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Be the Leader Of Your Boss: How To Work For Someone You Don’t Like

The odds have it that you’ve worked for someone you didn’t like before.


Eighty-two percent of people don’t trust their boss to tell the truth, and only ten percent of bosses are able to “motivate every individual on their team, boldly review performance, build relationships, overcome adversity and make decisions based on productivity,” according to Gallup.


If you have a boss that falls into that ten percent, consider yourself lucky. There are twice as many “actively disengaged” workers than “engaged” workers who enjoy their jobs.


Take a look at these characteristics and see if any of them look familiar: Short-tempered, gossiping, doubting, arrogant, mistrusting, blaming, bad listener.


You probably have someone in mind by now, but the question is: what can you do when you’re working for a boss you just don’t like, and feel doesn’t like you, either?


When someone feels like their boss doesn’t like them, there are three common responses:


  1. Hide from the person: Many people go into avoidance mode. The good news is that there isn’t direct conflict. The bad news is that when we spend our energy hiding, we lose momentum.
  2. Hinder the person: Another common response is to become passive-aggressive. We don’t do anything directly destructive. We just make sure not to be very cooperative. The problem with this is it hurts the team and causes us to be confused.
  3. Harm the person: The worst of all responses is to try and punish or harm the person who doesn’t like us. That causes us to lose integrity.


There are two approaches you can take: changing your presentation to your boss, or attempting to change something about him/her. The first choice is most likely to work, because people often put up high walls against criticism, advice, or change, and the only thing you really have control over is how you approach the relationship.


Consider the maxim, “Seek first to understand . . . then to be understood.”


Make an effective presentation. If the salesman doesn’t sell, they don’t send the buyer back to school. To be effective, your presentation needs to work. Step into your boss’s shoes, make your point clearly and visually, and describe the alternative better than he/she can. You can’t expect your boss to change his/her leadership style if you’re not willing to change your method of presentation.


Maybe somewhere along the relationship there was a miscommunication and your boss’s perception of something you said was different than you intended. Maybe your boss dislikes you for no reason. But here are some things that are likely to help:


  1. Recognize how you feel about your boss and why. You need to acknowledge your feelings for your boss and why you feel that way. Your boss may be a manager rather than a leader, or be selfish, throwing others, or you, under the bus to make themselves look good. They might be short-tempered, gossip about you, and be condescending and negative. However, you can’t do anything about that, and you need to accept that and move on.
  2. Be the best employee you can be. There’s not much a boss can actually complain about if you’re doing what you need to do and going the extra mile. William Mille, a film director, said: “I’ve always admired the ability to bite off more than they can chew, and then chew it.”
  3. Find problems, then find the solution. It’s good when someone has the ability to see a problem that some others might not see, but it’s great when that someone also has the solution.
  4. Be kind. Many people say that kindness is a weakness — some people will actually dislike others they think are “too nice.” But take into account a saying you may have heard when you were younger: “A soft answer turns away anger.” This means holding your tongue when you could say something you’ll regret. Poet Kahlil Gibran had the right idea when he said: “Tenderness and kindness are not signs of weakness and despair, but manifestations of strength and resolution.”
  5. Find common ground. Find the things you and your boss have in common. For instance, the mission of your organization, or maybe your desire to solve problems for customers.
  6. Be empathetic. This is the most important item on the list, and here’s why: If you’re empathetic, you become the leader of your boss. That’s right. You can lead your boss. That doesn’t mean you’ll become your boss’s boss, but you will exert influence over them, and influence is more important than title. However, you need to make sure you do this out of a genuine desire to help them and build your relationship with them, otherwise it will come off as manipulative and be counteractive to what you’re trying to accomplish. Ask yourself, “What is my boss trying to accomplish and why is he/she trying to accomplish this?” If you keep your boss’s needs in mind, you’re the leader, regardless of hierarchy.


This last tactic of empathy changed my mindset when I went through boot camp. Initially, I resisted the aggressive efforts of my drill instructors to train me, and this only made my experience harder. When I finally realized the obvious — that they were pushing me so hard because they wanted to make me into a Marine — when I realized why the training was so brutal, my whole outlook changed, and I found a deep respect for each of my drill instructors that I’d been lacking.  

As Stephen Covey said,

“Remember, every time you think a problem is ‘out there,’ that very thought is the problem. Focus on the things which you can influence and you will become a leader in any situation–even the leader of your boss.”


A book I recommend is Stephen Covey’s “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” In it, you’ll find many real-life examples of people that have suffered under an insecure and untrustworthy leader and how they handled it.

I’ll leave you with a quote from Mr. Rogers:

“Frankly, there isn’t anyone you couldn’t learn to love once you’ve heard their story.”

But don’t let me have the final word — what do you have to add to this list, and what would you take away from mine?