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The Impact of Your Boss on Your Career

I have skated around this topic in our career series for some time.  But it’s time to write something on the impact of your boss on your career.  Today we’ll talk about managing your boss plus knowing when to move on from a boss.

Small Number of Bad Bosses, But Still Not Easy

Over my 15 year career, I have had 12 managers.  12 different leaders each with their own style and process.    Of those 12 I will tell you up-front only 2 have been what I would consider bad managers.  But that doesn’t mean it’s all smooth sailing with the other 10.

Manage Your Boss

You see the first time anyone will tell you about a manager is that you need to manage them.  You need to manage your boss just like you would manage a direct report or coworker.  Learn what motivates them, their expectations, and their needs through active listening.  Then meet those needs, motivations, and expectations.  Adapting to a new boss is as simple as that.

Give It Time

Some of the best bosses I have had started out very rocky.  One in particular I was sure within the first week was going to lead to my resignation.  Another had a reputation so bad when I heard she replaced my old boss I nearly resigned on the spot.    But both ended up good fits for me.  

Finding the Right Boss for You

So here is the first thing you need to understand about a boss.  Your ideal boss is different from everyone else’s.  Your style defines the type of boss that best fits you.  Me personally, I do best with a  boss that essentially leaves me alone.  If I have a problem I raise it with a solution and expect help in implementing the solution or finding an alternative.  But otherwise, I prefer a hands-off manager.  

A recent study showed that workers tend to be happier with a manager that can do their job.  I suspect that might be true for those earlier in their career.  The more of a development role you have the more likely you need to lean on your manager for support.  In fact, most good management training courses advise you to spend more time focusing on helping your more neophyte employees or at least those utilizing skills for which they are a neophyte. 

So my own preference for a hands-off boss may not fit your needs.  I have only had about half my managers be able to carry on an educated conversation about my work, the other half haven’t a clue.  So clearly my manager’s knowledge hasn’t defined my happiness.

You Don’t Decide Your Boss

Anyway, you can’t decide the type of boss you get.    Some are micro-managers or even if they are not need to build up trust before they let you go.  Managing your boss is understanding what that manager needs/how they behave and responding to it accordingly.  

In the case of my 2 rocky examples above the discussion started out with micromanager images and very much control issues.  But over time I earned their trust and I was released to do my thing.  It took a while, but that is part of adjusting to a new manager.

My Experience with Bad Managers

Anyway, I started this discussion by mentioning I had 2 bad managers.   Thankfully both experiences were some years back.  But let’s dig into them more, something I can do since we are anonymous.  The reality is, a relationship is a two-way street.  As a manager, you have to manage your employee and vice versa.   If that relationship never develops then you get a case of a bad manager.  

 A bad manager can be devastating to your career and happiness.  From a day to day basis they can drive burn out, resentment, and general negativity.  From a longer term perspective, they can decrease your compensation, block your career advancement, and just generally make things difficult for you.  

People Leave Managers not Companies

I have said it before and I’ll say it again, people leave managers not companies.  You should always give a new manager a shot, as my examples above shows.  Any manager deserves at least a handful of months to prove themselves.  But if you reach the year mark and you still dread talking to your manager, it’s time to find another job.  You can’t count on them moving on, and the emotional hassle is not worth your time.

My Definition of a Bad Boss: Poorly Defined or Unachievable Expectations

My 2 bad managers have resulted in me first leaving a company, and the second time leaving a division.    In both cases, the managers made me absolutely miserable.  The key part that drove me nuts, they didn’t have achievable expectations or in one case even clear expectations. 

Everything else I personally could deal with.  Long hours, fine.  Micromanaging, I’ll show you eventually you can blindly trust me.  But if I continually fail to understand your expectations, or you expect me to fix something entirely beyond my control, then I am going to leave.

When Should You Leave a Bad Boss?

This is another important part when dealing with a bad manager.  Define your non- negotiable.  Mine are not being able to define expectations and being held responsible for things I cannot influence (note the choice of word, ownership is not needed) in any way.  That non-negotiable, if seen consistently is the key to understanding when to leave.

The Fall Out

Leaving a bad boss is not the end of the damage they cause to you.   At my current company my bad boss both hurt and helped my career.   You see he was my boss during my first stint as a people manager.   With some executives in the division I worked for he branded me as a poor manager.  Never able to get the organization out of firefighting mode caused by a crap IT system without replacement funding. 

Nevermind, that my successor is still dealing with the same problems 3 years later that are still as originally, outside his control.  The difference is, my successor got to double his workforce and his boss changed.  In some ways I’m jealous of the lack of fairness there.

Making Lemonade from Lemons

But on the flip side, I already had an ironclad reputation as the guy who gets stuff done.   He cemented his executive team’s view as this being me as I managed to make it work, constantly putting the fire out without support, by killing myself and my team.  

Today I can get a management or executive position in any other area of the company except that one.  In that one I will always be limited as an individual contributor.  While I don’t care to be an executive it does frustrate me that this boss closed a door for me.  The only thing you can do is understand the limitations a bad boss has placed on your career and work around them in the future.

Managers Change Regularly

One final bit of advice.  No manager is permanent.  I just told you I have had 12 managers in 15 years.  I have only held, depending on how you measure them, 8-9 jobs.  This means many of the managers I had moved on.  Managers move on all the time and usually you have little warning.  

So don’t take a job just to work for your favorite boss.  They may not be there long.  Also, always keep your resume up to date.  You never know when your next boss might come around.  And sadly you also never know if they will be your next worst nightmare.

Have you ever had a bad boss?  What did you do?

2 Comments

  1. Joe
    Joe February 24, 2020

    Most of my managers are mediocre. I think I only had 2 good managers in my career. The problem is even the good managers aren’t good for my career. They left me alone to work, but didn’t mentor me enough to further my career. The bad bosses outnumber the good bosses. Life was a lot more stressful when I had bad bosses.

    Eventually, I figured it’s better to be my own boss. That’s a much better fit for me. I can work at my own pace and I have 100% autonomy. I love it.

    • FullTimeFinance
      FullTimeFinance February 25, 2020

      Great choice (working for yourself) that works for many. I enjoy the stability and environment of the corporate world, but I like being my own boss when it comes to side hustles so I understand the appeal.

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