Don’t Respect Your Boss? Try These 3 Tactics*

An interesting question came my way recently. It followed a session where I’d said:

“It’s important to identify your key audiences (your A Listers) and focus on promoting your personal brand to them, rather than trying to influence everyone.”

The resulting question went like this:

“But what should you do when the A Lister you need to promote it to is someone whose own brand you don’t respect?”

It’s a common situation, judging by similar questions I’ve been asked (and the fact I’ve experienced it in my own career). More often than not, the A Lister in question is the person’s immediate boss, limiting their course of action – unless changing jobs and getting a new boss is an option. But they can do something.

That’s why I’m sharing my response to the question, so anyone thinking, “Yep, that pretty much describes my situation,” might benefit too. My answer, based in part on my own experience, boils down to three tactics.

1. Stand back and review the situation

So long as your boss is your boss, you’re going to have to work with them. The aim, therefore, should be to limit the amount of annoyance, frustration and/or downright anger you feel. How?

The first step is to realise – and it took me a long time to do this myself – how much effort it takes to be annoyed/frustrated/angry, as well as the knock-on effects of that.

In my case, I became pre-occupied with just how much of an idiot my boss was, digging around in every interaction for another example of their stupidity. Once I found it, my ire would increase and my stress levels would follow suit – to the point of making life miserable not just at work, but at home too.

That’s when I really stood back and reviewed the situation.

Instead of looking at everything from my point of view, I tried to look at it from my boss’s. (It was hard as we were wired so differently, which was the heart of the problem.)

I thought about what might be driving them (in this case, a need to be seen as the boss and recognised as having value for that, plus never being left out of the loop). I also thought about how I might be coming across to them.

For instance, because I wanted to keep our conversations to a minimum, I never sat down when I talked to them; I’d simply approach where they were sitting and loom over them. Looked at from their point, that could be quite intimidating.

I realised I had to change my behaviour (as they say, ‘If you keep doing what you always did, you’ll keep getting what you always got’). So I decided to do the next step…

2. Oil the wheels

This is the crux of my advice: sometimes it’s in your best interests to work with, not against, your boss – oiling the wheels of your relationship.

That doesn’t mean just rolling over and agreeing with everything they say. What it does mean is being a bit more tactical – thinking about the little things you can do that, whilst costing you only a little effort (and perhaps a gritting of teeth) can pay big dividends.

For instance, even though I’m someone who likes to paddle their own canoe (hence why I found it galling to have to run things by my boss) I started telling them what I was up to. More than that though, I would sometimes ask their advice. It wasn’t that I didn’t know what to do (after that many years’ experience it’d be shabby if I didn’t). However, I knew it made them feel valued for me to do so.

I also made sure what I was communicating with both my spoken and body language was more convivial (I’d sit at their desk when we talked). On occasions, having made myself look for the positives rather than the negatives, I’d even compliment them.

After a while, our relationship improved, my stress levels dropped the wheels ran more smoothly.

3. Move up the A List ladder

As I keep harping on about, authenticity and consistency are key to a strong personal brand. If oiling the wheels is a step too far and you’d feel like a fraud, gritting your teeth to the point you had no gnashers left, there is another option: promote your brand further up the chain.

Make sure your boss’s boss is aware of who you are and what you deliver, or if you can, raise your profile even further higher up the hierarchy; I often worked directly with the CEO. By promoting your brand and building a positive reputation with a wider range of A Listers, you can diminish the effect on your work and career from the eejit directly above you.  Who knows? Everyone else might think they’re an eejit too, vindicating your own view.

Have you ever had a boss you didn’t respect? How did it hinder your career? Or what tactics did you use to overcome that? It’d be great if you can share it with a comment below. Thanks!

*Despite what the picture might suggest, I’m not advocating violence.

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