Stand up, speak up
10 tips for handling horrible bosses and becoming a leader yourself
I won’t soon forget my first experience with a not-so-great supervisor. They were the type who carefully orchestrated every move to create an impression of competence and authority. They’d developed a convincing facade for the higher-ups. In private, however, the mask would inevitably slip. The 'encouraging team player’ could be replaced in an instant by an intimidator, one who sought only to dominate rather than lead.
Barely a week into my time with the unit, that person pulled me aside for a stern-talking-to which quickly became a tirade. They began railing against the “changing times,” and talking up their undervalued “insights” — completely blind to their shortcomings as a leader. This is self-deception: when you’re fooled by reading your own reviews, feedback written only by your enablers.
The details of this meeting aren’t important. What matters is that I didn’t meet the moment with strength. Instead I caved to intimidation during his browbeating. I can’t control others actions but I can take ownership of my response.
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While I carry with me a great deal of regret about that moment, I learned from the experience, including a new appreciation for trusting your instincts and asserting yourself.
The memory of this incident returned to me while listening to "The Walk", a podcast by Father Roderick. His words spoke to me, as Roderick recounted his own struggles with voicing his opinions due to leftover childhood fears. These fears feel familiar — the fear of judgment, of rocking the boat, of being perceived poorly. Evaluated as either a fellow predator (in the sense you won’t be easily pushed around) or merely prey.
Father Roderick’s confession helped me to understand that speaking out, even in incredible discomfort, is a stepping stone to growth.
‘Don't wait to speak your mind. Don't overthink things,’ he advised.
When we stand up for ourselves, we’re affirming our worth. We’re not talking about aggression, no, but being assertive and genuine with others.
My former supervisor sought to lead through intimidation, but we know that truly powerful leadership stems from respect. When you start to respect yourself, you’re on the path to leadership yourself. Because people notice.
That starts with having the courage to speak. Stand for what’s right and speak the truth.
This is the way.
BTW: How to deal with bad bosses
In Axios, Jim VandeHei wrote about his own experience with a bad boss and how he learned over time to face it with strength. Here are his steps to dealing with that kind of situation. These steps are important because a truly horrible boss is a master gaslighter, and they’ll successfully make you believe the problems aren’t real, or that you’re the problem.
Sharpen your thinking. What exactly is the boss doing that's making it harder for you or others to thrive?
Gut check. Discuss your issue with a friend, family member or mentor, someone ideally not involved at your company. Lay out your concerns without hyperbole and then lay out a dispassionate defense your manager might make.
Write it down. I am a big believer that you can be more precise and measured if you put your concerns in writing. Be respectful. Be direct. Say you appreciate the chance to share your unvarnished thoughts.
Explain, don’t accuse. You put someone on instant defense if you hammer them or question their character. Be very specific, clinical, and unemotional in how you frame your concerns.
Offer solutions. No one wants to hear someone simply bitch about problems or grievances. Offer specific solutions or alternative approaches.
Lock arms. Make it plain that you want to help be part of the solution. People who feel judged, isolated or backed into a corner typically retaliate or hide.
Follow up. Ask for a follow-up conversation, in person, after they have digested your note, to discuss next steps. How they respond will give you a strong indication of whether it's fixable.
Give 'em a chance. Change is hard. Watch to see if a correction is made. If not, politely but directly remind them of your note and chat.
Confront reality. Most middle managers, in my experience, are hard to change. If someone does not listen to you respectfully or refuses to change, be ready to live with the status quo... or quit.
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Truth bomb: Just because someone gets power does not mean they deserve it. A lot of bad or talentless people rise to management by bootlicking or tenure. Great bosses are like firm but unconditionally loving parents. Embrace them. Bad ones are like duplicitous ex-boyfriends or girlfriends who suck the life out of you. Run if you can.
And if you are the boss, please remember one powerful tip to being better at leading others……