Strategies to Effectively Manage the Nightmare Boss

I am starting to recognise frightening similarities between my new boss, and a certain recently inaugurated US President.

Both are woefully ill equipped for the roles they have stumbled upon. Both seem to have an alarming lack of self awareness and a penchant for, at the very least, twisting the truth, at worst, just ignoring it. And both seem to be hell bent on championing the illogical and the unfathomable, with a few choice phrases repeated ad nauseam to assuage the masses. However, so far only one seems to have been found out. So far…

I have utilised four main management approaches of dealing with this nut job up until now. In chronological order of usage they are:
1. Put forward a reasoned case utilising my skills, experience, knowledge and instinct citing irrefutable logic.
2. Agree vehemently with him, then ignore what was agreed and do my own thing.
3. Take time to understand how he operates, listen intently to his ideas, translate them, bend my proposal to partially meet his requirements halfway, and then spend the time and effort to build a plan to incorporate them into the narrative and upwardly manage my interactions with him.
4. Hide.
Guess which one is working the best?

In truth it is a combination of the last three – it is only the pragmatic first method that I have given up on. But it’s hard. Method 3 in particular, takes so much time and effort, and frankly it is difficult not to get to the stage where you are asking “why am I bothering”. And hiding and ignoring are so much fun. Don’t get me wrong – I am not abdicating from my role, just from any needless interactions from above – which sadly is most of them. It is clearly a strategy that is unlikely to play out well longer term, but it’s keeping me on my toes and more importantly giving me some great moments to quietly savour right now.

Firstly there is the learning. Actually identifying and trying out different methods of upwards management is quite liberating as well as being a great test for the grey matter. It is also fascinating to witness how others on the top team are handling what is very obviously a company wide issue. I have seen vile displays of slovenly ingratiation. That seems to work well, but I’m a believer in being able to look in the mirror these days. Honesty and reason are still being used by a number of my peers but these twin towers of goodness are failing miserably under this regime and tend to lead to glum faces and disengagement, and a couple of departures. Those who have swallowed the manual of meaningless conceptual twaddle seem to be the ones whose stars are in the most ascendancy. Not for me, that approach, never has been, never will be.

My key learning in all this chaos has been to use and trust my judgement more than ever before. There is a time for honesty, a time for flattery, a time for visible disgruntlement and a time for forcefulness. Playing any hand too often or at the wrong time has big risks – this guy literally shoots from the hip – but so far I’m enjoying the mental ride, to a degree, although it is tougher on the soul seeing the corporate damage further down the chain. But my mind is certainly rising to the challenge of adversity.

The amusing moments however are gold. Favourites so far are the wise words of leadership handed out by him at the very rare full team briefings and speeches closely followed by the golden nuggets delivered at the inner sanctum – the “Executive team only” snippets of insight and motivation. He sent a treasured 30 company veteran on his way with the inspiring quote of “given your heart problems, this is a much better way for you to go than it could have been. You could have been dead, which comes to us all…”. Silence. In some ways the Exec team meetings have been even more illuminating. Firstly there was the bombshell put on the table by him at an off site team build session, that he does not trust most of his team, and then rather than expand further and talk about it, he reverted to tapping away on his laptop and disengaging. The other stunning bit of team motivation was the refusal to answer at all, when asked, if there were more changes planned to the lead team, following a pre Christmas cull. Silence and black humour took over, in amongst his suffering and mumbling, as I point to our CIO sat opposite me and gesture “he means you!”.

So what? I’m not the first to suffer from this problem. Consider for a moment the current plight of the entire educated section of the American population (yes, there are some) having to listen to the daily ramblings of dick head in chief. For every ridiculous challenge, there is a way through – if you are willing to test the mind and be bold. My encouragement is to use the opportunity of an idiotic new boss to test yourself out, actually think through and formulate a handful of plans and approaches, and vary them up. You never know, you may well surprise yourself. Idiots tend not to notice you playing them, if you are smart. And whatever you do, remember to savour the moments of fun along the way.

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