Tuesday, September 1, 2009

4 Ways to Handle Your Childish Boss

There's probably no subject that generates more discussion on this blog than two words: "bad boss."

Personally, I don't know anyone who doesn't have a bad boss story. I know I have more than a few, and no matter how long I've been in the workforce, a bad boss can get to me. I'm always looking for solutions on how to deal with these rotten managers, and some days I'm more successful that others in applying those strategies. (Some days I think about hurling rotten eggs at the manager's house under the cover of night. But then I think of how I don't want to waste a rotten egg.)

Here's a recent story I did for Gannett on how to deal with bad bosses:

Just as child experts often advise exasperated parents to provide strong parameters for their unruly toddlers, workplace expert Lynn Taylor says it’s time we did the same for bratty bosses.

“Just as children with too much power need controls, so do bosses with too much power,” Taylor says. “Otherwise, they just get worse.”

Bad behavior may mean calling employees at all hours of the day and night, pitching hissy fits, being stubborn, bullying, bragging and generally making employees uncomfortable and stressed. Not exactly the kind of manager that generates productivity, creativity and efficiency.

“Any kind of stressful situation – such as this bad economy – can make it worse,” Taylor says. “It’s going to put this kind of boss into overdrive.”

Taylor says she was so struck by the resemblances between a tyrant toddler and a terrible boss that she calls these kinds of bosses the “terrible office tyrant” or “TOT.” Her new book, “Tame Your Terrible Office Tyrant,” (Wiley, $21.95) draws direct correlations between the fussy and uncooperative child and the adult version roaming the cubicles at work.

Rather than caving into these kinds of leaders, Taylor says, more employees need a plan of action to deal with such childish behavior that can arise when bosses “act out” under the pressures of their job. She says her plan involves employees staying “calm,” another acronym that stands for:

• Communicate. “Bravely talk to your boss,” she says. “Hiding your light under a bushel won’t be doing anyone a favor.” She suggests by talking to the boss and showing what you have to offer, it also will help your own career.
• Anticipate. Know the hot-button issues for your boss, and steer clear or head them off. Know good times to speak with him, and what helps calm him.
• Laugh. “Humor is a great diffuser, and in these tough times we need them more than ever,” she says. For example, when times are tense, you might ask, “Anyone need a donut?” as a way to show “we’re all human.”
• Manage. “Managing up doesn’t mean kissing up,” Taylor says. “It means you set boundaries and you stand your ground. Employees often fear reprisals for setting boundaries, but managers respect them. Otherwise, you’re going to have them calling you at midnight. They appreciate being told not to do that.”

Taylor says that when bosses are “lost little lambs”, they can make employee lives miserable because their own insecurities make them clingy and helpless, depending on workers to do tasks for them.

“At least with little kids, you know that helping them usually leads to a burst of independence and pride in accomplishing a new skill,” she says.

But a boss can always pull rank and force you to help, so Taylor advises employees – seeking a more self-sufficient manager – should privately tell the boss that while they would like to help, they have their own workload to tackle.

“You can help break the dependency cycle,” Taylor says. “You’d be surprised at how often (the boss) doesn’t realize she’s being needy to the point of distraction.”

Finally, Taylor cautions workers not to believe the childish boss will improve with the economy. “They also behave this way during any period of stress – even in good times,” she says. “That’s why it’s important that when you interview for jobs, make sure you are alert for these kinds of bosses.”

At the same time, Taylor believes that companies must do more to end this cycle of bad boss behavior and provide good management training, a supportive environment for employees and a company culture that emphasizes childish behavior will not be tolerated. If not, employers will watch talented employees walk out the door and tyrant bosses continue their reign of terror, she says.

Have you developed strategies for dealing with a bad boss?

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Monday, December 15, 2008

Can Losing a Job Save Your Life?

Would you do your job if you didn't get paid?

If you burst out laughing after reading this question, then this column is for you. If you've broken into tears at the question, this post is for you. If your stomach cramps and your vision starts to blur, this is definitely for you.

This post is for all of you who can't imagine who or what you'd be without your job, but you do know that the word "love" or "passion" has never entered your consciousness when you talk about what you do for a living.

It was much the same story for Kathy Caprino. As a corporate vice president with a high powered job, she thought she had it all: security, money, prestige. She had done what she was supposed to do, and achieved the desired status symbols of a nice office, people at her beck and call and a new home.

Then 9/11 happened and a week later, Caprino was laid off. While she did tell her husband the news, somehow the reality didn't connect with Caprino. For a week after her layoff, she arose each morning, put on her business suit, got in her car -- and drove around each day.

