How To Deal With A Boss Who Doesn’t Support You

How To Deal With A Boss Who Doesn’t Support You

“People leave managers, not companies” – Marcus Buckingham, First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently

Have you ever worked on a team where you knew your boss wasn’t on your side? It can be very hard to know this and still have no choice but to stick with the team and report to the same boss. Now before you dismiss this issue as trivial and say, “Screw the boss, I am not going to tolerate this nonsense. I am gonna quit my job and move on’”, hear me out.

I Quit

Unfortunately, this is not a choice available for everyone The reasons can range from being in debt to not having an alternative source of income or an emergency fund in case of a job loss. The reality is that people are forced to put up with the same boss even though they hate working with him or her. It’s sad but true!

If you have a boss that doesn’t support you, it not only demoralizes you at work but your personal life can get screwed up as well. The stress, anxiety and the pent-up anger against your boss can start to adversely affect your relationships outside of work. Before you realize you could find yourself fighting anger, depression and other health issues. No wonder there is a rising interest in people who want to be their own boss by pursuing FI or FIRE.

Given that you spend nearly one third of your day at the office, it becomes very important to learn how to deal with a boss who doesn’t support you. Before we proceed any further, it’s important to recognize the kind of boss you are dealing with.

  1. Are you dealing with an outright bad boss?
  2. Are you dealing with a boss who is secretly working against you?

Knowing the difference between the two can help you devise the right strategy to deal with your boss. If you fail to identify the right answer to these questions, you will be left wondering why you aren’t making any progress in your career. You will feel stagnated or your work will go unnoticed for years. You’ll feel like a hamster in the wheel. It’s very important to know which of the two it is.

1. An Outright Bad Boss

This is probably the easiest of the two to find out. You’ll hear your colleagues also complain about your boss or express their frustration about having to put up with him or her. You’ll not have difficulty discovering that it’s a feeling you share with several of your colleagues as well.

As unpleasant as they might seem to put up with, they are probably also the easiest to deal with. I say this because your boss isn’t hiding it from you. There is no guesswork involved here. You can rest assured that your boss is definitely being a jerk.

Once you know this for a fact, you can take the necessary actions that are in your best interest. In either case you can make up your mind – whether to stay and fight or quit your job and move on.

2. A Boss Who Secretly Works Against You

This is the hardest of the two for anyone to discern. When your boss falls into this category, we are dealing with someone who is not just bad but also very discreet and smart. You might be dealing with a highly manipulative person. This is someone who is doing the cause you damage behind the scenes. What makes this hard problem to deal with is the fact that this kind of person typically avoids direct confrontation and will always use deception to fool with you and keep you guessing what his next move is going to be. He or she is not a straight shooter. So it’s hard to confront your boss and resolve the issue easily.

Before you call it quits, I want you to hear me out. The reason why I think you need to learn this skill is because there is no guarantee that your next boss won’t end up someone like your current one. So at some point you’ve got to learn how to deal with a boss that doesn’t support you.

So if you are going to stick around and fight your boss, I want you to toughen up and roll up your sleeves. It’s going to be tough battle to win but you can still make it.

How To Deal With A Boss Who Doesn’t Support You

When your boss works behind the scenes to keep you from winning, it can be hard on you. I have seen quite a few ways how this plays out. It’s good to be aware of these common tactics used by such bosses:

  1. A boss who plays favorites in the team. If you are not on their list of favorites, you will be kept out of all the interesting projects. You are expected you to be a yes-man and dance to their tune. If you don’t, be ready to be kept out of the “inner circle”. These people also don’t like dissent or alternative views. They will go to great lengths to eliminate anyone who questions their ways of working.
  2. A boss who doesn’t advocate for your success and never speaks of you highly with the upper management. This kind of boss does his best to keep you from the credit you deserve. You might wonder why aren’t getting the recognition that’s due and it’s probably because of your boss.
  3. A boss that always finds fault with your work. Even though you did everything else right, your boss likes to focus on things that went wrong. It’s hard to listen to criticism all the time, if that is all you get to hear from your boss. No one is perfect and your boss is just being a prick here. Don’t beat yourself up.

Today, I wanted to share with you, the things I’ve learned from dealing with such bosses in the past. I’ve found success by adopting these steps below and hopefully this will help you as well.

