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How to Survive a Bad Boss

By Mary Brandel
January 23, 2006 12:00 PM ET
As for positive exchanges, he suggests going out of your way to keep your manager happy and even doing things that help him believe whatever he needs to believe, be it that he's always right or that every issue and decision is all about him. "You can view this as a tax on the work, sort of like filling out forms or other administrivia," Berkun says.

Peter Baker, vice president of information systems and technology at Emcor Facilities Services Inc.
Peter Baker, vice president of information systems and technology at Emcor Facilities Services Inc.
C.Y.A.

The hunker-down approach worked for Peter Baker, vice president of information systems and technology at Emcor Facilities Services Inc., a subsidiary of Emcor Group Inc. in Arlington, Va. Baker once worked as a project lead for a micromanager who interfered with the work of the programmers. Baker advised his team members to stay out of the manager's way, avoid the politics and focus on their jobs.

He also suggested that they take 10 minutes each afternoon to document everything they'd done that day. "I remember sitting them down and saying, 'This guy is always going to come in and ask you, "What about this, this and this?" And you can just pull out your piece of paper and say, "I did that, that and that.'" It was kind of a capitulation, but we turned it into a positive by being proactive."


The technique worked. "He was looking for reasons to [complain], so if you didn't give him any, he'd move on to an easier target," Baker says.

Take Action

Laying low isn't always the best tactic. Sometimes it's better to lay out your needs on the manager's desk and at least see how he responds. The first step is to define exactly what those needs are, such as ownership of certain kinds of decisions, more resources or just the room to succeed or fail on your own, Berkun says.

"Once you've defined exactly what you need, prioritized it and translated it into terms your manager might understand, you bring those requirements to them," he says. "If the response isn't favorable, you know exactly where you stand, which is important. You can confidently make decisions based on the reality of your situation."

That's what Wade did when he accepted a job at Children's Hospital Boston in the 1970s. He wasn't overly impressed with his new boss, but he saw great growth potential at the hospital, in an atmosphere he found interesting. "I figured I'd demonstrate to myself that I'd learned to turn around a bad situation and that in five years, this guy will move on," Wade says.


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