Have you ever been in a workplace situation with a “difficult manager?” These managers can test your patience, resilience, and professional sanity. Instead of letting these experiences drown your spirit, use this opportunity as a learning experience and practice your skill of speaking up.

By Anja van Beek, talent strategist, leadership & HR expert and executive coach

In the world of leadership and HR, understanding how to manage your manager is not just a survival skill but a critical aspect of your professional development.

A basic understanding of “control the controllables” can be a good starting point. You cannot control your manager’s behaviour; you can control how you respond to the behaviour and how long it takes to have a conversation about this issue.

According to a survey, one-third of workers departed their jobs because of poor management. According to research by the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) and YouGov, one-third of UK workers have left their jobs due to poor management and a negative workplace culture.

The Problem with Accidental Managers

According to the same survey, 82% of managers who enter management positions have received no formal management or leadership training, making them “accidental managers”.

One of the report’s key conclusions is the UK’s increase of inexperienced managers, people who are promoted into management roles for the wrong reasons e.g. internal relationship and profile rather than ability and performance.

This is challenging as an inexperienced manager might not understand the correlation between their behaviour and the impact on company culture and the team’s productivity. When businesses are not investing in management and leadership development, they set these inexperienced managers up for failure and this negatively impacts the bottom-line.

There is a strong link between managers exposed to leadership development and effective businesses. The world of work demands emotionally mature managers, who are comfortable with change, who can give and receive feedback and who can empower their teams.

Learning from the Negative

See every challenging boss or manager as a unique learning opportunity by adopting a growth mindset. A growth mindset means that you thrive on challenge, and don’t overlook the need to describe yourself but as a guide for growth and developing your skills. Having a growth mindset is necessary for your career success and when you develop this mindset, it will ultimately help you succeed in any challenge that comes your way.

While enduring micromanagement, belittling remarks, or wishy-washy feedback may seem gruelling, viewing these situations as lessons in leadership can reshape your professional outlook. The key is to absorb what not to do when you end up in your own managerial or leadership role.

There are essential strategies you could use that will not only help you survive under a difficult manager but also lay the foundation for your future leadership. As you learn to manage your manager effectively, you gain insights into the diverse facets of leadership, preparing you for the day when you manage a team. Here’s a helpful guide on how to navigate challenging managers:

* The Vague Manager: Counter wishy-washy feedback by establishing regular check-ins and creating a shared document outlining your goals, what success would look like and the agreed timelines. This ensures clarity and direction in your work. Get clear on what needs to be done, by when should it be completed and what would be considered as acceptable versus exceptional results.

* The Maverick Manager: If your boss aims for regular drastic changes, provide insights into how team members can contribute to the envisioned transformation. Use collective thinking to find a workable solution as collaborative solutions result in reduced resistance and increase buy-in. As a reminder, different thinking preferences handle drastic change differently. While some thinking preferences are comfortable with change, yet they don’t always see the change through to completion. Other thinking preference might seem to resist change, yet their systematically approach will ensure a project is completed on time.

* The Micro-Manager: If your boss insists on being part of every step, agree on a specific cadence for check-in and update meetings. Be specific on the areas where you seek feedback; this way, you guide the manager’s involvement and prevent it from becoming overwhelming.

* The Critique Manager: Confront sarcasm by having a conversation about the impact of this behaviour on results. Often managers use sarcasm to hide their true views. Have the courage to discuss the impact of their remarks (and lack of candidness) on the team’s morale and your deliverables. Use this as an opportunity to turn the critique into a conversation about constructive feedback.

* The Rookie Manager: When dealing with a less-experienced boss, you can take on a mentorship role. Reverse mentoring is a trend we see more and more in the workplace and can be anything from explaining intricacies of the office to a fresh perspective on challenges. This will strengthen your working relationship.