The first in a series of Help Me Fix My Boss is about the worst type of boss, the overbearing boss. Merriam-Webster defines overbearing as tending to overwhelm: overpowering; decisively important: dominant and harshly and haughtily arrogant. Overbearing bosses are the worst type because their issue is about personality not behaviors, which are easily changed.
An overbearing boss makes it challenging to do your best work. They are mean, belittling and simply a bully. An overbearing boss doesn’t care about you, they only care about their own success and status. They set extremely high standards and expectations on work deliverables or goals which are unrealistic or unsustainable. They lack empathy and understanding for what is required to deliver results and keeps pushing for action.
The overbearing boss sets unreasonable deadlines that are not aligned to the time it would take to meet objectives. They don’t take the time to find out what is reasonable and have little interest in the well-being of their employees. Overbearing bosses struggle with prioritization and offer no recognition upon the successful completion of a BHAG accomplishment. They aren’t bothered by the details of access to tools and resources that would be needed to accomplish work deliverables while at the same time being unapproachable. This leads to feeling the only option is to “just make it happen”.
How to Work with an Overbearing Boss
Working with an overbearing boss may seem like an exercise in futility. There are some strategies that can help minimize their impact. The ten strategies below will not only help you work better with an overbearing boss, they will also help you coach up. These strategies will also establish trust and could lead to a stronger working relationship with them.
1) Remember it isn’t personal
The overbearing boss is focused on delivering results and not on the impact they have on their employees. If you observe how your peers react to the boss you will see they consistently behave that way.
2) Consider why they’re overbearing
Pressure rolls downhill, your overbearing boss is dealing with pressure from their boss to meet certain objectives. This should determine how you approach dealing with them. By connecting with the pulse of the organization it may be clear that your overbearing boss is dealing with meeting lofty goals or juggling multiple deadlines. Therefore, you want to be sensitive to that in your interactions. Communicate high-level updates and avoid idle conversation.
3) Focus on, and deliver results
Keep the focus off their behavior and on the task at hand. After all, you are in your job because of your passion for the outcomes you deliver. The end result is what motivates their behavior. Keeping your focus on the outcomes and the things you are passionate about helps shield you from their offputting approach. Because you are a high-performer, the results you deliver will be above expectations anyway. Again, exceeding expectations are what drives overbearing behaviors.
4) Avod group griping
Moaning with peers about how much you dislike your overbearing boss temporarily makes you feel better but it doesn’t resolve anything. Most moaning sessions are counterproductive, time-wasting conversations that are filled with negativity and nothing of value is accomplished. Anything that doesn’t increase your ability to deliver results or advance towards the goals being driven by your boss must be avoided. The only benefit of joining a gripe session is that it gives you some support and builds bonds. But consider what the others are getting out of it and what their intentions are because they may not be aimed at helping you.
5) Build trust
Build trust with an overbearing boss through honesty and responsible behavior. Do what you say, when you say you will do it. Stay in touch frequently with short and concise updates including problems or roadblocks. Improve your rapport with simple good mornings and a smile. Be present in meetings and contribute in a meaningful way. Be the source of accurate and actionable information and remain readily available. Stay organized and ask for help or clarification early and often because it demonstrates a desire to succeed. Point to recent successes to keep the past results top of mind.
6) Communicate, communicate, communicate
One of the best ways to diffuse an overbearing boss to keep them updated on progress, successes, challenges and solutions to problems you’ve identified. Keep communication consistent, concise and solution-focused. A morning briefing of priorities prior to their arrival is a great demonstration that you have things under control. The next day indicate what was done from the previous days list. As necessary, communicate status updates throughout the day to confirm you’re on track and because it can avoid them from interrupting you.
7) Have no fluff conversations
Fluff will set an overbearing boss into a tizzy. Fluff is generally non-specific and rose colored information. It provides no value even though it may get you by for a few days or weeks. Eventually there will need to be substance to your feedback.
8) Expand your sphere of influence
The broader the group you influence the better because it makes it hard for an overbearing boss to talk negatively of you. Expanding your sphere of influence keeps you from being isolated. Have brief but focused conversations with people you haven’t talked to in a while or whom you don’t know.
9) Call them out in the moment
When your overbearing boss goes left because something wasn’t to their standards let them get it out. Then, in a calm and collected voice ask them what’s really going on. Keep asking questions to continue drilling down until they confess the root cause of their outburst. Even if you don’t get them to see you aren’t what they are mad at, they will understand you aren’t going to be a punching bag. This can reduce or eliminate future outbursts towards you.
10) Ask HR for guidance
This is the hardest for most people to do. We like our job, maybe we love the company and people we work with and that creates a fear to rock the boat. However, overbearing bosses can’t be allowed to run rampant and need to be addressed in a formal manner. Furthermore, executives at your organization won’t be happy that someone was acting in a way that was not aligned to the company values and no one spoke up.
Overbearing bosses take a toll on employee morale and cause a negative impact to the overall office environment. In reality they have the opposite intended effect because when employees are pressured to perform at unsustainable levels productivity falls. Overbearing bosses cause higher turnover which causes more of a burden on those who remain leading to further burnout.
While working for an overbearing boss is challenging it is also an incredible learning experience. The key to success is learning how to coach up to this personality type. The tips offered in Help Me Fix My Boss will enable you to effectively coach up an overbearing boss.