1. Know Exactly What Is Expected Out Of You

One of the first things we do in software development is what we call as “discovery”. It is a phase where we try to find more about the problem space and understand the problem. It helps you know exactly what is it that you are trying to solve. You are trying to wrap your head around the length and breadth of the problem. This is a very crucial step in defining who the actors are and what’s the problem you are trying to solve. It helps you define your “problem space” correctly.

By extending the same concept to your specific situation with your boss, you’ve got to find out what is expected out of you to succeed in your current role. As much as your boss wants to play favorites or any other tactic and leave you out of the “exciting work”; it important to make sure you are delivering what’s expected of you. It might be possible that you might be perceived as someone who is just “coasting along” and playing it safe.

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Let’s clear all the unknowns here. If you don’t know where to go, you will get lost. So your first job is to find out exactly what is expected of you in no uncertain terms.

I’ve personally been on teams where I thought I was doing a great job only to find out that my efforts weren’t being valued. It turns out I wasn’t focusing on stuff that really mattered to the team and the overall success of the product. So before you go any further, make sure you know exactly what it takes for you to be successful in your role.

Make sure you set S.M.A.R.T. goals. It’s very crucial to understand exactly what needs to be delivered and by when. Be as direct with your boss as possible about this. You need to have this in writing so that there is nothing lost in translation. Make sure you both agree on the deliverables and how it would be measured. This is your first step toward success.

2. Let Your Boss Know If You Are Blocked By Something

Once you’ve clear objectives set up, your responsibility is to make sure that you are laser focused on achieving your goals and giving your 100% to achieve them. There should be literally nothing coming between you and your goals. If anything does come up, always go back to your boss and ask him or her to take a call on which task needs to be prioritized.

Being in Tech, I find work can be unplanned at times, especially when there is a customer issue that needs an immediate fix or you are helping out a colleague with their problem. It’s very important to make sure your boss knows what you are up to and keep him or her in the loop. I do this very religiously and make sure my boss is in the loop whenever I get pulled into work that was not planned for, or I am spending my time on work that wasn’t agreed up on earlier but needs my attention.

When you are dealing with a bad boss who is not very appreciative of the work you are doing, you don’t want to do anything that distracts you from achieving your primary objectives you agreed up on earlier. Taking over additional responsibility might sound very enticing and noble at this point, but I would caution you to stick with what’s agreed up on. I can’t tell you how many times, my boss has turned around and asked me an update on a task we agreed on earlier but I got pulled into other stuff, and he wasn’t in loop. So prioritize, prioritize and prioritize! I simply cannot stress this enough.

In our company, we follow daily stand up meetings, and we follow a SCRUM methodology to share our updates daily with the team. This drastically reduces the chances of sitting on a blocker for longer than a day or two. Your boss typically will know if you have a blocker and you should make sure it’s addressed. It’s up to you to get everything you need to meet your deliverables.

If you have any blockers that are stopping you from fulfilling your deliverables, make sure your boss is aware of it. You don’t want to sit on a blocker for a week and then let your boss know about it. This will surely draw more criticism and you’ll be look up on as a laid back employee. Always stay on top of any blockers and make it known to your boss to get a quick resolution.

3. Utilize 1:1 Meetings To Voice Your Concerns

One of the secrets I learned very late about having a great relationship with your boss is effectively utilizing 1:1 meetings. I have in the past ignored them or my boss hasn’t been very keen on having one simply because the company culture wasn’t mandating for one. They have often proved costly since the other meetings are typically either technical meetings and don’t address your “well-being” in the company. However, 1:1 meetings are specifically designed to address any concerns or issues an employee may be facing and solve them before it becomes a problem.

A 1:1 meeting is your time as an employee to surface any concerns you have with your boss. If the issue is with your boss, I would first encourage you to start a dialogue by expressing your concern in the following way:

  • Do you have any concerns?
  • What specific action from your boss (or any other team member) is bothering you?
  • How can your boss resolve it?

By posing these questions, you are forcing your boss to be objective, and he would then be required to solve your concerns. No matter how much he tries to not support you, this simple tactic can help you make your boss accountable. It can also be a great opportunity to share with your boss about things you don’t like about his management style that bothers you.

If you don’t get to have these 1:1 meeting setup by your boss, I would go ahead and ask for it. If your boss isn’t very receptive, make it clear that you want to arrange these meetings to make sure you are on track to meet the goals and these meetings will help you in that. I am sure you can get your boss to meet you for this reason alone. Be proactive and don’t wait for things to go off track before taking an action.

