How to deal with an unreasonable boss

people quit because of bad bossesThere’s a new book I’ve put on my summer reading list: Colin Powell’s My American Journey. Here’s a great quote from it:

“The day the soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you stopped leading them. They have either lost confidence that you can help them or concluded that you do not care. Either case is a failure of leadership.” —Colin Powell

Oren Harari, a professor at the University of San Francisco says if this was a litmus test, most CEOs would fail. I couldn’t agree more.

Powell talks about busy bastard bosses, bosses that never rest, and as a result never let their staff rest. It’s sad, but I’ve heard of more busy bastard bosses making life hell for their employees in organizations and it’s time we put a stop to it.

Powell advises against being a BBB. He writes, “Be busy, work hard, but don’t become so busy that you cut out other things in life, like family and recreation and hobbies. And never be so busy that you’re not giving your staff and your followers enough time to do the same thing.”

Here are tips for dealing with an unreasonable boss:

  • Don’t check email at night unless it’s a crisis. Just because someone sends you an email at 10:30 at night doesn’t mean you have to answer it at 10:30 at night.
  • Watch and learn how they like to work. Some bosses want everything by email. Some want updates in a meeting. Learn their preferences and as long as they’re reasonable, change your habits to accommodate them.
  • Set limits. If you need to be home with your kids in the morning, but can stay late if needed at night, make them aware of this.
  • Be concise and to the point, and ask for clarity. Unreasonable bosses often think they communicate well, but they don’t. They’re so focused on being busy, and moving on to the next thing on their list, they gloss over instructions and fail to provide clear direction.
  • Figure out how to get what you need or get things done through other people so you don’t have to deal with them.
  • If they give you an unrealistic deadline, ask for more time. If they say no, ask which other work can be put on hold so you can meet the deadline.

Most bosses aren’t bastards, but they are busy. If you set limits, learn how they like to work, and do good work, you’ll have a good chance of establishing boundaries and a good work life balance.

And for those poor souls who work for a busy bastard boss who are hopeless—bosses who are so unreasonable or disorganized they make it impossible for you to do your job, who don’t care or even know about what’s going on in the lives of their employees, and only see employees as a head count or resource, find another job.

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