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Opinion
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Commentary: Managing the boss with issues
Published on March 9, 2017Email To Friend    Print Version

By Oliver Mills

As organizations become more complex, greater demands are made on ‘manager bosses’ to perform more proficiently, and realize the corporation’s vision. Those bosses who have not participated in management development programmes, will be left behind in their knowledge and skills, and this produces a certain kind of authoritarian personality which has a detrimental effect on employees.

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Oliver Mills is a former lecturer in education at the University of the West Indies Mona Campus. He holds an M.Ed degree. from Dalhousie University in Canada, an MA from the University of London and a post-graduate diploma in HRM and Training, University of Leicester. He is a past Permanent Secretary in Education with the government of the Turks and Caicos Islands
But even the boss who has received training in many instances does not implement it, and could also be a problem for employees. These bosses therefore are characterized by others as being difficult.

The concept of the difficult boss is dealt with by Beverly Flaxington, in Psychology Today, in a blog captioned "Dealing with a difficult boss". She mentions the strategies to cope with this type of boss, and not quit the workplace, and provides a narrative of the path to management, or leadership today in most organizations. She sees this path as initially being technically good at something, then excelling in this competency, followed by promotion into managing others.

Beverly then astutely mentions that most times promotion does not come through displaying tremendous management or leadership skills, or demonstrating the ability to motivate people for success, but because of a competency valued in the organization that needs to be rewarded. And notes curiously that, in many cases, those promoted have not been given leadership training, lack communication skills, and are not good at organizing a team.

She then adds that it is frustrating to work for someone who doesn’t lead or motivate, isn’t up to the task of managing, and acts out emotionally instead of acknowledging their poor management skills.

I agree with Beverly Flaxington’s narrative on the path to management in most organizations, particularly that of being technically competent, and having a competency the organization values. But that in most cases, the promotion does not come through having management or leadership skills, or training. And the inevitable frustration that comes from working for someone without these skills who reacts emotionally, not acknowledging their management skills deficit. This causes emotional turmoil.

In my view, a boss without the competencies noted by Flaxington, can be detrimental to the psychological health of employees, and to himself. The work environment is one of fear and mistrust, performance is erratic, and objectives are difficult to realize. Absenteeism increases, disputes develop because of workplace tensions, and staff turnover is frequent.

All this is caused by the actions of the difficult boss, or the boss with issues because of arrogance, disrespect for staff, and contempt for those who seek to give alternative suggestions on issues.

But the writer cautions that the answer by employees is not to quit but consider how to become an asset to the boss, and maintain a relationship that over a period helps him to become a better leader. She mentions that some of these skills involve understanding the behavioural style of the boss. This shows in a tendency to being extroverted or introverted, and rules based versus thinking out of the box, and adds that the employee can modify his approach and meet the boss halfway.

I think this is an intelligent way of skirting around the antics of the boss with issues. It means not taking him on, and keeping our sanity. When we know what makes him tick, we can capitalize on each circumstance, which helps him, and us. Tension and stress then dissipate.

Being empathetic is another management skill Flaxington mentions, since the boss might be stressed and anxious, and so has few coping skills. She suggests that, instead of being irritated with him, learn about the pressures he faces. For me this is important in that the employee is able to put himself in the place of the boss, and understand how he feels. Remedial strategies can then be formed to deal with him in a sympathetic way, instead of becoming upset.

Showing empathy towards the boss is a noble response to an issue, which if not handled diplomatically could have unanticipated consequences.

Again, being supportive, is another skill to be used when working with a difficult boss as suggested by Flaxington, as well as giving support to the organization, tackling whatever is needed to be successful, and figuring out how to work within the situation.

In my view, when the employee renders support to the boss, he begins to take notice, and to change from within both in attitude and disposition. He becomes more understanding and this changes the tone of the organization. When the employee ciphers out how to work successfully within the organization, the optics change, and the psyche of the difficult boss with issues changes with it. Collaboration and respect then replace the autocratic and self-serving nature that previously typified the behavior of the once difficult boss.

When a boss has issues because of a competence deficit, he could be very difficult to deal with indeed. I think that Beverly Flaxington’s article is well thought through, and presents a very practical way of successfully managing a boss with issues.

Some bosses, despite their unnerving behaviour, really need psychological help, and are released and relieved when shown compassion by others. This brings out their hidden humanity, and fashions a new type of leader who realizes the need to value the contribution of others. This enhances trust, and enriches teamwork, resulting in the realization of the organization’s mission.
 
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