4 Ways to Cope With a Bad Leader
By Alex Tremble
Just as a driver is responsible for their passenger’s safety and arriving at the end destination on time, a leader should do their best to develop their employees and ensure their team reaches the finish line. But just as there are good drivers, there are also bad drivers. This includes leaders, who do not communicate a clear vision for the future, do not see the importance of employee development and diversity, practice micromanaging, and opt to force compliance rather than motivating their subordinates. Below are five ways employees often cope with a bad leader. While common, not all of these options are helpful, and several have serious pitfalls. Choose carefully, with the goal of being more intentional during your bad leader situation.
1. Sit Quietly
Also known as letting someone fall on their own sword, we stand quietly aside allowing that leader to walk onto political and personality landmines, then make decisions we know will fail. Though we sometimes choose this strategy, we tend to forget that our success is tied to theirs. Yes, it may feel temporarily gratifying, and in some cases funny, to see our bad leader make mistakes and look bad, but ultimately it is us and the organization that suffers. Not only is the organization off track to reaching its mission, but now we must work twice as hard to get the organization/team headed back in the right direction. Furthermore, if someone sits quietly too long, they may forget how to speak.
Example: If a driver and passenger must be at a location within 30 minutes, would it be smart for the passenger to knowingly allow the driver to drive for an hour in the wrong direction?
2. Be a Distraction
When we complain about how bad our leader is and intentionally take actions designed to make them fail (i.e., political maneuvering and passive aggressive behavior) we are being a distraction. The problem with this strategy is that it prevents both people from reaching the organization’s mission and increases the likelihood of both people being negatively affected. This is because in addition to making the leader look bad, being a distraction may cause us to disregard our values and engage in behaviors not becoming of a good leader (e.g., negative gossip, lying, and manipulation).
Example: Think about it, would it be smart to distract the driver in a car? This could result in arriving late, getting into an accident, or even death.
3. Co-pilot the Vehicle
When we are acting as a co-pilot we actively search for ways to assist our leader in making the right decisions. This strategy is not easy and requires us to set our pride aside to do whatever it takes to help the bad leader grow into a better leader for the good of the organization. We must understand and realize that our way is not the only way and be willing to do what it takes to ensure that the organization meets its goals. This can begin by asking one simple question, “How can I help you to be more successful and effective in achieving our goal?” and then deeply listen to the answer. Contrary to the first two methods discussed, being a good Co-pilot actually increases the likelihood of the organization reaching its mission and requires you to develop your own leadership behaviors (e.g., creativity, negotiating, managing up, and managing expectations).
4. Abandon the Vehicle
Once we believe that we have done our best to foster a work environment of mutual trust and respect (e.g. having a conversation with our leader about how we can work more effectively together), it might be best to consider leaving the situation. Although resilience is one of the most valuable assets of a leader, remaining in a negative environment for too long can cause even the brightest star to dim. You will know it is time to cut your losses and move elsewhere when the quality of your work begins to suffer, you are no longer motivated to work, and you begin to display the same negative behaviors as your bad boss.
5. Fifth option.
I've had other thoughts that I'll share with those who contact me directly.
And now my question to you is, “There is only one driver, what type of a passenger are you?” When making your decision, keep in mind that the new employee down the hall who sees you as a mentor or your division’s executive who sees you as a potential leader may be watching. People will judge you by your actions, so be sure your behaviors are intentional.
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