"It's so demoralizing to be laid off," she says. "You're stripped on any kind of self-esteem."

Finally, Caprino was forced to deal with her layoff, and she found herself in therapy "weeping."

"I hated who I had become," she says.

Who Caprino had become was someone who suffered chronic health problems, a stressed, desperately unhappy woman who felt trapped by her job and everything that went along with it. As a middle-aged woman who was the primary breadwinner, Caprino had never thought of doing anything else until she was forced into it with the layoff.

That, Caprino says, is when she discovered that even though she was middle-aged, she could "choose the next chapter."

It's that message that Caprino hopes many people -- especially mid-life professional women -- will hear during these tough times when they may lose their jobs.

"My prayer is that this (job loss) is a wake-up call. When something bad happens, it's time to assess whether you're really aligned with it," she says. "Don't make the mistake of glomming onto the first thing that comes along. Step back. Approach it from an empowered position."

Caprino, who went back to school and has become a therapist and executive coach, says that she has some words of advice (also available in her book, "Breakdown, Breakthrough") for those faced with job loss:

1. Believe you can move forward. Find someone -- a coach, therapist, etc. -- who won't feed your fears, but will help you believe that you can create a new place for yourself. Caprino does say that one coach, whom she paid $800, said that she was in the "perfect" job. "I wanted to stab myself in the eye," Caprino says. "But I recognized that he was as stuck (in his thinking) as I was. It was a friend who said to me: 'I love you dearly, but you're always unhappy.' That's when I knew I had to change."

2. Let go of the beliefs, actions and thoughts that keep you small. Just because you're not 20 anymore doesn't mean you don't have dreams and goals. Look deep inside yourself and think of what else you'd like to do. "Don't assume that a certain job is your role and nothing else. Don't over identify yourself with a job."

3. Say "yes" to honoring yourself. "Don't believe someone else has the power. You have the wherewithal to make your dreams come true."

Are there are other ways someone can find a job they love?

Lijit Search

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Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Is Any Job Worth a Bad Boss?

When there are stressful times in the workplace, you can bet it's going to bring out the best in a lot of people -- and the worst.

Unfortunately, job seekers may not discover which category a boss falls into until it's too late.

For example, good bosses will understand that the continuing tough economic news means they need to rally the troops, to stick close to employees and make sure employees see they are calm in the face of bad economic news, determined to keep doing the best possible job. They make sure their door is always open to listen to worker concerns, and even spring for a pizza every once in a while just to help lighten the mood.

And then there are the bosses that crack under the strain. They hole up in their offices, the door tightly closed. When they do emerge, they are uncommunicative with workers, except to criticize or be short-tempered. They may be sarcastic, rude, insulting and thoughtless. Employees become tightly wired and depressed, alternately sniping with one another or lapsing into brooding silences.

Enter the hapless job seeker. With shiny shoes, a bright smile and firm handshake, the job candidate enters the door of a company, hopeful that in this crappy job market, he or she may land a job.

Many are desperate. They try not to let that show (a definite no-no in the job search world), but they know their current company is sinking fast, their industry on the rocks, their job security a thing of the past. They need another job, and they need it now.

So, they may be willing to overlook a few things they would not have in the past, when job seekers had the upper hand in a thriving economy. Now, with rising unemployment, they don't care about the long commute, the less-than-generous benefits, the lack of stock options. In other words, they are willing to overlook a lot of the frayed edges if it just means they can keep a paycheck coming in.

Understandable. You gotta do what you gotta do. But there is one area that may bear closer scrutiny: the boss.

As anyone who has had a bad boss knows, a rotten manager can affect you in ways you never dreamed. You can't sleep. You can't eat -- or overeat. You yell at your kids or partner when you get home, you develop bad headaches and stomach pains. You feel like you've aged 10 years overnight and secretly envision the boss getting hit by a bus. (Not killed of course, just in the hospital for the next five years.)

That's why it's still important that while you may be willing to settle on a lot of things when you go for a job these days, don't settle for a bad boss. And here's a bit of good news: The bad bosses are being exposed as never before. It's going to be easier to learn who is a lousy manager simply because he or she is cracking under the strain.

Here's some ways to find out a boss's true colors:

* Ask to speak to other employees. Sometimes you will not always be given this opportunity, and other times, the workers may not be truthful because they fear for their own jobs. Ask questions such as: "What has been your favorite assignment and why?" "What gives you the greatest satisfaction working here?" "What three words would you use to describe your boss?"
* Find the favorite watering hole. This may be a neighborhood pub, or a lunch spot where employees hang out. It may even be a nearby park. The idea is to strike up a conversation away from the eyes and ears of the boss so that you can get an employee to open up about the true management style of the boss.
* Be objective. Just because one employee trashes the manager doesn't mean the boss is terrible. It could be that this person doesn't get along with anyone. Try and talk to several employees so that you can get a real feel for what's going on.
* Don't think you're special. I'm always amazed by job candidates who take a position knowing the boss is an ass. They always think they can find a way to get along with the manager, that they somehow possess special powers to overcome a bully boss. Not so. If the boss is a jerk to the majority of workers, chances are you're going to experience the exact same thing.

