It happens to all of us at some point: we end up working for someone who is a crappy leader, administrator or boss. Working for 30 years in the public school system exposed me to more than a few subpar leaders, more than a few so-so leaders, and maybe only one or two truly awesome leaders.
Through it all, I had to learn how to manage myself and feel a sense of motivation in my daily work and my career at large — regardless of what I felt about my boss. Sure, it can be incredibly inspiring to work for someone who you not only respect, but who instills a sense of effortless discipline and ambition in your daily routine. That said, it's possible to activate your inner "boss," even if you're dealing with a particularly crappy boss at work.
Here is a list of the things I learned along my career journey. Of course, I hope your boss experiences have been better than mine. But these tips will help you thrive on the job, and learn to let go of the little things that may be holding you back — whether it be a boss, an antagonistic co-worker, a boring assignment or any other work-related hiccups.
1. Focus on what you CAN control.
The only person you can truly control is yourself — at work and beyond. Sure, your boss "controls" you at work, but you are ultimately in control of your emotions, and what you let get to you. Especially if these are things that simply annoy about your boss. Don't beat your head against the wall hoping your boss will change or suddenly "get it." What you CAN do is decide how you will respond to the poor leadership.
2. Resist resentment.
Sure, it would obviously be great to have a strong, supportive leader/boss. And if you don't, it is obviously easy to complain and get angry about it. (I've been there, done that ... more times than I care to admit!).
The truth is resentments hurt you and not the person about whom you feel resentful. Resentment does not get you a better leader, or improve your current one, it just brings you down.
3. Hang out with positive, smart people.
Here's the good news: many of your colleagues are bright, motivated, and creative people. Find them, make friends with them, and together you will thrive despite your weak boss. But remember: it's a good idea to exclude the work-gossip from co-worker conversations.
4. Don't take it personally.
Understand that just because someone has a position of leadership does not make him or her smarter than you. I struggled with this when I was new in my career, as I had been tricked by some not-so-nice bosses to believe I was inherently inferior to them, and that was keeping me in a subordinate role.
But the truth is that these bosses were, and are still, human. This doesn't excuse their condescension, but it helped me to remember that they had their own issues, which made them act out. Professional? No. But it happens.
5. Laugh EVERY DAY.
This is an absolute must. Find colleagues who like to have fun. Let yourself laugh! Laughter saves my sanity every day. Without humor I would not have made it at any job, plain and simple.
6. Find your center.
By this I mean, get clear about who you are as a professional. Be strong and solid in your skills and knowledge. When you know yourself — really know yourself — you are less likely to be emotionally or mentally knocked around when working under poor leadership.
7. Nurture outside interests.
It's true that aligning your passion with your work is a great privilege to have. But I also worry about people who have only their work as their focus: it can breed an unbalanced lifestyle. Make sure you have other hobbies, activities, sports or creative endeavors to add to your life. These activities help balance you and remind you that you are more than just your career.
8. Stand with your colleagues.
When working together in a building it's possible to become like a large, extended family with all the good things families can bring. There can be drama, too, but focus on what you have in common.
Even if you are not friends with all your colleagues, try not to turn on each other as you struggle with poor leadership. I have known leaders who actively worked to create tension between groups of people. When colleagues are fighting they are easier to control … Though we might disagree at times, it's important when the s*&# hits the fan that we stand together and unite with good ideas.
9. Trust that "This too shall pass."
Crappy leadership eventually burns out or burns up! A bad boss does not have to bring you down. They are annoying, condescending, ineffectual (and/or more), but that's why they rarely last very long. Maintain a level of trust in this; it will make each day easier.
10. Nourish yourself with love.
Relationships are key. Invest time in your family, friends and yourself. Nourishing yourself with love helps you avoid becoming dependent on bosses for validation.
This was something I also struggled with. No, I wasn't looking for love from my boss, but I was an approval-seeker and I depended on outside validation rather than from within. After some personal work I was able to detach from that dynamic and my sanity is much better now.
We have to spend a good chunk of our life at our job(s) and though we can't choose who our bosses and colleagues are, we can decide what type of energy we want to add to the mix. Best of luck as you go forward and let me know if you have additional strategies that help you deal!