5 ways to manage your boss


Heather Foley was fed up with her old boss. So she set up a plan to manage her boss… and with surprising results.

My current boss is great: a clear thinker, an inspirational leader and a real motivator. In the past, I wasn’t so lucky. My old boss was a tyrant. She set unrealistic targets, was a poor communicator and hid behind her firmly closed office door.

It was difficult for me to imagine how such a situation could be resolved.

However, I decided to take control of the situation and, after a bit of internet research and advice from colleagues, I found success with the following methods of boss-management.

1.    Using performance management to my advantage

My next appraisal was my first opportunity to take control of my career. In the past, my boss hadn’t recognised any of my achievements, nor set clear, reasonable objectives.

I decided to use my appraisal to set the record straight by ensuring my achievements were clearly documented. I was also ready with evidence to support this. My boss hadn’t kept a record of what I’d done, so I started recording this myself and I brought the evidence to the appraisal meeting.

When target-setting, I made sure my boss set SMART targets that could be clearly measured. This was a big step forward!

I also ensured that the final part of my appraisal was where we booked a date for the follow-up meeting. Furthermore, if 360 feedback isn’t currently part of your company’s performance management scheme, then suggest it is introduced.

This is something that really helped me because it ensured that comments about me came from other colleagues, as well as customers and suppliers. In that way, my lousy boss wasn’t the sole contributor to my appraisal!

2.    Understanding my boss’s weaknesses

Heather Foley

Heather Foley

Practising some basic psychology really worked to my advantage. Your boss may be particularly poor at motivation, too. If this is the case, stop expecting it. Seek motivation elsewhere (see below).

My old boss was a very poor communicator, so I needed to document all my communication. I used to send her emails confirming my understanding of everything we’d discussed. This was a bit time-consuming, but well worth the effort. It dealt very effectively with any problems of misunderstanding.

I soon realised that it was up to me to be proactive and make sure I understood our communication (and recorded that understanding), so that I avoided frustrations and misunderstandings.

3.    Seeking outside inspiration

It was soon apparent that I needed to invest some time in becoming responsible for my own career development.

I couldn’t rely on my lousy boss to do this for me. I investigated courses, seminars and literature that could inspire me and help me advance my career.

This also included seeking out like-minded support groups on the internet and websites that could offer inspiration.

4.    Seeing the bigger picture

Even in a relatively small company, it’s easy to focus only on the linear hierarchy. It really helped me when I started to appreciate my boss in a wider context.

I began to understand my lousy boss better when I found out about other people’s employers.

I asked friends and relatives about their experiences so I could hear about good role models. I also spent time seeking out positive boss/employee relationships and learned from them why they worked well.

5.    Working towards common goals

My lousy boss had targets, too. I realised that finding out what these were was a step to working together, and, ultimately, to aiding my career development.

At the same time, I reminded myself of my company’s targets because my own personal targets needed to be in line with them if I was seeking career advancement.

A lousy boss isn’t that uncommon, unfortunately, but it’s a situation that can be managed with a little smart thinking. And save a little sympathy for bosses, even the lousy ones. It’s a tough job.

After all, in the words of baseball manager, Casey Stengel, “the key to being a good manager is keeping the people who hate you away from those who are still undecided”. You never know, one day, it may be my turn!

Heather Foley is a consultant at ETS, a UK-based HR consultancy where, thankfully, she has a lovely boss.

Published On: 4th Dec 2013 - Last modified: 6th Jul 2018
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