Real Leaders

How to Control Your Boss

Working for a bad boss is a nightmare. It is so bad that 35% of women working in technology companies say they would pay to have their boss fired!

It’s true that about one-third of people in management positions are grossly incompetent at management and leadership. That’s according to worldwide research from Zenger-Folkman and Google.

Like most problems the indicators of it are the path to the solution. You know you have a bad boss when:

  • Your daily priorities are constantly changing.
  • You are swamped with fire drills and rework.
  • You have a hard time connecting your work to your organization’s strategic goals.
  • You get little, useful feedback.
  • Your boss isn’t accessible and is usually overstressed.
  • You are frequently overlooked for work you’re qualified to do.
  • You’re assigned too much work with too few resources to be accomplished in too little time.
  • Your boss has little interest in your growth and development.
  • You are frequently held accountable but rarely empowered.

The three major underlying drivers of bad bosses are incompetence, stress and bias. These are also limitations of good bosses when they are not at their best. So if you want to do consistently satisfying work it’s essential that you take control of your work-life.

In my last blog I laid out personal behaviors that reduce gender bias. The principle behind reducing the effects of unconscious bias against you and dealing with an incompetent boss is the same. It’s simply to be proactive.  When you are proactive you assume control in an unfair or chaotic relationship. You literally become self empowered.

The tool is the SMART Power Self-Empowerment Checklist.

It works like this.

You take control by asking 7 questions. Management research conducted by Google informs us that there are seven critical questions you must know the answers to that enable you to do consistently good work.  Using these questions are your path to both success and satisfaction.  So when your boss gives you a task, here are the questions to ask. Don’t accept the task until they are answered. They are:

  1. What’s the goal? What is the desired result? How will it be measured? How will you define success?
  2. Why is it important now? How does it support the organization strategy?
  3. Who is responsible for the overall success of the project your task may be supporting? Do they know they are responsible?
  4. What is the deadline? Are there measurable milestones and regular progress reports?
  5. What resources are needed? Are they available?
  6. How will decisions being made? Who will make them?
  7. What exactly is my role and my responsibility? Do others already know or will I have to tell them?

So, can you imagine having a management conversation with your boss using those questions?  It might be uncomfortable at first because in most organizations formal management was done away with in the 1990s. Organizational engineers thought it could be replaced with email. They were wrong. In most companies I consult with management is a lost art. Fire drills and chaos are the norm. Blame and excuse making swirl like constant tornadoes.

Too often I hear from senior leaders that what is lacking is accountability. But it is impossible to have accountability without empowerment. And you cannot be empowered without knowing the answers to those seven questions.

It is unlikely your manager will provide you those answers when you are assigned a task. So it’s up to you to ask for those answers.

Using the seven questions as a checklist will make your work life better. Bad bosses will quit overloading you with work because you will make it difficult for them to just toss tasks at you. When they try to, make sure to tell them that you need those questions answered in order to be successful and accountable. More importantly, good bosses we’ll see that you have leadership potential.  This will lead to more important and more satisfying work assignments.

If your a woman who wants to get ahead who has a boss who loves to shoot from the hip and get into action make sure you tell them that you only have seven questions. When you present a finite checklist to an alpha male they will usually turn completing the checklist into a goal. They want to know that your list is finite.  Thus answering the seventh question becomes the goalpost. (Gender research reveals that most men are frustrated by never-ending questions and requests from women.  However completing a checklist from either men or women energizes most men.)

The bottom line.

You are in charge of your work life.  Take control of it. If you are consistently overworked or find yourself doing work that doesn’t matter please experiment with the 7 question Self-Empowerment Checklist. It will give you more opportunities to do good work with good people.


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