What are some other ways to spot a bad manager?

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Monday, September 8, 2008

Do You Know When to Run Like Hell From a Job?

Sometimes it's hard to know what you want. Sometimes it’s easier to know what you don’t want.

I mean, there are a lot of career advice people – myself included – who give pointers on how to get the job you really want. But what if you’re not sure what you want? What if you’re not sure what you should do next?

In that case, you flip it. You look at the other side of the equation – figure out what you hate, and then you’ll know what to avoid at any cost. You’ll end up with a rough road map of where you need to go.

The key is to make sure these are things that you are absolutely, positively don’t want to do ever, ever again. Ever. In your lifetime. They are the deal breakers, the things that make you run like hell if you ever see them again.

Now, let’s put on our 20/20 hindsight glasses and see what we wish we had never done, and what we never want to do again in the future:

1. Location, location, location. People never consider what it will be like to sit eight to 12 hours a day in cubicle in a windowless office until they have done it. Some people hate it so much they would rather be carrying a “will work for food” sign on an interstate interchange. Or, if you have to commute 40 miles one way every day and you’re developing a galloping case of road rage, then you know that working far from home doesn’t make you happy. The lesson: Don’t apply for jobs that will stick you in a cubicle or have you tucking a Louisville Slugger under the front seat of your car.

2. Hours of operation. My dad worked shift work my entire life. He worked Christmas and Halloween and President’s Day and just about every holiday I can think of. One week he worked 4 p.m. to midnight, and the next he would work 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. It seemed like when he was home, he was always asleep. I can still hear my mother telling my sisters and me: “Don’t slam the door! Be quiet! Your Dad is sleeping!” When I went to work in newsrooms, it never bothered me to work Christmas or any other holiday. It didn’t bother me to work until 2 a.m. or be called out on a story on Sunday afternoon. It wasn’t a big deal to me because odd hours and days seemed normal to me. But it bugged plenty of other people, and they ended up hating the job because of it. If the hours of a job don’t mesh with what you consider “having a life,” then don’t consider it. You’ll be miserable, and there’s no point trying to stay in job when you resent the hours.

3. Flexibility. There are two types of workplaces these days: Those that say they provide flexibility – and do – and those that say they provide flexibility – and don’t. I’ve always been amazed by those “best places to work” lists that report XYZ Corp. is a great place to work because they provide all these really cool benefits: Employees take time off to train for a marathon or attend a kid’s soccer game. Then you dig a little deeper and find out that yeah, that happens, but only for six people in corporate headquarters. The rest of the poor saps get the evil eye from their boss if they request time off for open heart surgery. So, if flexibility is really important to you, then do your homework and find out if flexibility is just lip service. If you hate your job because you feel chained to a desk or workstation and the boss would rather poke out his own eye with a sharp stick than let you work from home, then forget it. Talk to those in industry and professionals groups – even alumni associations – and see if you can get the real story on what happens within a company’s four walls.

4. Benefits. When I was a young worker, I could have cared less about health benefits. They were not a deal breaker for me, as I probably got a cold about twice a year and that was it. That changed as soon as I got married and had my first child. While I know that everyone would like a job with health benefits, it’s probably more critical for parents – especially single parents. If this is one of the reasons you hate your job, then don’t bother seeking positions that won’t offer you health insurance.

5. Travel. I recently interviewed a woman who traveled a lot for her job. I was ready to hear her tales of woe – delayed flights, missed family, uncomfortable hotel rooms – but she couldn’t have been happier. I’m talking happy. She loved traveling for her job, she loved being in different offices and meeting different people. The travel actually made her love her job. Now, I’ve known plenty of people who hated their jobs because of the travel. They thought being out of the office several days a month wouldn’t be so bad. But they ended up hating it, and found the stress unbelievable. If you hate your job because of the travel, then steer clear of a job that requires it.

Every day we have to make choices. Some of them are harder than others. And, when it comes to a career, those choices can become scary and confusing and intimidating. The easiest step, in that case, may be to simply decide what you don’t want. Once you do that, then you will clear away a lot of the clutter that keeps you from getting the job that you do want.

What others deal breakers should people consider when making career decisions?



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