February 20, 2011

Smooth Sailing with the Bully Manager

“A number of years ago, I went sailing with my boss at the time, and it started out wonderfully. The sun was shining, the wind was steady, the sea was calm. Best of all, my manager was in a great mood, and we were having a great time talking about work issues as well as other matters. A few hours later, though, a front moved in and the sea became rough. As conditions deteriorated, he reverted to form. As a manager, he was a Bully type—tough, aggressive, decisive, used to giving orders and having them obeyed without question. Though he could be gracious and accommodating when it suited his purposes, his classic Bully traits would come to the surface whenever he was under significant stress. As the wind stretched the sails tight and the boat rose, fell, and tilted at a precarious angle, my boss ordered me to put my life jacket on. He snapped at me when I asked a question. He shouted at me to get something from the other end of the boat and told me, “Hurry up!”

I recognized that he was becoming the tough captain of the ship rather than my friend and colleague, and that he was responding in the only way he knew how to a difficult situation. Nonetheless, it wasn’t a life-or-death situation but one that required him to take charge. An outside observer would have thought him rude and bad-tempered.

Fortunately, I understood this type of boss and was accustomed to this type of mood swing when he was under pressure. I understood that this wasn’t a time to challenge or question him; I didn’t take his rudeness personally. I followed orders, and as soon as we were safely back in port, he returned to his old charming self. He complimented me on how well I had done in a difficult situation, and I thanked him for helping us get back safely.

In many ways, we interacted the same way at work. I had learned how to handle him when he was being difficult. I knew when I could question his directions and when I could not. Because I grasped his Bully type, I was able to maintain a strong working relationship with him, and he in turn was supportive of my career aspirations in the company.

I don’t want to make this sound easier than it was. It took time and study to figure out this managerial type. The Bully was complex, like all the types we’ll discuss. He had good traits and bad ones, and it took a while to identify what made him tick and what ticked him off. But I had observed and worked for other Bullies in the past, and I was able to “get” him eventually. This made managing my manager infinitely easier than it would have been, especially when he was under stress.

Most bosses today work in highly stressful environments. I’m sure my sailing metaphor isn’t lost on you—every manager is trying to navigate through stormy seas as companies and industries undergo significant change. To deal effectively with a boss under pressure, you need to know her well. I’m not saying you need to know her personality as much as her managerial persona. Certainly the two concepts are related; many people’s best and worst qualities are muted when you’re having lunch with them or interacting with them socially, but when they put on their boss hat and they’re struggling to meet a tight deadline, they change. They exhibit certain traits that define them as bosses rather than as people.”

Above is an excerpt from the book “Managing Your Manager Your Manager: How to Get Ahead with Any Type of Boss” author Gonzague Dufour, copyright 2011 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
Permission to reprint was granted by the publisher.
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