Every now and then I get a call from a client about their boss, asking for advice on how to deal with them. As a career and life coach, I wish I could say that these calls are far and few in between, but they are not; they come with a regular frequency from clients at all levels. These bosses range in their positions from first-level managers all the way up to a CEO.
What is a typical complaint? Typically, a new boss from the outside arrives on the scene or someone internally is promoted to take on that role that blindsides almost everyone reporting to them. Within just a few weeks after taking charge their “leadership” demands begin to disrupt my client’s—and everyone reporting to them in most cases—life. Instead of providing positive and inspiring leadership they crack their whip and start making unreasonable demands from everyone reporting to them—essentially slave-driving everyone on their team. Despite their team members’ already exceptional performances they further ratchet up their demands and use all kinds of minatory tactics to keep them on edge, often making them wonder if they are on their boss’s list to be replaced with someone else.
In a recent such encounter one of my executive-level clients called me, distraught, after working for her new boss for nearly a year. From the get-go my client was told that she needed to more than double her partnership revenues and help the partner—an SI for large enterprise clients—triple its revenues from their company’s activities during the coming year.
With fierce competition in the enterprise software space this was a daunting challenge, but my client took that on and within just a few quarters, after taking on the challenge, established a run-rate on both fronts that exceeded the projected goals. In fact my client exceeded her company goal by 25% and the partner goal by more than 35% at the end of the year. This was accomplished by the sheer dint of her will, hard work, and by finding strategic ways to increase the flow of traffic between her company and the partner, despite increasing competition and fierce price wars among players.
Of course, all of this entailed much hard work on the part of my client, yet despite that workload and her laudable success the new boss kept piling on additional responsibilities on my client without providing any support, encouragement, or leadership to help her achieve her additional objectives. At this point she was already spending nearly 80 hours every week, traveling, meeting with partners and customers, and finding ways to elevate the company’s brand and footprint.
As if this were not enough he also kept on giving her ad hoc tasks with short deadlines, where she had to stop doing what was already on her plan from his previous demands, shifting her efforts on getting such tasks done on time. In many cases, after my client put in extra effort getting these assignments done on time, her boss would often say, Oh, let us forget that task now, I don’t think we need to send that out anymore, let us focus on something else, instead!
While all of this was happening there was not a single word of encouragement, appreciation, or even acknowledgement from the tyrant. Midway through the year when my client sat down for a periodic review her boss demanded why the run-rate was only doubled and what it would take to beat even that feat!
At this point my client felt burnt out and wanted to know how to deal with her situation. Although each situation is unique, this is my general guidance in such situations:
1. Upon the arrival of your new boss let them settle down first and then brief them about your responsibilities, goals you signed up for that year, and how you’d work to get those delivered.
2. Ask for them to explain to you how they plan to team-up with you and what areas you can count on them to get support to help you manage your work.
3. When they make new demands on what they expect to be delivered with new timelines provide them a plan of action with parameters such as resources, support, and processes to achieve those goals. Ask for their advice on how you can improve on this plan to exceed their goals. In this conversation make sure that how your performance is being measured is clear to you both. Ask them how they plan to provide you leadership guidance to make you—and them—successful.
4. When you recognize that your boss is a slave-driver (see what happened to my client above) do not surrender to working even harder to please them. Once you get on this path the demands never end and you may end up spending every waking hour working on tasks your boss barks out just to keep up with your workload. Even with that approach you’ll realize that you’re still coming up short, with an ever-growing list of unfinished tasks.
5. Have a face-to-face discussion with your boss about your workload, your accomplishments, and what you require continuing on this path to their never-ending demands. If the boss is not sympathetic to your plight and does not acknowledge your success it is time to change your engagement and your ongoing commitment to your job. This is a significant step you must take without hesitation.
6. Your next significant step is to emotionally detach yourself from your boss and your job and to treat your job as a transactional commitment you make to get through the day and the week. This is one of the hardest shifts of mind one must do to stop yourself from being emotionally consumed by how your boss is treating you.
7. Once you are able to free up yourself from the emotional commitment you feel for your job then you are there to just do what is in front of you and deliver what is expected of you transactionally. You are no longer consumed by your concerns about how your boss is treating you or that you are not being appreciated.
8. Prepare a dynamite résumé based on your stellar accomplishments under your new boss and update your LinkedIn Profile to start marketing yourself.
9. Leverage your network and start reaching out to your contacts within your ecosystem to find where the action is and start interviewing without further delay. Your successes during the most recent efforts would have helped you garner some attention from your competitors and others within your ecosystem. Do not hesitate to leverage that success.
10. When you find a new job walk into your boss’s office and surprise them with your resignation. Walk out and start your new job afresh!
Sometimes surrendering to the reality of slave-drivers and accepting that you need to change your job is the best antidote to deal with situations where you cannot work hard or long enough during a day to deliver what your boss expects from you. Fighting or reasoning with such bosses is a futile cause. The best approach is to emotionally disengage, do the work that you are committed to, and get out at the first chance you create for yourself!