Learning to Tolerate Working for a Bossy Boss
Words are funny. “Boss” refers to your manager or supervisor—the person you report to. But turn “boss” into the adjective—“bossy”—and it means that person is demanding, pushy, unreasonable, or domineering. Not every boss is bossy. But some are. And it’s no fun working for one.
Among the endearing behaviors of bossy bosses are piling on an unreasonable workload, shouting down employee suggestions, making all decisions unilaterally, being highly opinionated, and issuing orders and directives with no hint of caring about employees.
At its root, this do-it-my-way-and-do-it-now approach is about forcing people to comply. Bossy bosses don’t welcome requests for clarification, questions about an impossible deadline, or suggestions about a better way to carry out the work. The bossy boss is The Boss, the person more senior than you, and don’t you forget it for a minute.
Some bossy bosses learned this “command and control” style of management in the military. Some grew up in homes or countries where authoritarian leadership was the norm. Some learned it from working for their own bossy bosses. And some are clueless—they truly don’t know any better, or they got carried away with the power of being superior.
Moreso than other managers, bossy bosses don’t like surprises, so if you work for one, keep him informed of any developments or issues he might view as significant (or maybe even not so significant). When you can, provide tidbits of information that can feed his craving for control. Providing updates on all relevant matters will further satisfy the bossy boss’s need to feel in charge and may help prevent minor conflicts.
Strive to deliver the kind of results the boss wants. Bossy bosses typically don’t want to be bothered with the details of your tasks; their focus is on the results you deliver. By consistently delivering results, you build credibility, which may take off some of the pressure. Most bossy bosses aren’t blessed with patience, so avoid requiring the boss to ask you for things you can readily provide without coaxing.
In general, be observant and become familiar with the boss’s likes and dislikes, and do your best to deliver accordingly. Try not to let the boss provoke you into doing or saying something you’ll soon regret. As tempting as it might be, punching out the boss won’t do your career path any good. Let’s face it: Your best move may be seeking a new position as soon as feasible.
Be careful not to confuse a bossy boss with a demanding manager. Being a demanding manager doesn’t necessarily make someone a bossy boss. Demanding managers set high standards and challenge employees to do more than they might otherwise do or believe they’re capable of. I hope that’s the kind of boss you work for.