4. Document Every Single Goal You Accomplish

You work so hard to meet your goals and hence when the time to share your achievements arrives, you should be able to show it. I want you to document every single goal you hit. It’s an excellent way to showcase your work without losing any details.

How often do you find yourself hunting for that appreciation email from a customer or thank you note from a manager on another team that you helped out? Are you are one of them? If yes, I would ask you to build this practice. Start documenting it frequently.

When you are dealing with a boss that’s not supportive, every single piece of evidence that you met your goals or exceeded counts. As inconvenient as it might sound, I’d encourage you to save that email or appreciation in your notes. I personally use an online tool like Evernote to manage all my notes and it’s just a matter of copy pasting the email or noting down an appreciation from another team member.

In an ideal world where your manager is your biggest advocate. You wouldn’t need this since he is already going out of his way to bat for you. But if it’s not the case, you need proof to make your case. So if you ever have to present evidence of why you deserve that raise or promotion, you have one to show for it. Don’t ignore this! This is one of the most common places people trip and fall on their face. Don’t hold yourself back.

5. Don’t Stop At What’s Expected, Go Beyond It

When you are battling with a boss that doesn’t support you, it can be very demotivating and you might be tempted to just do your job and go home. But if you want to win and grow in the organization, I would encourage you to do the exact opposite, fire from all cylinders. Let me explain!

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It can be very hard for your boss to point fingers at you, if you are one of the hardest working employee on his or her team. Your boss can do everything in his or her power to keep you out of the lime light, but sooner or later people in the team will find out. I’ve personally experienced this when I was on a team and had a boss who wasn’t very supportive.

Instead of shying away from hard work and doing “just good enough” work, I worked my butt off and eventually my bosses’ boss noticed my work. My boss didn’t have any choice but to acknowledge my work and give me credit for it.

I know it is a less than ideal situation to be in and you might not be willing to take the pain to turn things around. But trust me, if you want win and grown in the organization, don’t let an A**hole boss dictate what you can or cannot be. It’s an important skill to learn how to deliver even when things aren’t in your favor. I’ve learned this lesson the hard way and I don’t want you to repeat the same mistake.

6. Build Your Network Of Advocates

One of the side effects of going out of your way and performing your duties in a role is that people will notice it. One of my ex-managers used to say, “The difference between Good and Great is just 5%. When good stops at 95%, great goes all the way up and makes it 100%.” I find it absolutely true. The people whose work stands out always care to add that extra bit. That small thing which makes their work special. Don’t hold yourself back.

If there is one thing people will notice immediately about your work, it’s whether you go that extra mile to leave your mark. It can be very hard to be this kind of person in a hostile work environment and a non-cooperative boss. So if you want to be that guy, you need intrinsic motivation.

So the next tip I have for you is to build your network of advocates both within your team and outside of it as well. E.g. If you are responsible for developing a feature in the product, work with the documentation team to given them exceptional insights into how the feature works, what they should be highlighting in the doc, etc. This ensures your work isn’t limited to just developing a feature but also extends to making sure the customer finds the docs easy to read and understand. You’ll get a chance to help people deliver their work with excellence, and they will notice you are going out of your way to help them achieve that. Its good karma!

If you care about your work, you should bother enough to become darn good at it. You cannot let a bad boss come in your way of delivering excellence. The moment you decide this, you own your future.

A bad boss can only go as far as keeping you out of lime light or leave you out of important projects. But once people see how good your deliverables are, they will advocate for you.

Go out of your way to wow your team-mates and everybody else. There is nothing like people vouching for you and your work. Your boss will have no choice but to yield.

7. Hold Your Boss Accountable

All this while I have been asking you as an employee to take it on yourself to make sure you win. Now I want you to turn tables and hold your boss accountable. Remember in #1 I advised you to know exactly what it takes for you to be successful in your role. Now that you’ve been doing that and going beyond your defined scope of work to deliver excellence, it’s time to hold your boss accountable.

Typically, this would happen during your annual or semi-annual performance reviews. It is also the meeting where you get to present your achievements to your boss and hopefully you’ve exceeded most of them. I am sure your boss will share some areas of improvements for you, which is expected. But it doesn’t discount for the fact that he is still accountable to deliver on all the promises he made when you met to discuss #1.

I would strongly encourage you to present the necessary facts and figures to prove you’ve met (or exceeded) the goals and remind your boss to follow through. If you find your boss dodging the bullet and shying away from his promises, you should remind him of what you agreed up on and why he is supposed to follow through. Don’t let him off the hook here until your promises are fulfilled.

