About 20 years ago I worked for a man I used to call a living brain donor (LBD). I saw so many things he did wrong and couldn’t help focusing on them all – plus the fact that he managed to become a Vice President with so few smarts.
He didn’t understand the things he was in charge of and yet he insisted on telling us how to do almost everything. Meanwhile, he spent his days working on personal projects – and the rest of us carried the load.
I tried hard to show him where he was “wrong” and how much better we could do things. In the meantime, I must admit I went around telling people from other areas how stupid he is. And they agreed, listening to all my complaints and offering their sympathy.
But I was the one without smarts – work smarts!
There’s the small picture and the big picture. And, no matter how stupid or incompetent your boss may be, in most cases, you are judged for how well you play with others. Are you a team player – someone they can trust – or someone who is mainly looking to see things only your own way? Even if you’re doing it for the “good of the business”, in the end, you aren’t helping your career and are not seen as someone others want to play with.
For good or for bad, the best you can do is find a way to play the hand you were dealt. And if that includes making the best of a boss who doesn’t have all his or her brain cells flashing, well that’s just an extra challenge to show your co-workers – and yourself – just how valuable you are.
It’s easy to work with co-workers and bosses we respect. But in a long career, you’re going to come up against many LBDs. And so either you’re going to be thrown for a loop by each experience, or you’re going to find some of your own ways to make these situations better for you. Not perfect…but better is pretty good when you’re feeling trapped in hell (mostly by your own inability to accept a flawed boss or co-worker).
Before you yell at me and tell me I don’t understand just how awful some of them are…let me assure you I know. I was notorious for focusing on the flaws, and because of that missed many chances to not only create a better experience for myself, but to enhance my reputation and work smarts.
I may be a slow learner, but after a while I got it. They weren’t going to change. I wasn’t going to make everyone think my way. And most of all…I was doing more than anyone else to drive myself crazy. Having expectations and then getting stuck waiting for others to conform to them will only make you bonkers!
The best you can do in these circumstances is use them to strengthen your own people skills – and coping skills. Focus on what you can change and what you can get involved in that is productive, and let the rest go.
If you do have changes to suggest – and that’s a good thing – you need to enlist your boss’s support and work WITH him or her to improve things. It not only makes you a happier employee, but makes you more desirable when other areas are looking to hire. Between a brilliant smarty-pants and a bright flexible team player, guess who gets the offers? And guess who gets the really good recommendations?
Now this isn’t to say that if you have a truly horrible situation you should grin and bear it – or roll over and kiss butt if you’re being treated badly. But in most situations I’ve seen, after all my years of learning the hard way, I can usually see something the person can do to help make things better for themselves. And my challenge to you, if you find yourself in a similar situation, is to come up with some of your own small goals that, after a while, can often make a big difference – and become an extra tool in your working-smart tool belt from that point on.
The real secret is…once you start looking for ways to work together and to help rather than seeing the other person as the obstacle to your happiness, the other person also starts to morph. Or so it seems. Most people react well to kindness and respect, and only get thornier when you treat them like the enemy. People can truly sense how we feel about them. And that includes all you bosses out there!
Not every situation can be turned around by working smart, but most can at least be made a little more pleasant. At least worth giving it a try – or even two or three tries. It’s a learning process, but when you get it…oh my word it opens so many new doors!
New Work Coach Cafe Policy:
Although I had to stop answering individual questions (to preserve my sanity), as always your thoughts and stories are VERY welcome here.