How to Overcome an Imperfect Boss

Oct 24, 2014
7 Min Read

I spoke to Karin Hurt, the author of Overcoming An Imperfect Boss and the award-winning blog, Let's Grow Leaders. Hurt has a diverse background of executive leadership experience in sales, customer service, call centers, human resources, merger integration, training and leadership development – the last 20 years of which have been with Verizon. Most recently, she served as Executive Director of the Strategic Partnership Channel at Verizon Wireless where she transformed customer service outsourcing, working with companies and call centers to build strong cultures that deliver positive customer experiences. Prior to that she led a Verizon Wireless sales team, leading the nation in store sales to the small and medium business space. In the following brief interview, Hurt talks about being successful at work despite a bad boss, how to build a stronger relationship with your boss, and more.

Dan Schawbel: Is it possible to be success at work if you have a bad boss? Why or why not?

Karin Hurt: Absolutely. You just have to work a bit harder. In fact, having a “bad” boss can actually be a catalyst to success because you have to work harder to fine-tune your persuasion and other skills, and it forces you to create a more robust network of support.

Schawbel: What are some ways to build a deeper connection with your boss?

First, recognize that she’s just a messy human being doing the best she can just like you. Letting your boss off the hook from being “perfect” or fitting into your ideal standards will be very liberating for both of you. Next, communicate: Arrange some time to talk about how you can best support him or her. Also do what you can to make her life easier:  (1) Sweat the small stuff and do what you say you will do without reminding (2) proactively communicate, make emails easy to read and forward in bulleted summaries (3) uncover issues and address them (4) thank her for her help - everyone likes a bit of genuine appreciation, and (5) document your accomplishments.

Schawbel: Why are people so quick to leave their company because of their manager and what should they do instead?

Research has shown that the most significant indicator of job satisfaction is the relationship with the boss. That frustration often leads to quitting a job prematurely. If you’re considering leaving your job because of a boss, think well. Bosses come and go. Don’t waste all you’ve invested because of one jerky guy. On the other hand if your jerky boss is only one part of the problem, look deeper. Your boss may be reacting to your behavior or your impact on the team. Before you quit, invest in having a deeper conversation with your boss. Get to know him or her on a more personal level and find out what more you can be doing to enhance the relationship. Also work to broaden your network of support. Seek out mentors and sponsors. Invite others to share their feedback with you on how they perceive you. Volunteer for special projects that will give you broadened exposure and new challenges. Work to build strong and deep relationships with your peers.

Schawbel: Can you explain one exercise that leaders can do to improve their relationship with their boss?

I include an exercise in my book where both the employee and the manager complete a simple assessment of the relationship, based on 4 components (R.E.A.L.) Results, Energy, Authenticity and Learning. Then you sit down together and discuss the strengths of your relationship and areas you would like to improve. Then you identify a few specific actions to which you will each commit. This exercise reinforces that the relationship is two-way.  You each are answering the same questions.

Sample questions include:

Results:  Our work together leads to breakthrough results.

Energy:  I’m energized by our interactions

Authenticity: I trust you to tell me the truth

Learning: You challenge me to improve

Schawbel: What impact can a bad or good boss have on your career and how can you maximize the relationship?

Some bosses are better than others, but it’s tough to categorize any human being as either “good” or “bad.”  You can learn a great deal from the strengths and weaknesses of any boss you have. Pay attention to how your boss's behaviors impact you and others. Don’t let a jerky boss turn you into a jerk, but letting stress roll down hill or picking up bad habits. Ideally you’ll have some great bosses in your career who will help to develop you had help you to grow, but never forget that you are in charge of your career. You have more power than you think.

You can download a free chapter of the book here:

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