Having a difficult manager can really damage your self-esteem. It wipes away years of confidence and makes you wonder if you are good at anything.
When you are in the throes of it, you have to make a decision to stay or to go. You may also be wondering if you can flex enough to make the relationship work. Those are tough decisions and you may want to talk to someone that can help you think it through.
Eventually, the crisis will pass. Either your boss moves off, you leave the company or you change departments. In some rare instances, you find a better way to work together and continue on.
Now what? How do you get yourself back up to speed, feeling confident and able to face the new challenges?
Start with an honest evaluation of what you do well
This is no time to be modest, clear your head of the negative comments your boss tossed out like crumbs. You need to remember your strengths.
Picture yourself when you felt positive, sure and professional. Hold that picture in your head. Now, ask yourself, what am I really good at? Think about where you add value and what you bring to the business that helps.
What would your colleagues say they appreciate about your work? Are you the one that can picture the strategy? Are you the safe pair of hands and great at delivering? Are you the person that pulls everyone together with a rallying cry?
You have a career you’ve built one project at a time, think about the best ones and what your role was in making it happen.
Find a support system
While you are putting some balm on the bruised areas, this is a good time to reconnect with the people who have been positive and supportive in the past. Touch base with old colleagues, your favourite boss, the friend that always says you’re clever.
Invest some of your time with those people. Tell them what you liked about working with them. That’s a great way to get them talking about you and your work. It can also bring back the magic of that team, in that moment, and helps you remember what you were good at.
Then look at what went wrong with your current role
Try to take some of the emotion out of it. Yes your boss was unreasonable and demanding and crazy and belittling and had a frog face. Now, set that aside.
What were the problems that crept in and led to the main issue? If you can identify what the underlying cause was, you can see if there is something you would want to do differently next time.
Some factors are intrinsic. If you value relationships and your boss just focused on results – you will have very different approaches to solving problems. Equally, if your boss is chasing financial gains and you want to be recognized for innovation, you are going to have conflicts about what you prioritize.
So, back to that honest evaluation. Did you and your boss have different values or was it more about styles?
I hear people talk about feeling micro managed but then they withhold as much information from their boss as they can. Of course, the boss feels in the dark, has no control and that increases their desire to see everything.
If it was a style issue, could you have addressed it early on? We are always learning, what could you do differently next time to keep something from becoming a mammoth issue.
Take control back
Now you’ve got a sense of what’s good about your professional abilities and an objective idea of what went wrong. Decide what you want to do with that information.
This is a good time to list the criteria for your next role. You probably know the kind of tasks you’d like, now add the culture, environment and management style that helps you thrive.
List the values that are most important to you in your work. This list can inform the questions you want to ask before you accept your next role.
Also, think about the insight you could offer your next boss on what gets the best out of you. Managers aren’t telepathic. It’s amazing when someone can articulate the management style they work well under and appreciate.
For example, if you like a clear brief, and then lots of autonomy, let them know that. Remember to keep them in the loop if they grant you that freedom.
If you would rather work closely with your manager, exploring new options in an iterative process, tell them. They can plan more regular catch ups, brainstorm with you and help you stretch your wings.
Managing up is as important as managing your direct reports. Stay adult, stay professional and let them know what you think would help you deliver the results they want.
Then breathe for a moment while they think it through. What you’d like, what you’d find motivating, may be new to them. Give them a chance to figure it out and then affirm the behaviour you want when they do it.
That’s as easy as saying “Thanks for noticing, you really made my day” or “Your brief was great and I appreciate you letting me figure out how to approach it.
All that thinking you’ve just done – it’s bound to help you recover and find a great boss.