Note: If things don’t materialize here, make sure you take note of this and escalate to the upper management. By this time, you have enough grounds to present your case to upper management and your boss will have no choice but to follow through.

8. Call it Quits If Nothing Works Out

If you have reached #8 and still feel nobody in the organization cares about what you have to offer or your words are falling on deaf ears, I will not advise you to stay at your current organization anymore. By this time, you’d know very clearly if your company values your work or not.

If the answer is no, I want you to call it quits! But I can assure you one thing. You can leave the organization 100% confident that it’s they who are losing an awesome employee and it was not your mistake! I can’t tell you how much this feeling matters in your job search.

I don’t want you to be in #8 until you have done everything I mentioned from step #1 through #7 and given your absolute best. If you have done it right, you’ve built the right muscles and skills required to succeed at any job. If you still find yourself with no takers, your present employer is simply incompetent to keep you employed. Fire them! They don’t deserve you. You need a new employer.

I hope you find these tips useful. Have you dealt with a boss that didn’t support you in your career? How did you manage to deal with that boss? Share your experiences in the comments.

8 thoughts on “How To Deal With A Boss Who Doesn’t Support You”

  1. You make several powerful points in this article. When I look back on the most stressful relationship times with my husband, it was because his boss had a full-blown narcissistic personality disorder and it was difficult to watch his self-esteem be destroyed. Obviously, I spent very little time with her but I couldn’t believe how her treatment of people was impacting me as well (someone completely removed from the situation). Luckily, he got out of there. He told human resources on his way out (and they had heard it before) but nothing could be done. The people who stayed were people who thought they had no other choice (negative thoughts and self-esteem – something narcissists drill into others in order to control them).

    Anyhow, happy thoughts…happy thoughts… even thinking about that time brings back anxiety! I’m so glad it’s over!!!

  2. Nothing screws up your personal life like a bad boss. I remember the time I worked with one who was a workaholic and it took a severe toll on my personal life. I have since then made a conscious choice to weed out employers who don’t align with my view of work life balance and chosen to pick work that makes sense to me.

    I have also realized that you’ve got to watch out for yourself at workplace. You own your career and it’s up to you to shape it. A good boss is only a bonus. Unfortunately they are also rare to find.

    I am glad it worked very well in the end for you. The stress and anxiety isn’t worth it.

  3. Wow, this piece made me infinitely grateful for my bosses. I knew I lucked out, but MAN I really lucked out!

    I think there’s a lot of great, actionable advice in here that will help people struggling with their bad bosses. I love that you help make sure the bosses can’t wriggle out of stuff by making sure you document, verify goals, etc. It really leaves the bosses no excuse but to accept and acknowledge your value.

  4. Very comprehensive article in identifying different types of bosses and how to get ahead of problems. Luckily I have had amazing bosses. I think it would be horrible to work under someone actively working against me. I think intrinsic motivation is definitely important too. After you make sure you check off all of the boxes, and it’s still terrible, it is good advice to reconsider.

    • It’s quite rare to land a boss who cares about you. If you do find one, it’s definitely worth sticking around. Given a choice between a better pay and good boss, I would choose the latter. You’re definitely lucky in this regard.

      The part of the problem in Tech is that most managers are untrained and learn things on the job. In a way their reports are their guinea pigs.

  5. You made some excellent points. I’m curious on how many manager issues are stemming from lack of communication? Of course, there are cases where someone is just a jerk, but how many managers are out there who don’t want the people under them to do well?

    I think some managers work better with certain personality types, which might be part of it. I think your advice with the one-on-one times helps cover some of this. I’ve managed several other programmers, and the ones who do the best are the people who are self-starters. The programmers who have a hard time learning from their own mistakes, or don’t know how to search for problems/solutions in google seem to struggle the most. But that could be the website dev industry I’m in.

    As a manager myself, there wasn’t anything more important to me than seeing the people under me do well. I wonder if some managers are insecure with their jobs and are concerned about people doing too well and taking their job?

    • Hi Chris,

      Thanks for giving an alternative perspective here.

      My experience has been that when the middle management doesn’t have accountability and somehow don’t feel it’s their duty to work in the best interest of their reports, it’s quite common to end up in a situation like this. It’s all too common to see a manager misuse the power to have his or her way and not utilize the power responsibly.

      I am happy to know not everyone is like that but sadly there’s quite a few of them. Unless they are held accountable or get trained properly, we will see this issue happen over and over again.

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