across the organisation.  Jot down a few notes to make sure your memory isn’t selective and stay alert for feedback, especially the non-verbal kind that can tell you what team members and colleagues really think of you. Keep your problems – work and personal – to yourself.

Most employees today aren’t too fazed by your place in the hierarchy but they’ll work for you as best they can when they respect you for your personal qualities, know what you stand for and know they can rely on you to ‘do the right thing’. But you need to prove yourself first and earn peoples’ trust and respect by demonstrating your character first and later, your competence.

Australians want positive feedback and recognition, but give it sincerely and keep it low-key. (‘Employee of the month’ schemes may work in the US but tend to flop in Australia.) We also respond best to clear and precise operating guidelines and are powerfully motivated by a clear vision and purpose. So get good at communicating and communicate them often (through different mediums and in different ways to avoid sounding like a galah). And tell the truth – Australians have finely tuned ‘bullshit detectors’.

When the results are good, step back and let your team share the glory. Remember, though, that the buck stops with you and you may occasionally need to take the blame for team mistakes.

Your role is probably more than helping your team succeed. It’s probably also helping your organisation succeed by innovating improvements that help your team work more smoothly, easily, economically, quickly, reliably, safely and sustainably.

Leadership is a big undertaking. It’s a huge responsibility as well as a privilege. Stay tuned for more tips next week.